Never Have I Ever is a story of the trials and tribulations of an Indian teen grappling to find her identity in school in America. Created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, it has generated a buzz among the Indian diaspora.
For the first time a South Asian girl, a Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka, whose family has moved to Canada, plays the lead role. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan was plucked out of obscurity when she bagged this role. Sassy, spunky and spirited, she brings to life, the character of Devi Vishwakumar, a teen trapped between her desi roots and her quest to find her identity at Sherwood High school in LA.
Turns out, this is a typical teen drama, similar to Riverdale, a popular series on Netflix. In fact, there are references to it during conversations between Vishwakumar and her older cousin Kamala, played by Richa Moorjani.This show had tremendous potential but fails on many levels. It’s disappointing to see that the west can’t seem to move beyond regressive portrayals of India. Characters have been reduced to clichéd caricatures based on India that probably existed in the pre-millennial era.
The divorcee who marries outside her religion predictably ends up with divorced and is socially ostracised at a Ganesh Pooja function. She goes about to give Kamala gyan: "Don’t mess it up," she says alluding to the prospective arranged marriage proposal.
At the same event, Devi’s widowed mother, Nalini, is treated with such appalling insensitivity, sketching an alarming image of India, where widows and divorcees are treated as social pariahs. Poorna Jaganathan, who plays Nalini, impresses in parts but is let down by a weak character who can’t seem to figure out whether she is a conservative South Indian clinging to her roots or a more contemporary dermatologist dealing with her angst-ridden teen.
The actress with a vast repertoire of fine work, including her memorable character in Delly Belly, is reduced to a shrill tiger mom with shabby attire in most parts.
Kamala’s character, on the other hand, is that of a confused woman, supposedly doing her masters at Caltech, with a South Asian boyfriend who she dumps with remarkable ease for a desi stranger. It is almost like the creators are trying too hard to appease NRI audiences with every archaic formula in the book to find resonance.Such a pity because this script could have been path-breaking in so many ways. Hopefully, season 2 will dispel these myths.