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How a new take on teenage rebellion caught Mindy Kaling’s attention

When Sanjena Sathian’s agent first suggested sending a draft copy of her first novel to Mindy Kaling and her production company, Sathian was all in agreement – but she was skeptical that anything would come of it. .

She was delighted when she received a positive response. “It seemed like they really got engaged with it and understood that it was both a comedy and a drama,” Sathian said in an interview.

Sathian’s first novel, “Gold Diggers,” which takes its title from Kanye West’s hit song 2005, is set in a suburb of Atlanta under the George W. Bush administration. It focuses on Neil Narayan, a directionless Indo-American teenager who struggles with the expectations placed on him. Everything changes when he is drawn into a scheme led by his longtime crush, Anita Dayal, and his mother. For years, the Dayals stole gold jewelry from members of their tight-knit Indian community to create an ancient potion that, when consumed, allowed them to steal the talent of the former gold owners.

Kaling saw a story she could bring to the small screen. In February, his company, Kaling International, announced that it would adapt “Gold Diggers,” which will be released on Tuesday by Penguin Press, for television, with Sathian co-writing the screenplay and Kaling as executive producer.

Sathian was inspired to create the intrigue when she heard about a wave of jewelry thefts that targeted the Atlanta Indian community in 2012. Some speculated at the time that the thieves were focusing on Native Americans because they were known to have elaborate jewelry in their homes. “I remember my mother saying, ‘I know people outside the community are blamed, but I promised you the Indians are involved somewhere,” Sathian said. “I remember thinking about this for a while and thinking, ‘What would it be like to be an Indian stealing from other Indians?’ ‘

As a co-author of the proposed television series, Sathian is eager to contribute to the growing number of representations of South Asian American life on American television. She credits Kaling and her work on NBC’s hit show “The Office” for showing a generation of South Asians what is possible when it comes to storytelling. “I really admire Mindy’s own arc. I have admired him ever since I saw the Diwali episode of “The Office”, ”she said. “I didn’t know you could do that as a dark-haired comedian and take up space and be sneaky and irreverent in this mainstream sitcom.”

The creation of the characters of Neil and Anita, two young people who came of age in Georgia in the early 2000s, also allowed Sathian to delve into the South Asian experience of South. While friends and early readers often note that Aimless Neil looks very different from Sathian herself, she says she feels she has a lot in common with him.

“I seemed to be a hit with the people around me, but I really struggled with about half of school. I was very good at humanities, but I really made my way into math and science, ”she said, adding that her difficulties with these subjects caused a lot of insecurity and anxiety. “People read [Neil] like he’s some kind of aberration or a new image of the community, but that’s still how I felt for me.

“Gold Diggers” is set in the fictional town of Hammond Creek, which was based on the Atlanta suburb in which the author grew up. Now 29, she had firsthand insight into how the Asian city of Atlanta has evolved over the course of her life. “I went to a predominantly white high school, and there was a little bubble of Indians who were all stuck together,” she said. “There were a lot of us on the debate team, and the debate team’s motto was, ‘What can brown do for you? It was very tight-knit.

Sathian said she also tried to draw inspiration from the long history of South Asians in the United States throughout history. As his character, Neil grew, he began to study the history of Indian workers during the Gold Rush of the 1800s as a graduate student. She began to reflect on these stories while living in the San Francisco Bay Area as a recent college graduate. “I had really never heard a drop of South Asian American history before living in California. Then I heard about the Ghadar party and the history of American Sikhs in Stockton, ”she said. The Ghadar Party was a World War I-era movement among American Indians who rallied to end British colonization of their homeland. “It blew up my idea of ​​who we were as a community.”

Sathian said that as she got ready to present her book to the world, she was struck by the different ways readers reacted to Neil and Anita.

“All I ever wanted was to write a novel and exist in the world as a writer,” she said. “I have been fortunate to be in conversation with other writers who have this really sharp reading of the book. I was just thrilled to see him connecting with other people. It’s one of the coolest gifts I think anyone can get with their handwriting. “

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