Tamil-Canadian actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan needs no introduction. After all, she was named one of TIME100's Next most influential people of 2021.
She brings spunk, sass and next-level confidence to her role as Devi on Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever,” — the second season is now streaming. Ramakrishnan unapologetically owns the role, telling Yahoo Canada that Devi’s sharp tongue and sass is definitely all borrowed from her own personality.
Co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, and loosely based on Kaling’s own teenage years, “Never Have I Ever” explores the complicated relationship a young Indian-American teen has with her family, her culture and ultimately, her identity. Season two of the show is heartfelt, and layered with witty humour and teen drama, making this an extremely satisfying watch.
Ramakrishnan reveals the most relatable South Asian moment
Devi is a much more nuanced depiction of a young South Asian girl that has not really been explored on American TV – let alone as the lead character. Devi doesn’t just break the stereotype of the nerdy Indian girl, but she shows that South Asians are more three dimensional and well, complicated. She’s smart, but also gets into trouble at home and in school, she’s boy-crazy and messes up big-time, just like all of us.
Ramakrishnan echoes this and says it’s her favourite thing about Devi: “Yeah, she's a nerd. She's super smart. But she's still confident. She's not a shy nerd that's incapable of talking to people.”
What season two of "NHIE" does so well is how it handles micro-aggressions that many South Asians and people of colour can relate to. This season, we see the addition of a new cast member Megna Suri as Aneesa, the new Indian girl at Sherman Oaks. The other kids calls her Devi 2.0. One episode brings up an important point about how having an Indian friend meant she will understand Devi in ways no else can. For instance, when everyone constantly mispronounces your name or people ask you where you’re “really from.”
Speaking about the most relatable South Asian moment this season, Ramakrishnan revealed: “Yes, yes, there was a good moment. And I think it's this season's donut line. If you remember from season one, when Devi says, 'Either I'm too Indian, or I'm not Indian enough, and all I want to do is eat a damn donut.' Yeah, this season, I think that kind of line is when Devi is giving that advice to [her cousin] Kamala saying, 'People just expect Indian women to bow down and hand them a cup of tea or some shit, but you can't let them.' That's my favourite line because it is so relatable on the level of yes, South Asian but as South Asian women, of the stereotypes and the expectations. There's so much that is being said in that moment, and then how it translates later to Kamala losing her cool.”
Kamala (played by Richa Moorjani) battles sexism while working with her white male colleagues. The series smartly mocks the advice that Kamala and most women in her situation are usually given – to play the game.
Ramakrishnan on the show’s most underrated moment
Growing up as a South Asian girl in Canada, Ramakrishnan definitely related to what it’s like having friends from the same culture who understand you. "Growing up and still now I have a bunch of different friends from a bunch of different backgrounds. And funny enough when I was hanging out with my best friend back in Canada the other day, we got like, you know, naan and butter chicken and paneer... all the curries. We decided to get takeout that day, but usually my best friends, they just eat whatever my grandma cooks. So all the different eggplant curries, spinach curries, all those things that, you know, some of my other friends might not eat, which is totally okay."
"But my best friends, they are like, 'Yeah, I'm down!' It's easy. And we're eating with our hands. It's no judgement. It's completely chill. I don't have to worry about them. Like, 'Is that okay for you? Is that too spicy?' I don't have to do that...We're just eating. And we're chilling and enjoying food together, which is really nice. That is a really underrated moment about John McEnroe's narration, when he says that Devi finally found a friend that understood her in ways or other friends didn't.”
Season two is more confident and compelling
Ramakrishnan is truly the star of the show. She makes the character her own, offering killer comic timing, sass and charisma. Season two of "NHIE" has stronger plots for the other characters this time around and continues to delve on important issues, like mental health and eating disorders.
Poorna Jagannathan, who plays Devi’s mother, maintains an incredible charm as the helicopter parent who’s still grieving her husband’s death while newly-cast Ranjita Chakravarty brings much-needed humour as Devi’s grandmother who has just moved in from India. Watching the grandmother and her idiosyncrasies was one of the highlights of the show, making for even more relatable moments for the audience.
Devi’s relationship with her grandma was something that was important to Ramakrishnan as well. “In real life, both my mom and my dad’s [parents] are still alive, and are really close to me. And I love and adore them. And I didn't want Devi's relationship with her grandma to be like, 'Ew, you’re old' kind of relationship. It was, as we see it, it was like, 'Hey, Pati! You're here. This is awesome!'"
A rapid fire round with Maitreyi
You're putting on an elaborate routine for a big apology and you get to pick three celebrities on your team. Who would it be?
"Mindy. Mindy will be down. Easy call. I’ll ask Simu [Liu]… another easy call. I’m asking all the friends. I'm just gonna ask Lang. Lang will be down. Lang’s always down to clown."
When Devi is grounded, she tries to get online to watch TikTok videos. What would you be craving most if you were grounded?
"Probably, video games."
One thing you’d never leave home without?
Go-to snack on set?
"Water. Because on set, we were not allowed snacks and we could only bring on water in COVID times."
Best way to unwind after a long day?
"Ice cream… ice cream right out of the pint!"
I know you also love TikTok so what are the top types of videos you’re browsing?
"I get a lot of makeup videos on TikTok. I used to be on Harry Potter TikTok but now that seems to fade away. Oh and 'Avatar the Last Airbender'. I was on 'Avatar the Last Airbender' on TikTok for a hot minute."
Team Paxton or Team Ben?
"Neither — Team Devi!"
"Never Have I Ever" Season Two premieres on Netflix on July 15.