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Indian accents were often mocked on TV. ‘Never Have I Ever’ tried to get them right

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“Never Have I Ever,” Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s comic blend of immigrant and coming-of-age stories, debuted to acclaim on Netflix in late April, thanks to both its breakout star and its engaging tale of an Indian American teen, Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), navigating the expectations of two cultures in the San Fernando Valley.

In a recent remote video conversation with the cast, Times TV critic and moderator Lorraine Ali asked Ramakrishnan’s costars Poorna Jagannathan and Richa Moorjani about the challenges those expectations pose for actors — including the adoption of Indian accents for their roles. As Moorjani said, it required a dialect coach, advice from those with roots in southern India and “hours and hours of YouTube videos”:

I just had an interview yesterday and the first thing she said to me when I came on was, “Oh, you don’t have an accent!” I guess that’s a good thing because that means my accent was believable. That was the biggest challenge for me with this particular role, because it’s the first time I’ve had to do that accent for TV ... There’s so many different Indian accents, and that’s something we really haven’t had a chance to see on American television. In the past, we’ve only seen one type of accent, and a lot of the time it’s played by people who aren’t even South Asian. There’s a lot of sensitivity around the issue, and there’s a lot of scrutiny, because for so long it’s been a little bit negatively portrayed.

Watch the full conversation in the video above to hear how Ramakrishnan got the role, why Jagannathan thought this mom character was different and much more.


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