Monday, February 22, 2021

Never Have I Ever 1x04 Review: “... felt super Indian” (Embracing Your Culture) [Contributor: Jenn]

“... felt super Indian”
Original Airdate: April 27, 2020

I love that Never Have I Ever is focused on portraying an Indian American family and their religion and culture without it being a derogatory punchline. (Kudos, of course, to creator Mindy Kaling who was also the writer on this episode.) And I especially love that wrestling with her identity as a young Indian woman is at the forefront of this episode for Devi. She spends most of the episode wrestling with not feeling like she fits in within her own culture, while simultaneously feeling like she doesn’t fit in with her peers.

The end result is a really fun episode that doesn’t rely on stereotypes or cliches in order to portray some lovely character development.


The fact that not all Indian Americans have the same religion is part of the plot of “... felt super Indian.” Devi explains that while her family is Hindu and therefore celebrating a Hindu holiday, not everyone who’s Indian is Hindu. (My best friend who’s Indian American, for example, is Sikh!) And quite a few things happen at Ganesh Puja: Nalini gets pitying glances and comments from “aunties” since this is her family’s first time celebrating the holiday since Mohan died. The episode focuses a bit on her and her relationship with the aunties, which I genuinely appreciated.

Later this season, we’re going to get more chances to see Nalini humanized and portrayed not just as Devi’s mom or Mohan’s wife but as a woman who’s struggling with her own grief. Much like Devi, she’s not always sure how to best handle the weight of her pain, but I love that we get a brief sense of the comments she has to endure from within her own community in this episode. We’re going to see more as the series unfolds about the kind of expectations placed on Nalini and the difficulty she’s had in the wake of Mohan’s death.

Kamala, meanwhile, spends the episode grappling with her arranged marriage once more. She meets a woman named Jaya who’s an outcast because she refused an arranged marriage, married a Muslim-Indian man, and ended up getting divorced.

The conversation between Kamala and Jaya seems to confuse Kamala even further — while Jaya doesn’t necessarily regret her choices, she also doesn’t wish the kind of social standing on anyone else that she currently has. Even Raj, a pandit at the celebration, can sense that Kamala isn’t happy and doesn’t want to be married. She’s supposed to be praying for it, but she’s stuck between the place of wanting to be true to who she is and her own happiness and not wanting to disappoint others.

Devi’s plot is the most significant in the episode. She’s eager to go away to college and break free from her family expectations and religious restrictions. She wants to distance herself as much as possible — at least that’s what she says in the beginning of the episode when she runs into a friend named Parvesh who’s voluntarily returned to celebrate Ganesh Puja. He tells Devi that after he went away to college and roomed with someone who’s Indigenous, he was inspired to connect with his culture in a meaningful way. 

Instead of his parent’s religion and heritage, Parvesh adopted his culture as his own for the first time and began to see it in a new way. Devi is still skeptical but she spends most of the episode trying to charm a college admissions advisor who can get her into any school she wants. When she pitches herself to him, he’s not impressed. He essentially tells her that nothing separates her from the other overachieving Indian American candidates he’s encountered. There’s nothing special or unique about her story. Devi is frustrated until Ron, the advisor, realizes that there IS something different about Devi — her tragic backstory. 

Ron tells Devi that if she shares the story of how her dad died and she was paralyzed, he could get her into any school she wanted. Devi, someone who’s spent the series so far running from the story that caused her so much pain, is stunned. And for a moment, we think that she might actually consider this. After all, she talks throughout the series about how she can’t wait to get away from her seemingly dull life and become her own person. But when she’s actually forced with the choice to share her grief to get something she wants, she refuses.

And then Devi runs into Paxton in the hallway. When he questions her sari and why she’s at school on the weekend, she tells him about Ganesh Puja, rambles a little bit, and then is surprised again when Paxton compliments her in a flirtatious way.

At the end of the episode, Nalini, Devi, and Kamala have a lovely little moment with Raj where he essentially tells them that they’re all going to be okay. The final shot of the episode is the three women looking out the windows of the van, hopeful.

Favorite things: 

  • “Looks like an ad for India, right?”
  • “We’re just obsessed with fountains.” “Oh, I love a fountain.”
  • “I’m gonna be an atheist who eats cheeseburgers every day with my white boyfriend.”

What did you all think of the episode? Sound off in the comments below!


Post a Comment