‘Never Have I Ever’ is changing the conversation about South Asian women in the entertainment industry, says actor Richa Moorjani

Richa Moorjani says her parents are “the coolest,” and she might not be wrong. While in his 20s, her father was pursuing his PhD in Material Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He started a Bollywood music band, belting out Hindi cover songs. Her mother, a Mysore girl by lineage who had grown up in California, auditioned to be the female lead singer and snagged the role. The couple fell in love and got married, staying in California, the band still active. Fast forward 40 years, and Moorjani is living up to the performance genes, starring in Netflix’s Never Have I Ever as Kamala, the PhD student and older cousin of protagonist Devi Vishwakumar.


In an Instagram Live session for The Hindu Weekend’s #LockdownWithWeekend series, it is bright and early (8.30 am) in Los Angeles where Moorjani currently resides with her husband. But when she comes on screen, she looks prepped for a day on set, her hair in breezy waves and makeup done, to talk about the series and life after season one launched on April 27.

“This is my first big role on a series where I’m a regular, so I didn’t even know what to expect when it comes to promos — those things are a little new to me. We had a virtual red carpet première and Netflix put a video together of all of us in our red carpet outfits,” she says — she wore a teal Indo-Western outfit from RCDC, a designer brand from TV actress, presenter and host Roshni Chopra and her sister Deeya Chopra. And while she is grateful for the chance to connect with fans directly through social media, she cannot wait to go back to “normal life” and see her fellow cast members on set again.

Connecting to Kamala

On the shared experiences they can all relate to, Moorjani says, “As South Asian women, we can relate to the constant grappling between modern and traditional while navigating family expectations with our own desires and needs. Often, we feel like what we want is to be subdued because that is what our family may want for us; it’s a common pressure many of us, including me, have faced.” She points out that it also depends on individual personalities. And when it comes to her on-screen persona, she says, “Kamala is... I don’t want to say she’s not strong, because she definitely is... She’s scared to push back. So when it comes to channelling her inner rage, we all have that; none of us are happy or nice all the time! Everybody has their triggers and limits. I love that Mindy made it a point to give Nalini, Devi and Kamala [Poorna Jagannathan, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Moorjani] so many colours and dimensions; we all have layers.” Moorjani shares that many viewers have reached out to her, saying that they have related to Kamala’s story of being fixed up for an arranged marriage while wanting other things, be it a love marriage or to further their careers. When asked if she’s #TeamPrashant or #TeamSteve — the former, a date for an arranged marriage and the latter, her boyfriend — she simply says, “Team Kamala.”

Hardcore fans of The Mindy Project, another Mindy Kaling production, may recall Moorjani’s brief stint as Geeta eight years ago — it was her first professional job as an actor since moving to Los Angeles. It was a small scene, but one never forgets their first! On working with Kaling, she says, “That first job was super exciting, but I didn’t see her or talk to her after the scene was shot. Then, Never Have I Ever came about, and I didn’t even know if she would remember me because it had been so long. When I went in for the last audition and she saw me in person, that is when she recognised me.”

On set

Moorjani owes a lot of Kamala’s characteristics to the skill of the show’s writers. “The writing was so strong, and each character had the essence of the actor so we just had to bring ourselves forward. What I loved about working with Mindy and her co-creator Lang Fisher was that they really allowed us to play, and give our input too.” She also worked with a dialect coach to switch her Californian accent to suit the role.

When it comes to Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who plays Devi, Moorjani says she was “blown away by her permeating confidence. She’s a teenager, you know, so she’s goofy and fun. But also incredibly mature.” A sister-like bond organically developed from there. Poorna, however, was something of an inspiration before the show even kicked off. Moorjani adds it was practically impossible to not ‘break’ during scenes with Poorna, who is naturally hilarious.

So much of the series, cast in technicolour hues, has to do with the wardrobe. Moorjani beams while recalling working with costume designer and stylist Salvador Perez (who also worked on The Mindy Project), known for his inclination towards vibrant pops of colours and unconventional textiles. “He’s brilliant; he already had a great concept. He was so open to taking my input in what I thought she would wear and wouldn’t wear. He worked with Poorna a lot and she introduced him to Indian designers such as Anita Dongre.”

Women support women

She is all praise for Mindy and Lang as well. “When I was on set, Lang was there a lot more often; she and Mindy often took turns as the two showrunners. Having two women behind this show, having our backs was an incredible feeling.” Not many know that Never Have I Ever’s writing room and director’s seats had women at the helm, and Moorjani owes the authenticity of the female relationships to this structure.

That said, will women in the south Asian entertainment industry finally have their time in the sun? “It’s already changing the discourse,” responds Moorjani, “and that began with the show being made! I know that for many South Asian actors who’ve come before me, this wasn’t a reality. People will see there is a need for more content like this; one show cannot be a representative for different experiences with culture.”

Since then, she has guest-starred on a few other shows such as 9-1-1 on Fox and NCIS Los Angeles on CBS. Future projects we can expect from Moorjani include recently-completed comedy film Hóllyweird and drama short Continual alongside Gurinder Sindher.

The actor also mentions that during the lockdown, she is keeping in touch with her roots. She is a devoted Kathak dancer, and still practises to this day. Her guru lives in the Bay Area and Moorjani tunes into her virtual classes online during the quarantine. “I will dance until I cannot,” she says firmly. “Basically, until I die!”

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 9:08:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/never-have-i-ever-is-changing-the-conversation-about-south-asian-women-in-the-entertainment-industry-says-actor-richa-moorjani/article31589799.ece

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