Never Have I Ever was a win for desi girls EVERYWHERE, especially Indian girls. Devi and her family represented a beautiful, chaotic, caring, realistic Indian and South Asian family.
While I am not Indian (I am Pakistani, aka their neighbour), I learned much about Indian culture and related to how ingrained it is in us. Many aspects also reminded me of my own culture, as many Indian cultural practices are similar to other countries in South Asia.
People dissociate Devi’s actions in Never Have I Ever from her culture because sometimes the situation doesn’t appear in a cultural context. It’s important to understand that culture affects how we think, process, react, and even encode the things around us. Devi’s entire personality is affected by her culture, which affects the foundation of someone’s personality.
Mindy Kaling managed to seamlessly and profoundly incorporate modern cultural moments and tie them to the characters without diluting or appealing to non-desi audiences. She created these beautiful South Asian women who have grown up, thought, and processed things differently from the Western world. They have passionate beliefs, generational trauma, and unbounded love for those they consider their own.
So audiences might easily dissociate Devi’s culture from her personality, but they would be wrong. It’s important to understand that these Never Have I Ever characters were created from culture; their entire being depends on that. So no, she’s not crazy, and she’s not unstable like Ben said. She lives in a world where people label things they don’t want to understand.
This show brought brown girly’s a huge win, and from all of the subtle, ordinary representative moments to understanding Devi’s personality, the culture is everywhere. So, let’s look at some of the critical moments in Never Have I Ever.
Religion in Never Have I Ever
You usually see a character pray in dire times and when they need something. Not in Never Have I Ever. Devi prays for her grades and success but uses prayer to converse and clear her thoughts like it’s part of her typical day. It’s precisely the type of representation any religious person wants to see.
It’s funny how in Hollywood, someone is super religious to the point where it becomes their only personality trait, and everyone finds them annoying, or they are deemed religious but modern, meaning that the only way you’d know is from a passing comment that most people miss.
So, it’s refreshing when we see characters praying casually. When religion is a part of their life and finds its way into aspects of their life without coming across as overwhelming. There are also many moments in Never Have I Ever where you see Devi go through the struggle a lot of us do, and that’s relying on a higher power when things feel out of control. It’s the realistic struggle of faith.
Un Never Have I Ever, you see Devi struggle and then appreciate her religion. You see her come to terms with things that are not in her control. Devi learns to let go and trust a higher power from the first episode to the last. It’s subtle, but as you age, if religion is something you’ve genuinely valued, it has a way of finding itself in your mindset. It can calm you and build trust where there may not have been previously.
In Never Have I Ever every single look SERVED. From the aunties to kiddos, women to men, they ATE every time anyone dressed up in this show. Also, the struggle of getting ready is real. Many times, my siblings have had to youtube how to tie a sari or get unconventional to keep jewellery and makeup in place (tip: eyelash glue for a tika is unmatched).
Devi went from feeling strange in her ethnic clothes to feeling comfortable and inviting her friends to dress appropriately for Pati’s wedding. If that’s not a common struggle, I don’t know what is. We’ve all had moments where we’ve felt like the clothes are weird, or we don’t fit; some people I know still refuse to go places wearing South Asian clothes.
In this show, you see Devi wear her “white” clothes most of the time, but for Never Have I Ever special events, she doesn’t act like a disengaged kid in the crowd; no, she gets dressed up and represents. That’s exactly what all of us do. One minute I’m in jeans, and the next, I’m wearing a dress that ways 5 pounds at the minimum, and I’ve learned to love it because it’s fun to switch it up.
Also, anything can be accomplished in those clothes, so they’re not unconventional or strange; they’re just another part of our cultural versatility. Sometimes, you’ll mix and match because, let’s be honest, a shalwar-kameez pant is more comfortable than jeans, and we’ve all worn it with a t-shirt at one point or another.
While the fancy looks are reserved in Never Have I Ever, you can see how Devi incorporates fashion into her daily, such as bangle hoops and a nose ring that are probably real gold because South Asian girlies have sensitive skin, from choosing colours that match our skin tones to appreciating patterns. It’s in the every day if you look close enough. It also allows us the opportunity and the courage to try new looks.
Embracing our cultural looks allows us to build courage and come to terms with ourselves. We saw Devi come to terms with and appreciate herself more every season. We also see the amount of courage Devi builds throughout the show and how much more at peace she becomes with herself.
Dialogue in Never Have I Ever
“This is for Pati, who thinks I’m a coconut.” When I tell you, I was CACKLING.
There is no shortage of brilliant one-liners in Never Have I Ever. In South Asian culture, sarcasm is part of our love language… and a byproduct of generational trauma.
There are many moments where everyone roasts each other in good fun, and there are sweet moments where you think that they won’t, but then it’s thrown in at the end for good measure.
It’s heartwarming when in Never Have I Ever, Pati makes fun of herself and jokes about cultural disgraces or when they jab at each other over trivial matters like an empty eggo box. The sarcasm is also so quick that it gives you whiplash.
South Asian people are known to be blunt and joke around, and we are passionate individuals who exaggerate sometimes. I can’t count the number of times my parents have referred to or used a phrase that translated makes no sense. My phone has a list of some of the best ones. Also, despite a slight language barrier with my family, sometimes they make more sense to me than others.
Think about how communication is the foundation of understanding others. Not just what you’re saying but also how and when. There are many times in Never Have I Ever, despite being a local, when Devi is misunderstood and given a label. Because of how we’ve been spoken to and viewed the world, it’s not easy to switch our brains and change how we process things in different settings.
Sometimes we feel on the same wavelength as everyone else, but in truth, we talk differently or react differently because of cultural habits. Our elders have taught us to move on and not allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity or pain, so sometimes the most appropriate reaction is not elicited when something is wrong. That’s why Devi often jokes around when she’s made a mistake or been hurt; she’s trying to avoid it.
Dialogue is a huge part of any show, but in Never Have I Ever, it gives you a glimpse into how the characters have been raised to view the world. Sarcasm is a mixture of love and a reality check; not being upset is the lack of emotional processing, and being harsh comes from how we were spoken to when our elders were triggered or when something wasn’t in our control.
Family and Community
Every family is messy, and the Vishrakumars from Never Have I Ever are no different. From trying to police each other regarding dating to interfering with all the unsolicited advice, they embody South Asian culture. Also, I adore how much they all hate nosy aunties like it makes perfect sense that Pati has a frenemy- and let me tell you, the passive-aggressive comments are strong with frenemies.
It also makes sense why Devi is the way she is. The culture does not discriminate when it comes to judging. Many people will tell you precisely what you should do, why you should do it, and why your thinking is wrong. That’s why Devi’s fear of what others think of her is so nerve-wracking. The generational trauma associated has you second-guessing every move and how it’ll “look.”
The community is a mix of wonderful and messy. Devi’s personality in Never Have I Ever makes more sense when you understand how critical everyone is of others because of how critical people have been to them and how critical they are of themselves. It also speaks to Devi’s need for control and everything to work out.
Our parents have done a lot for us, and Devi comes through for her family just like they do for her. The good and bad always go back and forth in South Asian families and communities. It’s where Devi learns in Never Have I Ever, but it’s also where we can see her unlearning and taking her family along for the ride. It takes a village, but one person can always change the course.
Every elder has been bound to care for us, but sometimes that doesn’t come out in the best way, so if Devi’s ever done something from the goodness of her heart with a bit of misplaced execution, you now know where it comes from.
Accurate Representation in Never Have I Ever
While Never Have I Ever allowed us to laugh at Ben eating spicy food and witnessing some fantastic festivals, weddings, and dances, it’s how the culture bleeds into every aspect so ordinarily that has me wishing for more. Also, thank goodness that the dances shown in this show had no hint of whitewashing; the songs and the moves were perfect.
This show was a dream for me as a South Asian girly, and I’m so glad that many Indian individuals feel so close to the representation in this show. While I’m heartbroken that we won’t see more, I love that this show paved the way for South Asian and Indian representation in Hollywood. I’m glad that I got to see characters that reminded me of myself and also reminded me how engrained culture truly is.