February 7, 2024
Ever since Indian characters have been featured in Hollywood mainstream T.V. shows and movies, they have been misrepresented. Indians, specifically Indian women, have been inaccurately depicted in many mainstream American media, further giving into stereotypes about their appearances, culture, and traditions. These stereotypes are further enforced by the media, and the perpetual cycle of underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Indian women in the media continues. However, in recent years, more and more mainstream media have tried to depict Indian women in a more accurate way: not someone who fits every single stereotypical box, nor someone who is made to look more American to fit the mainstream beauty standards. Rather, more and more T.V. shows and movies are trying to encapsulate the diversity of Indians. However, Indians are still being stereotyped time and time again in the media.
Many Indians, like myself, have grown up rarely seeing representation of Indians in mainstream T.V. shows and movies. When shows like the popular Jessie depicted an Indian boy in America, many were happy with there finally being some representation in a kids T.V. show. However, Ravi, the Indian character portrayed in Jessie, showcased a lot of the stereotypes that the media tends to show. For example, he had an overly exaggerated Indian accent, and constantly referred to the academic rigor that Indians tend to be used to. Now, it may seem like there aren’t many problems with characters feeding into stereotypes depicted about that culture. After all, how is it a problem if an Indian boy is shown as smart on mainstream media? It is not so much about the stereotype, but rather the effect that portraying the stereotype has on young kids following the show. Perpetuating the stereotype of Indians being academically gifted and smart in front of a huge audience can have negative effects on Indians watching, as it can make many feel like they do not fit into what they are meant to be, or even that they cannot be anything else but that. As Indian actress Sonum Kahlon stated in an interview, “I want Indian faces on T.V., but I want us to be regular people.” Many times, actresses like Kahlon are asked to put on heavy Indian accents when auditioning, even though she was born in the United States. This points out obviously the difference in accents of the characters, which in turn alienates Indian characters within their environment, and thus makes Indians, specifically first-generation Indian immigrants, feel alienated themselves.
Indian women are specifically misrepresented in mainstream media. A new Indian reality TV show titled “Indian Matchmaking” recently aired on Netflix. In the series, a matchmaker attempts to set up young Indian women to find their true love. However, when the show came out, criticisms were immediately thrown out about colorism being depicted. This is the idea that fair and light skin is considered prettier and more attractive than darker skin tones. This notion is an extremely damaging idea to young Indian girls, as it reinforces many ideas that Indian women have heard–that light skin is considered more favorable. This restricts Indian girls and women from feeling proud in their skin, and develops risky insecurities at a young age.
However, while both old and recent shows continue to misrepresent Indians, some shows have set the standard for how Indians should really be represented in the media. The show Never Have I Ever, produced by Mindy Kaling, stars Devi Vishwakumar, an ambitious high school student trying to balance all aspects of her life while dealing with the grief of her dad passing away. While the show certainly depicts her character as smart and her parents as religious and strict, which can be seen as a stereotype, the show does not box her character into that. Rather, Devi is also depicted as wild and carefree, as someone who feels and cares deeply, dresses how she wants to, and deals with problems that every other high school student deals with. Never Have I Ever perfectly balances portraying Devi as a regular high school student dealing with stress and relationships with her unique struggles as a first-generation Indian immigrant, dealing with her strict Indian mother and grandmother as well as her religious needs.
This breakthrough show resonated with Indian teenagers, specifically girls, across the globe. Never Have I Ever provided hope and reassurance that Indians could actually be represented accurately on television. For many of us, like me, it gave Indians the sense that are seen and heard. With new shows and movies coming out every week, we can only hope that Indians continue to get the representation they deserve.