Never Have I Ever: Netflix hit lets us ‘represent Tamil culture’

The characters of Nalini, Devi and Kamala sitting together, with Devi and Kamala looking at Nalini. There are three green mugs on the coffee table in front of them. The sofa they are sitting on is cream coloured, with a yellow throwover behind them. Nalini is wearing a checked top and maroon trousers. Kamala is wearing a pink top, grey cardigan and floral skirt, with her hands together. Devi is wearing a light purple top, green cardigan and a patterned skirt, with her hands joined together.
Image caption,The journey of Nalini (left), Kamala (centre) and Devi (right) has captivated viewers of the show

By Manish Pandey & Ankur Desai

BBC Newsbeat & Asian Network

Watching yourself portrayed on screen in a popular show is something communities around the world are keen to see.

And Never Have I Ever – which is currently in Netflix’s top 10 – has been praised for giving fans that feeling.

“There is a fulfilment, a feeling you’re not alone and you’re reflected somewhere,” Poorna Jagannathan tells BBC Asian Network.

She plays Nalini, the mum of main character Devi Vishwakumar.

The show, which released its fourth and final season this month, is about Devi’s teenage journey (if you haven’t caught up, this article contains minor spoliers).

But each character gets “given the space, background and history” usually reserved for the lead, says Poorna.

She feels that viewers don’t normally “get to know these characters of colour as well as you do the white lead”.

Richa Moorjani, who plays Devi’s cousin, Kamala, says the show’s diversity made it “a dream project to be a part of”.

“We have so many diverse storylines, with the cultural aspects, LGBTQ+ storylines and disability,” she says.

Characters of Kamala and Nalini standing next to each other looking slightly to their left, dressed in wedding attire. Kamala is wearing a shiny floral top, while holding flowers in her hand, with a jewellery item in her hair going down to her forehead. Nalini is wearing a pink shiny outfit, with earrings. The background is red decorated with flowers.
Image caption,Richa (left) and Poorna (right) are satisfied with the show’s finale

Richa says many shows in the past have had Indian or South Asian families among their casts but they’ve tended to be generic.

“They just have Indian accents but we don’t know where in India they’re from, what language they speak, their customs,,” she says.

But Never Have I Ever makes specific references to Tamil culture, which was especially important for Richa. The ethnic group has roots primarily in southern India and Sri Lanka.

She points to the third season showing the Golu Festival – a celebration that takes place for people in south India.

“My family celebrated that my whole life growing up. To see that depicted on screen is hard to put into words what that feels like.”

Poorna agrees, saying traditional customs and ways – such as eating dishes with your hands can feel “embarrassing” because it’s not normally reflected on TV.

“Then suddenly to see all of us eating with our hands, when you show it, it becomes normal.

“And not only does it normalise it, you start celebrating yourself and where you come from.

“When you see yourself, hear words you’ve grown up with and when you see people who eat like you do in your family‚Ķ you feel really close to something magical.”

Characters of Kamala and Devi dancing. Kamala is standing on the left wearing a shiny purple outfit. Devi is on the right wearing a glittery black outfit. The background is full of lights and flowers on the walls and ceilings, with many people standing behind the characters watching the dance
Image caption,Richa feels this dance shows Devi’s evolution into embracing her culture more

Another element of representation which captured the hearts of viewers was Devi and Kamala’s traditional dance in the final season.

Richa calls it one of her “most cherished memories on set”, with it being an example of Devi embracing her culture and identity.

Fans of the show, especially the first season, will know that she was once reluctant to do that.

“It’s beautiful, because you see how much has changed with her and how much she’s evolved,” Richa says.

Soundtracking the scene with a specific Tamil song was important “because it could have easily just been a Bollywood dance,” she adds.

Characters of Kamala, Devi, Nalini and Nirmala hugging each other. Nalini is wearing a checked top and maroon trousers. Kamala is wearing a pink top, grey cardigan and floral skirt. Devi is wearing a light purple top, green cardigan and a patterned skirt. The three of them are covering Nirmala in a tight embrace.
Image caption,The show has been praised for showing four generations of women together

Poorna feels that the industry is getting more diverse but there’s still “very little representation”.

She remembers being made to feel like “a diversity hire” by some casting bosses in the past – experiences that made her feel angry.

Poorna says she now looks for parts where she can “represent something of myself”.

She feels it’s important to “remain hopeful, keep creating but remain super-vigilant” and build on Never Have I Ever’s foundation.

She says rights and progress can be “taken away in no time”, referencing the Roe v Wade decision in the US, which effectively ended the constitutional right to an abortion for millions of American women.

Richa adds: “We have to not get complacent and feel like everything’s OK now, because there is still a huge racism problem, and there’s still a huge lack of opportunity for us.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *