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'Never Have I Ever's' heroine can be surprisingly cruel. Here's what's behind it

Danielle Broadway, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

While Devi is threatened by Aneesa replacing her, Aneesa sees it as an opportunity to befriend someone who understands her.

"Aneesa's whole thing is that she's just easygoing and she likes to make friends and just be someone that people can sort of gravitate towards," Suri said. "But I think what I was pulling from it was that she clearly came from a space, her previous school, where she was bullied for her eating disorder — and what we come to find out, as she says to Devi in the locker in my first episode, [is] that it's really nice to have an[other] Indian kid once in a while."

While tension may simmer onscreen between Devi and Aneesa, there's offscreen love and mutual respect between Ramakrishnan and Suri. ("I'll gas you up, Megan," Ramakrishnan said in the midst of complimenting her costar, noting that having two South Asian teens on the show was "awesome.")

Ultimately, even Devi and Aneesa's conflict can be traced to the broader pressures both face to balance being "Indian enough" and "American enough," not personal animus.

"Aneesa is great at code-switching from being with aunties to being with Devi in a way that I think Devi is envious of, because that is a skill that is something that is very hard to do to, like, occupy many different roles in society," Munir said. "As a young Indian teenager, it is brutal. And I think these two girls do such a beautiful job portraying it on screen."

Ramakrishnan explained that she relates to Devi's arc the most when it comes to "that feeling of wanting to always be perfect": from doing well on exams to checking the correct boxes on her COVID-19 screening paperwork she identifies with that fear of failure.

"You're like, 'Crap, I messed that up' or 'That was a really bad situation' or just trying to be a good daughter or just trying to be a good friend," she said. "Devi [goes] through that the entire season, obviously towards the guys, but also her mother and her cousin and her friends who she lets down when Eleanor says, 'You really Devi-ed this one up.'"

 

Devi, who is still working through the trauma of her father's death, is repeatedly labeled "crazy" for her behavior, while Aneesa worries about being reduced to her eating disorder. It turns out the two have more in common than they may realize, but the pressure to be perfect distorts their bond.

"We see at the end of the season, Devi just thinks she's a terrible person," Ramakrishnan said. "I've been there. It sucks so much because you're just like, 'I don't know what to do anymore. I feel like I'm messing things up for everyone. I'm a terrible person that ruins people's lives.' And funny enough, it's a Season 2 arc, but that's a quote from Season 1 — that's just how Devi feels all around in her life."

"But now you're adding the layer of like, 'I'm not the right South Asian daughter,'" she continued. "'I can't even be my culture. I can't be a pseudo girlfriend for these two guys I'm cheating on. I can't be a proper best friend who's there for her girls. What can I do?' It's exhausting and it sucks."

Ramakrishnan knows firsthand that feeling like a failure sometimes is normal — and that our missteps are part of what makes us who we are.

"I personally still go through it now, admittedly, but it happens and you've just got to accept the mess that you are, which is why I think Devi is still redeemable, somehow still her lovable self," she said. "Because we're all messes."

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