South Asian representation has come a long way in the film and television industry, from stereotypical white-washed characters like Kevin G in “Mean Girls” to Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel and Kate Sharma in Bridgerton. Not only has there been a better representation of various South Asian cultures, but writers have also tried to incorporate aspects of the Indian and Pakistani film industry into their shows. A sampling of the best viewing:
Never Have I Ever
Created by Mindy Kaling, “Never Have I Ever” is a light-hearted show about the life of a first generation Indian-American teenager, Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan). The show grapples with Devi’s struggle as an immigrant coming to terms with her identity and dealing with the typical teen melodrama. Influencers like Hasan Minaj called the show “a classic,” and it also received a lot of praise from the South Asian community.
Kaling opened up to BuzzFeed about her reason for creating this revolutionary show: “Netflix wanted it — they’d read both of my books, and they said they really loved the part where I talked about my childhood,” and therefore the show is loosely inspired from Kaling’s teenage years. But this show is not only limited to teenagers – it also shows the life of two other immigrant women at different stages of life. I think I speak for all when I say we loved the cultural “sari” looks, and references to Indian culture.
A popular show among Gen-Z, this show debuted on Netflix in 2020 and was soon all over TikTok, but it reached its peak fame when the second season released in 2022. The second season focused on the love story of the eldest Bridgerton son, Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathon Bailey), and cast opposite him was Simone Ashely, who played Kate Sharma, the daughter from a wealthy Indian family. It was a slow burn and the audience loved every second of it, with viral TikTok sounds re-enacting scenes.
South Asian fans like me could not contain our excitement over the cultural references and Bollywood songs. The writers of the show really tried to portray the Hindu culture as accurately as possible. Edwina referred to her older sister Kate as Didi, which in Hindi means “older sister,” and Kate called her Bon which stood for “little sister” in Bengali. Fans obsessed over the Haldi ceremony during the wedding festivities with Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gum’s title track playing in the background. There are also subtle references to the Hindu cultures in the way both the Sharma sisters dress themselves, with Indian designs and jewelry such as Jhumkis (earrings). The South Asian representation in the show made the series definitely more appealing and added the much-needed spice.
This eagerly-awaited new Marvel show premiered last month on June 8, with new episodes released every Wednesday. The show revolves around a Pakistani immigrant family living in Jersey City. There are many South Asian neighborhoods in NYC, but the show was shot in New Jersey to give the effect of a proper suburban life. Kamala Khan, played by Imam Vellani, is a 16-year-old who discovers she has superpowers after she wears her a bangle sent to her by her Nani (grandmother). We get to see Kamala living in a predominantly Muslim community with her family, and attending a public school with her two best friends Bruno and Nika.
The show is enthralling, with Kamala and her family keeping us entertained at all times. Kamala is the most relatable character for every South Asian teenager living in America, with her awkward social skills and family relationships, especially her interactions with her Desi parents. The show provides a sense of comfort for the watchers as we see Kamala struggle with her identity as an immigrant and navigate her way through life every day, in addition to coming to terms with her new found superpowers.
The show beautifully portrays the idea of family, love and strength of one’s relationship with their family. We get to see Kamala learn about her ancestral roots in Pakistan and India and how it impacts her life today, with all of it being beautifully tied to her unique cultural identity and superpowers. The show is filled with references to both Indian and Pakistani film industry, and Hindi and Urdu background songs. We get to see how deeply Muslim culture is incorporated into Kamala’s everyday life with her running late to the mosque and celebrating festivals like Eid, buying ethnic wear and being obsessed with gold jewelry. And to top it all off, Marvel has also cast great actors like Fawad Khan and Faran Akhtar from the Pakistani and Indian film industries respectively. Overall, this show is a must watch for not only the South Asian community but for all: it is a lighthearted show which portrays the importance of one’s self-identity and family.
The increased South-Asian representation in the entertainment industry has definitely helped me and many young people feel more connected to their roots. It brings a sense of pride in one’s culture and the much-needed recognition of diversity. Growing up in America as a South-Asian immigrant can be extremely hard, always stuck in between two worlds, and feeling lost, as it can be hard to find people with a similar upbringing. With the correct recognition, hopefully shows like these can help teenagers find their true identities.