Thursday, May 6, 2021

Indian-origin actress Simone Ashley joins Bridgerton – here’s why it matters

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

Even as the last episode of Netflix’s Bridgerton wrapped up, its devoted, insatiable viewers were already hitting social media to demand more. Now in an exciting turn of events, their highly anticipated second season is set to include Indian-origin actress Simone Ashley in a pivotal role.

After years of having to claim Apu as the token Indian character until names like Hasan Minhaj, Lilly Singh, and Mindy Kaling came along, Indians can rest easy knowing that pop culture is slowly headed the right way. Seeing South Asian representation on a global streaming platform is thrilling news – and it’s more affirming that it will be on one of Netflix’s biggest shows of all time.

The Twitterverse has, of course, already made their happiness known.

The fact is, people of colour have existed throughout history, especially in Regency-era London, given old ties with the British Empire. Bridgerton has broken the mould in favouring representation over authenticity, unlike its period dramas counterparts and when season 2 releases, fans will get to happily suspend their disbelief, if only for a short while, to watch Simone Ashley as the fiery Kate Sharma among London’s ton. (A darker-skinned woman romancing the Viscount Anthony Bridgerton? Now that’s enough to make anyone sit up.)

With all these developments, it’s clear that production houses are starting to note the success, both critical and commercial, in translating our multicultural world to the big screen.

Still, it wasn’t until this past year with Never Have I Ever’s Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) that we saw an Indian girl as the protagonist of a mainstream show. Earlier this month, comedian Abby Govindan had us all convinced that Golden Globe nominated series Emily in Paris was “originally about an Indian girl” but was rejected by network executives. Consider this: why did we fall for it?

Fact is, Indians were the world’s largest diaspora in 2020, with about 18 million people born there now living abroad. To depict them now as taxi drivers, convenience store workers, and characters with thick cliched accents, would not only be factually incorrect, it just wouldn’t stick.

Thankfully, there’s been a marked shift in the 21st century. We might still see the occasional South Asian stereotype (think taxi driver Ranjit in How I Met Your Mother) but they’re slowly outweighed by more realistic depictions. Consider New Girl’s Cecelia Parekh (Hannah Simone) and Neighbours’ Dipi Rebecchi (Sharon Johal), who are of Indian origin, but it’s not their entire identity.

When these characters feel like real people who have opinions, flaws, world views, and an existence outside of their cultural background, they have the amazing capacity to question who, or what, others deem ‘being Indian’ to be.

sharon johal, hannah simone
Sharon Johal (left) and Hannah Simone (right)

READ ALSO: Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj has come to an end

Within the entertainment industry, this can mean more meaningful contributions from South Asian actors, directors, writers, and all other creative staff who get to translate their reality onscreen. (In Master of None, an entire episode was devoted to Aziz Ansari’s character Dev, an actor by profession, who refuses to put on an accent in an audition – and subsequently doesn’t get the part.)

Diversity in the media is especially crucial in the case of children, who’ve been exposed to typecast characters for far too long. For first generation immigrants, who continue to grapple with where they are and the culture they come from, normalising the Indian diaspora onscreen can make all the difference. (As for depictions of India in popular culture… well, that’s another conversation in its own right.)

At this stage, it’s fair to say that we’ve got a seat at the table – what are we doing about it?

- Advertisement -
Rhea L Nath
Rhea L Nath
Rhea L Nath is a writer, editor, and content creator based in Sydney. In 2020, she was nominated for Young Journalist of the Year (Premier's Multicultural Media Awards)

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisement -


Ep 9: What do young Indians want from love?

Growing up in Indian culture, most of us know that love has never been as popular as marriage. Even in the movies, the main...

Ep 8: Indian links in Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann’s...

To celebrate NAIDOC week 2020 (between 8-15 November) I spoke to Yakunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann about her time in India where she taught...

Ep 7: In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput

  The torrid and high-octane Sushant Singh Rajput case has been fodder for Indian people and press for the last few months. The actor’s tragic...
- Advertisement -

Latest News

Goa's Chief Minister Pramod Sawant

Indian states declare journalists as frontline workers

  Journalists working in Goa will be designated as frontline workers and will be vaccinated against Covid-19 soon, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said today. "We have...
#bringthemback #strandedaussies Pawan Luthra on ABC The Drum

‘Bring them back’: Pawan Luthra discusses #StrandedAussies on The Drum

  As the harsh second wave of COVID-19 sweeps through India, its drastic effects on the Indian healthcare system and the sharp rise in infections...
australia dispatches medical supplies to India

Australia dispatches medical supplies to India

  Australia will deliver essential medical supplies to India today as part of the initial package of support to the Indian government for combatting the...

WATCH: How a van told Goans to ‘stay the f*** at...

  In Goa, a van drove around Calangute playing a unique jingle to promote staying at home. The jingle goes: Stay the f*** at home Stay the f***...
australia's india travel ban

Australia’s India travel ban: Hard to find it not racist

  Australian citizens have been banned from Australia. It would be interesting to conduct a global poll about why citizens would be refused entry into their...