Never Have I Ever Review: There Are A Bunch Of Indian Stereotypes But It Raises An Important Point About Indian Parents And Mental Health
I can’t complain of having nothing to do this lockdown period. Thankfully, being able to write from the comfort of my home desk, in shorts and a worn out tee has been keeping me sane. It’s a usual workday, except now I look more homeless than ever. But that’s all of us, right? So weekdays are pretty busy. Weekends? They are for looking like you’ve been mugged and staying in bed binge-watching Netflix and taking snack breaks in between. Okay, I have tried cooking – and I must say I have discovered that I really shouldn’t. And I’ve been having a gala time doing my own thang, not quite bothered with what dish Instagrammers are whipping up or any versions of Dalgona coffee.
Trying to zero in my next watch, I stumbled upon Never Have I Ever created by my fav international Indian, Mindy Kaling. Okay, it was right there because it’s been trending on Netflix. Let me admit, I didn’t quite have really high expectations from this one and dismissed it as one of those typical teen dramas, some of which I shamelessly enjoyed as a woman in her late twenties. I am gonna admit that I ended up liking it and not because it reminded me of the delicious, scandalous high school drama I didn’t experience. I liked it because this is one of the rarest series/films involving teens and actually containing themes that run deeper than a love story between a hottie and an outcast.
Never Have I Ever is a show about a 15-year-old Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), an Indian American who had the worst freshman year of the century. She lives with her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) with whom she shares quite a tumultuous equation. No, who are we kidding? They are almost as cordial as Trump and China right now.
Right from the first episode, when Devi is praying to God for a better sophomore year, you can tell Nalini’s crisp parenting doesn’t work well with a hot-headed Devi. Add her beautiful cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani)adds to the insecurities of Devi and you have a clear demonstration of envy from the latter’s side. Especially because she is really not happy with hairy hands and a very evident moustache and a sheer lack of boyfriends.
Now to understand her better we need to know the reason behind her freshman year being such a failure. Well, her dad passed away during her school’s annual show, while she was on stage playing the harp. A week later, her legs got paralysed (seemingly because of the shock) while swimming and she almost drowned, both in pool and embarrassment. Leaving all these experiences aside, she was motivated to make this year count…by getting a boyfriend, one for each girl in her trio including Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young).
Her dad had passed just a few months ago and one may feel she has recovered too quickly, but slowly you realise that it’s just a façade she is putting on. In fact, she is in denial herself and even though she goes for therapy, she isn’t dealing with the real issue. Devi ends up talking about boyfriends when she should actually be working on coming to terms with her dad’s passing away.
Yes, there are a bunch of Indian tropes in the series- the Indian head shake, the weird accents – it’s there. But thankfully, they are not so jarring that that’s the only thing you remember. Though it would be great if they would do away with these now.
Devi has the hots for Paxton (Darren Barnet) and hatred for Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison), who is her direct academic nemesis. However, between trying to lose her virginity to Paxton and actually getting to know Ben, she gets torn between two good looking guys. However, as we come to understand later, Devi is just using dating and boys to fill the void left in her heart by her dad’s absence and her mom’s constant disapproval. Of course, her typical Indian mother is completely oblivious to this. She hates Devi’s guts – getting drunk in parties, making out with a guy, lying about having sex with the same guy. Devi continues to look like a disappointment to her and she fails to see that she is struggling to come to terms with her dad’s sudden death.
While Nalini really does love her, she barely is ever seen giving support, affection and understanding to her daughter. She may have done that for Kamala, but for Devi, it’s just her angry side that does the work. In several situations, we see Devi struggling with flashbacks of her mother’s angry words that pricked her and stayed with her like a grudge, something she refused to express until the end.
This made me really think, do our parents ever take mental health seriously or is it a concept they believe to be a frivolous luxury? Nalini never thought about how Devi must be dealing with the loss or how her demotivating words affect her. She constantly complained and I could literally see the same disappointment with which my dad looks at me, when I reject the guys they try to set me with. What makes parents not aware of the cost of constant disapproval or how our mental health can trigger bad decision making?
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The girl was literally throwing herself at a guy and trying to be cool with a casual hookup when she wanted more. She was lying through her teeth about having sex with him to look cool and unable to be there for her besties. She even tried to come up with excuses to avoid dispersing her dad’s ashes. All this while, Devi’s mental health has been really low and nobody noticed. Not her family, her friends, or anyone except her therapist but that’s kinda her job.
It’s only, in the end, you realise that Nalini’s own struggles dealing with losing her husband. And that made their relationship even more interesting, though not perfect. Both of them were breaking down from the inside and bottling all that up led to nothing. Maybe, we have not learnt to value mental health yet and how it really matters. We really need to watch this one with parents!