How ‘I’ve Never Done It’ Gave Us Two Wonderfully Different South Asian Moms

This article contains spoilers for the ninth episode of season 3 of “Never Have I Ever”.

Among the many joys of watching “Never Have I Ever” is the breadth and depth of its characters, including its multiple generations of South Asian women. The show is primarily a coming-of-age comedy about high school student Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) dealing with the death of his father, the social pressures of adolescence, and the excitement (and humiliation) of teenage crushes. At the same time, many of the show’s supporting characters get their own wonderfully rich arcs, like Devi’s mother, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan).

On a smaller show, Nalini could easily have been a stereotype: a one-dimensional, stern, overbearing immigrant mother — the kind we’ve seen a lot on screen. But in the hands of Jagannathan and “Never Have I Ever” co-creators Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, she’s so much more than that. Over the course of the show, Nalini continued her own growth journey alongside Devi, juggling her job as a dermatologist with being a single mother to a hormonal teenager and learning to become a more loving and patient presence in life. from Devi.

During the show’s third season, which premiered Friday on Netflix, Nalini has both a friend and a foil in Rhyah (Sarayu Blue), the mother of Devi’s new love, Des. It’s rare to see two very different South Asian mothers on the same show. Rarer is to see the two characters treated with complexity and nuance.

“For so long, we’ve seen a very specific version of the South Asian mother,” Blue said in an interview. “What Mindy and Lang have created is a world where everyone is so believable. It makes it so much richer and fun to watch.

Blue at an event in 2020.

Paul Archuleta via Getty Images

The two actors have been friends for some time, part of a tight-knit and supportive community of South Asian actors in Hollywood, according to Jagannathan. Everyone said they were delighted to finally have the chance to work together.

“We’re so used to, like, if there’s an Indian in a series, there’s just no room for another one. This is the world we come from,” Jagannathan said. “And suddenly there’s a show with so many South Asians, so many people of color, so much diversity. And then suddenly there’s two South Asian women, not just together, but in the dynamics of a friendship.

From the day they met, Jagannathan said the two had dreamed of projects they could do together as leaders. However, “not seeing two South Asian female characters” as a duo onscreen made it “so hard to imagine what we would be doing.”

“When you think of, like, two white protagonists, like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Thelma and Louise — like, we only have decades of that trope,” she said. “But two dark-haired women? It was really something to be in this space with her.

As Blue pointed out, a character like Rhyah — a nutritionist with a cold, “California hippie-dippie” vibe — “would historically be portrayed by a white woman, which makes sense in a lot of ways, if you see her qualities. ,” she said. “It was fun to play this brunette woman who had that kind of sensitivity. It’s such an interesting version of a brunette woman that you don’t see very often.

Like a simpler version of Nalini, Rhyah could have been a flat, reductive character on paper. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a version of her presented only as Nalini’s rival or a cartoon villain. (She Is become something of a villain, but we’ll get to that later.) But as Jagannathan noted, “the whole show is an exercise in nuance. It uses the old comic device of opposites and then fills it with so many colors,” she said.

Presenting Rhyah as a contrast to Nalini, “he could have just leaned into a simpler trope. It’s a setup,” she continued. “But this show, and especially Mindy and Lang, they’re so committed to not just comedy, but they’re so committed to the world of nuance that they’ve given us these richly textured characters that actually aren’t opposites, but find so much in common, and want to find so much in common. They both yearn for this friendship in some way, and that’s what feels new and new.

Jagannathan during a screening of "I have never" in Chicago last week.
Jagannathan at a screening of “Never Have I Ever” in Chicago last week.

Daniel Boczarski via Getty Images

The idea behind the two women’s friendship was inspired by Kaling’s own mother. “When my parents immigrated here, my mother had no friends. This idea that Nalini is a lonely woman who is an immigrant whose husband is dead and she has an Indian friend was really fun to write and important to see,” Kaling told The Hollywood Reporter Last week. “I had never seen this on TV, and I wanted to see this.”

What begins as a friendship, including the couple sympathizing with teenage parents and giving each other health recommendations, eventually takes a turn for the worse. In the penultimate episode of the season, when Devi has a panic attack because of her late father, Rhyah comforts her. But in the very next scene, she tells her son that Devi is “hysterical” and “in a lot of trouble”, breaking up their short-lived romance. Thanks to Blue’s writing and performance, the show manages to make the moment both predictable and shocking when it lands.

Blue said that when she originally got the message role, she had no idea Rhyah’s arc would end so dramatically. As the season progressed, she was excited to be able to plant the seeds for the big reveal.

“I had a glimmer of it just in the first moment, when she was like, ‘I’d rather exist in the feel-good space. And it’s one of those things where I really wanted to make sure it was like a slow burn, because otherwise it doesn’t have the same effect, I don’t think. I feel like what they did so brilliantly was they wrote it in a nuanced enough way that the moment it happened, we were like, ” Oh, now I get it,'” she said. “The payoff is so good, you know, and it’s just really fun to play something like that, because it’s not something I would normally get the chance to do.”

Rhya in episode 2 of the third season of "I have never."
Rhya in episode 2 of the third season of “Never Have I Ever”.

There is another layer of nuances in the relationship of the two women. As Jagannathan described it, their storyline exposes “the ‘bad immigrant’/’good immigrant’ trope”: how members of the same immigrant community sometimes perceive each other as rivals in their need to assimilate.

“‘You have to keep a distance, and you can’t really associate with them, and that’s not a good person or a good family to hang out with’ – you know, that’s a very, very true phenomenon. “, she said. “It’s complicated. I’m fully aware of the dynamic. Obviously Des and Devi, they get along and are wonderful, but [Rhyah] has this need to protect his son from Devi’s influence, like, “We don’t want to get mixed up in this family.”

In a huge moment of growth for Nalini, she unconditionally defends Devi in ​​a confrontation with Rhyah, part of Nalini’s arc throughout the show of “trying to let go of her armor and put on some kind of fluffier coat to her daughter and just being there emotionally for her.

“In this season, you see Nalini grow in her relationship with Devi and her ability to step into the kind of emotional hole that the most present or most loving parent left behind,” Jagannathan said, referring to Nalini’s late husband. , Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy). “So there’s a lot of growth, and the moment with Rhyah where she stands up to Devi just serves as an example.”

According to Jagannathan, Nalini’s emotional growth arc will culminate in the show’s fourth and final season, which they recently filmed, and will be presented next year. Based on the ending of the third season, we can expect to see Nalini prepare to become an empty nest – an experience Jagannathan is intimately familiar with.

“I am the parent of a 16-year-old boy: he is leaving in two years. And I keep reminding myself that my job is to deliver it as an adult. Physically, but also emotionally, it’s so hard as a mother, I can’t even begin to tell you that,” she said. “I think Nalini delivers Devi into adulthood as a more complete person and in doing so has to fill the hole herself.”

Nalini comforting Devi in ​​season 3 of "I have never."
Nalini comforts Devi in ​​”Never Have I Ever” Season 3.

As Jagannathan begins to reflect on the show’s four seasons, she says she feels “like a more complete artist after this journey”, describing “a sense of home, belonging, empowerment and voice” that the series gave him.

“I always felt like a guest on every other shoot, including the shoots where I was a regular on the show. I always felt like it didn’t belong there and it didn’t wasn’t my set, and for me to be on a set that feels absolutely 1,000% like home is a huge lesson for me,” she said. “I just have a sense of myself and a sense of voice, of belonging, which I hope I carry throughout my career.”

“Never Have I Ever” also allowed her to imagine a future with more shows like this and more opportunities to share the screen with other South Asian women, including working with Blue again. .

“Back when Sarayu and I started, I didn’t have the imagination to dare to think like that,” Jagannathan said. “As a result, there are all these tracks which are gently put on the ground. We are driving towards a future that is very unknown, but at least we can think about it, and maybe we can imagine it.

Blue has some ideas of what they could do together. “She turned out to be someone who has my back, and certainly, I am someone who has hers. We really are incredibly loyal friends. She has a lot of integrity about her, and I think those are qualities that I like so much about her. It makes playing with her very easy because you can trust her,” she said of Jagannathan.

“We keep talking about trying to find a project for both of us because of that. I think we have a lot of fun together,” she continued. “Someone had mentioned something about us doing like a ‘Thelma and Louise’ type, and I thought, ‘God is then what we must do! »


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