By: Faatimah Essack
Growing up as an Indian girl in a Westernised country, I often felt disconnected with my culture and a huge part of my identity. The ideal Indian woman is found in Bollywood with luscious brown locks, a simultaneously full but slim figure, and often with Eurocentric facial features. She is submissive in many ways, probably a great cook (with perfectly round rotis), and a model wife and mother, embodying and promoting all the holistically Indian family values.
I, the uni-browed girl trying to control my hair growth, watch my weight, and excel academically, never really felt represented in the media. Therefore, Mindy Kaling’s creation and portrayal of Mindy Lahiri profoundly impacted my identity as an Indian woman in the 21st century.
Mindy is not conventionally beautiful. For one thing, seeing an Indian woman darker than the shade of milky tea on the big screen in Bollywood or anywhere else is like seeing a unicorn. Darker skin has always been stigmatized, and bleaching is still a common practice today. Mindy surpassed the acceptable colour scale by a significant degree, and is uninhibitedly BROWN. She also does not have a perfect hourglass figure and openly struggled to maintain a diet, something I can relate to all too well.
Marriage is a huge part of Indian culture, and even more intrinsic to that culture is the widespread practice of arranged marriage. Contrary to these norms, Mindy started the series as a single woman already in her 30s and still living alone. She never let herself be dictated by a man’s will, remaining fiercely independent even later on as a single mother. She was stubborn and relentless, and spent several seasons advocating for women’s issues, particularly health and fertility.
On top of it all, Mindy Lahiri wholeheartedly embraced her quirks. She was, much like her creator Mindy Kaling, a self-proclaimed obsessive lover of romantic comedies, pop culture and the occasional white man. It was so refreshing to see an Indian woman defy all forms of the timid, picture-perfect representations I had become accustomed to seeing on screens and posters and advertisements everywhere. Mindy was messy, foul-mouthed, and sharply witty, and I utterly adored her for it.
The Mindy Project was by no means a perfect show, or even a critically acclaimed one. It did not try, as so many other shows do nowadays, to be overtly socially aware. It was light, endearing, and funny. It served as a break from seeing brown people as taxi drivers, terrorists, or yoga instructors. It turned South Asian stereotypes on their heads and resonated with audiences of multiple ethnic backgrounds. Lasting six seasons in our over-saturated TV atmosphere with a WoC lead and showrunner is no small feat, either, and Kaling opened the doors for other Indian women like Priyanka Chopra (Quantico) and Amber Rose Revah (The Punisher) to become TV leads in their own right.
In short, thank you, Mindy, for inspiring me to be comfortable in my melanin-infused skin. Thank you for challenging me to build a successful career for myself in my chosen profession. Most of all, thank you for making me feel represented in a rom-com amidst a sea of bland, whitebread Hallmark movies. I hope you continue to break barriers in the entertainment industry and beyond.
Editor: Melissa Lee