Netflix’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ is a teen drama that tells the story of an Indian-American girl named Devi Vishwakumar. The show charts her journey as she tries to navigate her life post a personal tragedy. She tries to balance love, friendship and family, but fails at most of it, leading to more problems for herself. The series is charming and funny and offers a fresh perspective on teen dramas with a different cultural lens. The fact that it is so relatable makes us wonder if the writers based it on their lives. Here’s the answer.
Is Never Have I Ever Based on a True Story?
No, ‘Never Have I Ever’ is not based on a true story or even on the life of Mindy Kaling. However, in writing the series, she did draw from the experiences of growing up in an Indian-American household. When Netflix approached Kaling for doing a series on her childhood, she found it best to flip the narrative for a modern Indian-American teenager instead of going back to the 80s and 90s. To create the story of a young adult, she turned towards Lang Fisher, with whom she had previously collaborated on ‘The Mindy Project’.
The duo also relied on their team, which featured Indian writers. They compared notes on their childhood and found that they were all familiar with things like praying to the gods on the day of the exams, getting their cars blessed by the priests, and so on. Kaling and Fisher also relied on the personal experiences of their cast to further refine their characters. They would take notes of the defining traits of their actors- how they talked, and the lingo they used in real life. Then they would embed these details in their on-screen persona.
There are also some similarities between Devi and Mindy’s life. Devi’s father is a huge fan of John McEnroe, which is why he serves as the narrator of the teen’s story. Mindy’s parents, too, had been his huge fans, which is what led her to seek him out in the first place. Devi’s mother is a doctor, and so was Mindy’s, though Nalini is a dermatologist while Kaling’s mother was OB/GYN. Devi suffers from the grief of losing her father, Mohan. Kaling’s mother passed away in 2012 due to pancreatic cancer.
The pain of losing her parent is a focal point of Devi’s story, and Kaling and Fisher wanted to portray the emotion mixed with comedy. They wanted it to be as realistic as possible, hoping that people would be able to connect with Devi’s response to her grief as their own.
Despite these things, there are a lot of things that set them apart. While Devi is mostly confident about what she wants and what to do, Kaling considered himself more of a shy nerd. “Even though she has all these problems with how she looks and her social life and everything, we wanted her to have an underlying cheerfulness and resilience I don’t think I had as a kid,” she explained. She also wanted to make Devi a character that she wanted to see on the screen when she was a teenager.
She wanted to break the typecasting of Indian girls and expand their horizons in television. “Nerds are not only the wallflowers and the quiet ones,” she said. “We’re ambitious, we have obnoxious personalities sometimes, we want to have sex and dreams like all the other kids. I felt lucky to be able to do a show about an Indian nerd who’s also badly behaved, to show that because I’m deeply familiar with it.”
Through Devi, Nalini and Kamala, Kaling also wanted to highlight the different shades of Indian women. Kamala tries to keep up with the façade of the perfect girl that everyone expects her to be, but she has her own wishes and problems underneath. Kaling also kept in mind to give Nalini the authenticity of an Indian parents. Unlike the other teen shows where parents try to talk to their children to understand them, ‘Never Have I Ever’ shows Nalini as the mother who threatens her daughter with smacking and murdering her. Indian parents refer to different ways to discipline their children, and Kaling kept in mind to show that difference on the screen.
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