The first season of the Netflix comedy Never Have I Ever was an unexpected hit, trending in many countries at number one the day after its release. Created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, we saw an Indian American teen girl lead an international comedy-drama for the very first time. The lead actress of the show, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who plays Devi Vishwakumar, became a household name with her very first acting job. The show also ended with an unexpected twist, and a hint towards a potential love triangle.
Now, after a year and a pandemic, the show is back with its second season. To mark its release, we spoke to Maitreyi, who talked about her experience filming season two, the importance of a South Asian lead and the highly-anticipated love triangle between Devi, Ben (Jaren Lewison) and Paxton (Darren Barnett).
Talking about filming season 2, Maitreyi shared, “It was really awesome to get back into the character, especially in this season because I did not know what was going to happen to her. I got to find out while reading the scripts and I was so excited to see it actually happen. It was a true joy and probably the best part of my quarantine.”
Maitreyi, who was a student when she auditioned for the show, talked about the difference she felt as an actor while filming season 2. “I feel a smidge of a difference. I think I have grown a little bit and I’m not as new. I feel more confident with my skills. I had a great first season and now I can cry on command. I can cry a lot,” she shared.
Never Have I Ever, which was loosely inspired by Mindy Kaling’s own life, got a lot of appreciation for showing an Indian immigrant family at the centre. On the other hand, it also talked about how first generation American born Indians grapple with their dual identity. Talking about how season 2 will tackle culture and identity, Maitreyi said, “Without giving spoilers, there is a really nice moment between Kamala and Devi that I really like. I don’t want to say what’s said in the scene but she explains the frustration of tackling those two identities, but also the stereotypes that Indian women deal with.
“The pressures and all the expectations that we have to deal with when people talk to us and how they treat us sometimes. With Devi’s own relationship with her culture and her background being Tamil, she is learning, but in a natural way that a fifteen year old girl would. It is something that is there, but it is not all that you are. Her culture isn’t everything she is. She is also just a really cool girl, who is really awkward, really nerdy and has a lot of anger issues.”
The first season ended with a passionate kiss between Devi and her nemesis Ben, while throughout the season she had a crush on her hot classmate Paxton. Describing Devi’s complicated love-life in season two, Maitreyi said, “It’s like a roller-coaster ride, not a baby roller-coaster that goes in a circle, not a Ferris wheel. But like a crazy roller-coaster ride that you will scream on. You will also say that it was fun, in the end. But you will scream."
She also gave a diplomatic answer when asked to choose between Ben and Paxton. She said, “In my genuine personal opinion, I am on the best team, the greatest team, which is Team Devi. She is a part of the love triangle too and she is a great option. Self love is important.”
Since the love triangle is the focus of season two, does Maitreyi feel apprehensive that it might take away the focus from Devi’s own story? “That is a great question that no one has asked me before. Honestly, for sure I don’t want Devi’s character to only be about boys because she is so much more than that. She is a smart girl, she has got great friends. She has got her family which is so dramatic. She has so much more to her life. This is not me saying any spoilers, but though the trailer may seem a certain way, about only being about the guys and just lots of kissing. It might just not be that. That is all I can say. Devi still has her own story to tell, which is away from the guys. She definitely grows as her own independent girl,” she shared.
When the show was first announced in 2020, it was positioned as a story of a teenager who is curious about sex and festers a crush on her classmate. When the show was released, it turned out to be much more than that, even though there was an effort to normalise it. However, there were few people who criticised the show for focusing on sex. Maitreyi addressed the criticism, and also said ensured that there would be more discourse around sex and sexuality in season 2.
“Not just through Devi, sex is an open thing that is talked about through a lot of characters. I know a lot of people think ‘Oh she is just fifteen, she shouldn’t talk about that.’ Sometimes I think to myself that we are saying that because she is a young, South Asian girl and we have this idea that they shouldn’t talk about it. The reality is, kids are talking about it. So why don’t we normalise the conversation? Let’s make it a little less awkward, take out the myths and just be honest about it. Because it can be a funny conversation. It one hundred percent needs to be a conversation,” she signed off.
Never Have I Ever also stars Poorna Jagannathan, Richa Moorjani, Lee Rodriguez and Ramona Young in pivotal roles. It premieres on Netflix on Thursday, July 15.