After what feels like eons, I binge-watched a show. Never Have I Ever season two dropped on Netflix this past week. I am a sucker for young adult stories – books, films, shows and, magazines. It gives me a peek into what it could be like for my daughters growing up in this country. That apart, I just like seeing beautiful people on screen. Yes, I am shallow like that.
When season one dropped, it was new, it was unheard of to have a mainstream desi Tamil protagonist who was not an aggregate of all desi tropes. I cringe watched that season as I did this one. Cringe because there were so many things that having a sensitivity reader type of person in the writing room could have fixed. The whole plotline with Kamala made me cringe because of the fallacies in portrayal not to mention having an actor unable to get what a Tamil arranged marriage in modern times looks like.
Before I get to the parts that made me think, I’ll get the things that had me going “God! why?” out. Each time, I see Nalini in her thali and neli modharam, I wince. I wince because, in my circle of people purportedly from her era, I see the occasional thali, a miniature version of the real deal. I sometimes see a cute karugamani pendant. I very rarely see the long chain with all the fixings that go into the traditional thali. I also have never seen women like me wear the neli modharam unless they are attending a wedding and the pavazham in the neli compliments their saree. Admittedly, I could be mistaken but I did flinch each time I saw it.
When Nalini enters her mother’s home in Chennai, you see this woman decked up like a mannequin in a jewelry shop and I wondered where in Chennai do you see maamis wearing so much jewelry to attend a wedding unless it is their child’s wedding? The whole standoffishness was off-putting because I could not relate. The families I know, even when unconcerned about their children, are not on the face about it. The remarks are snide and to use a colloquialism, “vazhapazhathula la oosi ethara madhiri…”
Nalini decides to fly Nirmala, her mother in law to live with them in California. Perhaps, she had a visa or a green card or was a US citizen, but we have not seen this character when her son died and to have her sprung upon us this season without some heartache of visa and travel issues seemed bizarre.
Now, to the parts that resonated and were a breath of fresh air. Finally, we have a protagonist who is as messy as they come. Entitled, hormonal and, absolutely lacking in remorse for all the bad and I mean absolutely bad things she does. Even when she is remorseful, it is shallow as I have seen all around me. Mindy absolutely nailed the dynamics in kids that age. I felt for Devi, I was shaking my head, dispensing advice in my head and wondering if this child will ever see the gravity of what she did to Aneesa. Even when she finally does, it doesn’t ring that true but it stayed true to the character.
Aneesa fumbles playing her part in English class and I groaned alongside Devi and Ben and let her fall off the pedestal I had her on. It was the ultimate desi moment for me. The humanizing of the characters, the placing of people on pedestals, and watching them fall and, pick themselves again.
The best part about the show is that I watched the show not focusing on the representation part as much as I did the first time and, realized when it was over, that it felt more like the real world around me. That, in my opinion, is what makes it worth watching. The characters are complex, layered, and problematic. The sexism, misogyny and, racism don’t feel forced. It flows with the story and you feel as you finally heave a sigh of relief that it is over, that the whole thing felt as mainstream as mainstream is, flaws and all.