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Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran's Bridgerton Debut Gives Indian Girls the Representation We Needed

Culture

*Spoilers Ahead*

Bridgerton season 2 was, inexplicably, a roller-coaster of dramatic proportions. With the new Mr. Featherington, Eloise's potential new beau, and the sheer tension between the two leads, this season abandoned the steaminess of the first for a large portion of the season and instead focused on scarily charged looks that lasted so long they made you itch.

But, at the center of both the love story and the season's arch are two brown women -- Indian women not tokenized or exoticized, but rather depicted as elegant, poised, and irrevocably normal. In more ways than one, this is a wildly new characterization of the Indian female lead, and it establishes a beautiful precedent in mainstream media that shows how to seamlessly integrate culture without making it a centerpiece of every storyline.

Edwina Sharma, a newcomer to England's elite courting scene, and proclaimed "season's diamond", arrives with her elder sister Kate Sharma and mother Mary to find herself a husband amongst England's upper echelon. The character also refers to her sister as didi, Hindi for "older sister." Kate Sharma finds herself drinking chai outside of Bridgerton Manor while sweeping in cardamom and cloves, flavors sparsely found in Starbucks' "chai tea latte." I grew up calling my older brother "anna," and bringing home packs of Wagh Bakri tea from Patel Brothers and Mumbai when we had the chance to visit. These small things reinforce the genuine nuances of Indian culture that a lot of the younger generation experienced, without making it their entire personality.

While the Sharmas take the ton by storm, the plot-line doesn't centralize on how they do so despite their Indian heritage, something you don't see in most other examples of modern representation. Jessie's Ravi and Never Have I Ever's Devi both play into the ideology that the win is getting the white boy, talking to the blonde girl. The Sharma's familial dynamics and the way they carry themselves is the win for representation here.

The series shows the Sharma sisters putting oil in their hair, drinking chai, and performing a haldi ceremony prior to Edwina's purported wedding. With a beautiful instrumental of the iconicized Hindi song "Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham", the shot portrays a much more intimate version of a new beautified and raucous spectacle, and reinforces the intimacy of both sisters and the mother as they approach the English ton as outsiders.

This intimacy between the three women shows the importance of tradition and culture even in the throes of ballgowns and "courting"-- much like my parents aimed to do with my brother and I when we grew up in the states instead of India.

This dynamic purportedly reestablishes confidence in young Indian women and places two Indian leads at the front of a widely popular show, and it doesn't spectacularize them. Instead, the casting feels natural, and makes representation that much closer to normalcy. Simone Ashwini Pillai and Charithra Chandran were seamlessly able to give an identity to Indian characters in western media outside of romanticized marigold montages and "curry," giving them depth and identifying them as functioning members of a high society. And, they do things that don't feel out of place. They aren't depicted as socially inept, overtly nerdy or haughty, and don't have an overdone accent meant for a laugh.

When I was younger, the romantic comedies never allowed me to fit within them. I was never characterized as the person who got swept off their feet unless I was listening to Hindi or Telugu. While the representation is not perfect (*cough* *cough* What is "Hindustani?" *cough* *cough*), the season is able to implement two leading women who turn "eurocentric" beauty standards on their heads in a way that we haven't seen before. In Bridgerton, Kate and Edwina are depicted as poised and beautiful, and that is what girls need to see. Indian women in the media who are allowed and encouraged to be poised and beautiful.

Riya Jayanthi
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Riya Jayanthi is a freshman in college from Atlanta, GA who loves acai bowls, the saints, and the smiths. She's also published two books of poetry, and is on instagram @riyasnoms!