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"I've waited all my life for a show like Never Have I Ever. I cried when it was over."

Never have I ever seen a brown person on TV.

That’s what I would have said decades ago, growing up in Australia. And it’s something that this generation of young Indian women won’t have to say, thanks to Mindy Kaling’s Netflix show, Never Have I Ever.

The series is about Devi Vishwakumar, an Indian-American teen in California, her immigrant parents, and how she’s trying to find her place in the world. It’s really a show about teen angst – think Dawson’s Creek – except, instead of seeing a bunch of good-looking white kids, the star is a brown, Hindu, teenager.

Which is what makes the show utterly ground-breaking.

Watch: The trailer for Netflix show, Never Have I Ever. Post continues below.

Video by Mamamia

It’s hard to believe there was a time when there were no brown people on TV, but there was. What it meant for me is I grew up thinking that only beautiful skinny white people mattered and would be heard.

I grew up in a world of Nicole Kidmans and Kate Mosses and it was obvious to me I would never be as valued in the mainstream as them. Nor would my cultural heritage.

Luckily, I had my dad who adored me and called me beautiful all the time (the poor delusional man), and so even though I scrubbed my skin in the shower for hours to make it whiter, less different, I knew I was loved, and never felt ugly. But I did want to fit in.

I knew I was not, according to the world, beautiful or interesting enough to matter to others. What other conclusion could I draw when Oprah was the only important WOC I would see?

Sure, that was a long time ago, but I know women who feel the lack of representation of Indian people even just a decade ago was still amiss.

“There hasn’t really been a show or movie that so accurately presents what it’s like struggling between both cultures when you’re a teenager,” my friend Emily, who’s 20 years younger than me, said about NHIE.

“Watching it made my 15-year-old heart happy. I cried at the end.”

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The show has certainly resonated with people around the world. On the weekend, it was the number one Netflix program in countless countries.

“I’m truly in shock,” Kaling wrote on Instagram.

“I can’t believe that our show about a complicated little Indian family has been seen by this many people.”

Kaling may be surprised by the show’s incredible success, but she also knows the reason why; it’s very relatable, and it hadn’t been done before.

From food, to worrying about books touching the floor, to a traditional arranged marriage, and a Ganesh Puja (major Hindu prayer event), the show features cultural moments that are part of American life – which just happen to be culturally Indian.

But the diversity in NHIE goes further than Devi’s heritage. There are interracial relationships, gay characters (plural, not just a token one), and an exploration of what it means to be a teen in general in 2020. All in the form of a palatable, funny and touching ‘teen drama’.

Kaling knew what she was doing when she made the show, because she was desperate for the representation, herself.

“I guess on some level I thought, if I’m going to see any reflections of my childhood religious experience reflected on TV, I’m going to have to just do it myself,” Kaling told the LA Times.

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Listen to Mamamia’s daily entertainment podcast, The Spill. Post continues below.


Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who plays Devi, explained the show’s significance further to Variety; “For a lot of people of colour and the South Asian community — I can speak for myself here when I say that we’re so used to being sidekicks, we’re so used to being comedic relief.

“It isn’t okay when it’s offensive and when that’s all you get. Suddenly, all you’re doing is you’re seeing yourself as a sidekick, as not as important.

“And when you do relate to a character, they’re usually Caucasian and then you realise you’re living your life in the shadows as a person of colour and you’re only able to see yourself through white characters, which is not totally okay either.”

There’s a cliché that says, “You can’t be what you can’t see”, but in NIHE’s case, its significance, and its legacy, will be, “you can see yourself, and you do matter”.

I’ve waited a long, long time for a show like NHIE, and I’m so glad that wait is over. Not just for me, but for every little Indian girl out there, hoping to be seen.

Nama Winston has had a decade-long legal career (paid), and a decade-long parenting career (completely unpaid). You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

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