Her Real name is Vera Mindy Chokalingam. She’s half-Tamil, half-Bengali, born in the US to parents who moved from Nigeria. She’s more than a little dark. She’s more than a little chubby. She’s no Miss America 2013. Mindy Kaling could have settled into a desk job somewhere, watching Indian actors play bit parts and token brown persons in film and TV.
Instead, she decided she was too awesome to go unnoticed and turned to TV comedy. As a writer on the American version of The Office (the only woman among a team of eight), she proved to be so good, they gave her an on-screen role: the gloriously ditzy Kelly Kapoor. And even before the series ended, Kaling left to create and star in The Mindy Project, making her the first Indian headliner of a US TV show.
There are no Indian jokes on The Mindy Project. Her character the obstetrician/gynaecologist Dr Mindy Lahiri is not there for call-centre punchlines, head-nods or cracks about curry. Instead Lahiri is romance-obsessed, vain, shallow, klutzy, whiny, dramatic and altogether hilarious: “If my life’s gonna be a mess, it might as well be a hot mess, right?” Now in its second season in America, The Mindy Project has made Kaling famous, given her an A-list life (Lena Dunham is a bestie, James Franco is a co-star, designer bags are arm candy!) and turned her supremely funny book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) into a bestseller.
Is her life really sweet? We decided to find out.
Which is the harder stereotype to break, Indian, woman, comedian, chubby, boss or writer?
That is a very interesting question. I am in a fix now; all of these are quite strong stereotypes. The greatest challenge I personally went through is of a woman writer as most of the writing staffs on sitcoms are dominated by men. There is this unfair feeling that women can only write for women and men can only write for men. But Mike Schur created Leslie Knope [Parks And Recreation], Tina Fey created Jack Donaghy [30 Rock] and gave Alec Baldwin the role of his lifetime. Talent is talent, and really good writers can transcend those things. As far as other stereotypes are concerned, I think I have managed to break them too. The feeling is absolutely empowering.
What’s the best thing about being successful, famous and Indian?
It feels fantastic! It is hard earned success. I will be modest here: it is very nice when people especially from your own country praise you saying that they never thought anyone from India could earn such a position in American sitcom. I’ve come across young women saying I’m an inspiration for them. They find my character, Mindy, very mesmerising. In terms of my Indian-ness or being an Indian, I try not to rely on it nor deny it.
Your book describes how you saw sample-sized outfits at a shoot, locked yourself in a loo to cry. How do you feel about your weight now?
As a woman, I have evolved from that instance. Size no longer bothers me; I am pretty much comfortable with myself. I believe more women could benefit from spending less time preoccupied with body transformation and more time enjoying and accepting themselves. I fall into that chubby, nebulous, quote-unquote, normal American woman size that legions of fashion stylists detest. Many stylists hate my size because I think to them it shows that I lack the discipline to be an ascetic; or the confident, sassy abandon to be a total fatty hedonist.
What’s the best thing you can say to a person to make them feel awesome about their body?
Just be yourself and stay happy. That is the best advice I could possibly give. I would like to tell all the girls out there, your body is your choice so be confident and believe in yourself, the rest will follow you.
The Mindy Project airs on Comedy Central
From HT Brunch, October 13
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