Netflix’s new release, Never Have I Ever, has quickly gained popularity. While generally well received, this light-hearted series has garnered some criticism for its clunky opening episodes. While the plot does take a little time to pull together, and the actors seem to ease into their roles as the series progresses, Never Have I Ever provides viewers with something remarkably rare in the comedy genre on a global scale – a believable modern Indian family.
Most light-hearted shows tend to depict Indian families as either over-achievers, or glaring misfits, who are generally friendly and are always perceived as a bit of a joke in their neighbourhood. Never Have I Ever is a refreshing (and much needed) break from these stereotypes, and allows us to have fun with an Indian family in America without subconsciously mocking them.
To begin with, Devi (the protagonist) and her family all depict different kinds of immigrants. Devi’s mother immigrated to America with her husband, bought a house and settled down, adapting to a new culture. Devi’s cousin, Kamala came to America as a student, and is a product of the modern world while being deeply connected to her Indian roots. Devi is a typical first generation American, who has naturally grown up in the American culture, but needs to find a way to balance this with her Indian heritage.
The contemporary nature of this family is a wonderful break from shows that feel the need to overemphasise Indian culture in an Indian family. Devi’s family is a great blend of traditional Indian culture with modern adaptations.
Never Have I Ever also accurately depicts a common relationship dynamic governed by the pressure to be accepted in one’s family (i.e. to conform). Indian families are very tight-knit, and this is something that the Western world doesn’t understand. Something as individual as choosing whom you’re going to marry becomes a family event, and while other cultures might find this funny, the struggle Kamala faces in her choice of whether to entertain her family’s arranged match, or stand against them and risk being alienated, is very valid.
Another interesting aspect of family that the show explores is vulnerability. Indian family culture isn’t typically very open to deeper discussions on feelings. Parents maintain a strong boundary with their children, just like Devi and her mother in the former half of the series. However, as the story progresses, the show explores the subtle changes in this dynamic when Devi’s mother has to become more vulnerable in order to pull the family back together.
Finally, the show delves deeper into Indian culture, bringing up areas that aren’t typically addressed – topics like sex and mental health, for example. Seeing an Indian teenager who is curious about sex (in a perfectly normal way) on a global platform is an extremely rare occurrence. The fact that the show navigates through these tricky waters seems to be a subtle nudge to Indian families to be more open and communicative about said areas.
While at first glance the show may appear to be frivolous and superficial, it reveals far more depth than one expects from a light-hearted series about a teenager’s high school life. But most importantly, it gives viewers a fresh take on the contemporary Indian family – finally, one that isn’t a caricature of reality.