If there’s something that Devi Vishwakumar excels in (other than her APs and extensive list of extracurriculars), it’s conjuring chaos. ”Never Have I Ever,” created by comedic masterminds Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, stars Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as the impulsive protagonist with a penchant for cringey snap decisions that make us yell “Why, Devi?!” at the TV screen. As the series evolves, viewers get to know her character as fragmented: She is, all at once, shattered by the trauma of losing her father, mired in questionable decisions that uproot her relationships, and on a near-destructive quest to lose her virginity.
While these plot points still anchor the series’ newest and penultimate season, Devi’s approached rock bottom a little differently this time, by remixing the messy brown girl archetype with self love and respect. “You’re never too much, and you’re always enough,” Devi’s mother, the stern matriarch Nalini Vishwakumar played by Poorna Jagannathan, reminds her. It’s a mantra that underlies her coming-of-age in Season 3.
For Ramakrishnan, Devi’s fragmentation doesn’t equate to brokenness; it’s more like a mosaic of mirrors. And in watching Devi grow this season, young South Asian women everywhere come to see pieces of ourselves reflected back.
As Devi’s therapist and voice-of-reason Dr. Ryan says in the season’s final episode that she’s not the same girl she was freshman year. And not coincidentally, neither is Maitreyi. The actor told me about Devi’s transformation embracing the messy brown girl — and how their self-love journeys aren’t that different from each other after all.
This season, we really see Devi own her mistakes, confront her trauma and grow emotionally. How have you mirrored Devi’s evolution?
Back in the first season, I had a good bit of imposter syndrome. It was a little daunting to know how many people auditioned for this role, knowing that you really haven’t taken a single acting class in your life. When I look back at Season 1 sometimes, I’m like, “Oh Maitreyi, you can do better than that!” But now, after filming everything, I feel like I’ve grown so much and I respect myself as an actor. There’s way less self-hate and more times where I’m like, “Wow! I’m a funny son of a gun!” So in that way, as Devi’s gone through her own journey of self-confidence, I’ve gone through that journey, too.
This season showcases the diversity of the South Asian diaspora’s experiences. How does this season further affirm that we aren’t a monolith?
All of the South Asian characters are so different this season. For instance, Aneesa’s not Devi, Devi’s not Kamala, Kamala’s not Nalini, or Prashant, Nirmala or Rhyah. We emphasize that we’re not one kind of personality, though we come from similar cultures. That, to me, is breaking the stereotype. We all have different interests and personalities.
My favorite thing about Season 2 was the addition of Aneesa as a character, because it was another young brown girl who people could see themselves in. Devi as a character also breaks stereotypes constantly, about how she lives her life. She’s not going to be the shy, on-the-side best friend. She’s going to be the loud, confident one who’s seizing the day. And, in Season 3, Kamala gets a bit of that, too, when she decides that she needs to write her own destiny and do what’s right by her.
For Devi, Season 3 is a journey in self-love. How was filming this season a lesson in loving yourself?
The reason why this season’s going to be more impactful than the last two seasons is because it’s on this topic of self-love, so many people can relate. Self-love as a journey is not exclusive to coming-of-age, YA, high school story — it’s one that many people can understand. It’s so hard to love yourself. It’s not one and done; you can be on top of the world one month, then the next month, you might just feel like crap.
I’ve been on this self-love journey for the entirety of the show. I got this role when I was 17, and now I’m 20, and those are pretty hectic years in people’s lives. I realized yesterday at the red carpet, that had there been a Season 1 premiere, I would have worn something chill. Something a little less risqué, less high slit — just because I wasn’t the as-confident person I am today. So what was pretty fun was, for my first red carpet for ”Never Have I Ever,” I got to wear this smokin’ hot, bombshell black dress, which was a dream. That was one of my favorite looks to this day. Season 1 Maitreyi would have been like, “nah, I’m probably going to flash something by accident.”
I’ve definitely gone through a bit of a self-love journey myself that’s, yet again, had some ups and downs — some days where I’m top of the world, some days where I’m not, and that’s OK. We just keep trying to work on ourselves. I deserve that, as does everyone — we all deserve to love ourselves. We’re stuck with ourselves till the day we die, goddammit!
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan attends the Los Angeles premiere of Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever” Season 3 on August 11 in Los Angeles, California.
Tommaso Boddi via Getty Images
How is Devi learning how to love herself this season?
The biggest moment she realizes she needs to start loving herself is the moment she loses Paxton in that relationship. What’s heartbreaking to her about it is that she understands that it’s not Paxton that was a problem — it was her. And she messed it up for herself. She realizes that she’s becoming the biggest obstacle in her own way, and she’s got some work to do.
Since Season 1, people have described Devi as confident and bold, which she is. But, in my own opinion, I’ve always played her with a little bit of shielded insecurity. There’s always a twinge of sadness to this girl. So I think she realizes it the most in that moment that she needs to do some work, because she doesn’t want to keep going through life ruining relationships of all kinds — platonic or romantic — because she can’t get out of her own way.
Devi’s made a bunch of mistakes that upended her life in previous seasons. This season, how has Devi’s chaos evolved? How does it manifest differently?
Since Season 1, Devi’s always tried to do good things. She has a strong sense of justice about her, though she doesn’t go about it in necessarily the best way. Now she’s learning to give herself the time to process what she does before she does it because she wants to respect herself and others. I mean, girl’s got a lot of feelings, as Dr. Ryan says. Sometimes, that can feel very overwhelming. But she’s learning how to handle them, not shut them out or kill them off, but rather embrace them and use them as tools for care and empathy. I mean, she’s going to keep messing up — that’s why we love her, right? She messes up because we all mess up. At any point in our lives, we make mistakes, no matter how good of an intent we have. But, I think she’s getting a little bit more mature.
Let me make it clear — I miss and love the Devi chaos. As an actor, it’s so much fun. Nothing will beat an apology in a cricket costume. Like, that was me. I don’t want anyone to think it was a stunt double in a costume. That was me, and I loved it.
That was an incredible scene from Season 2. But also, it was probably really sweaty in that costume.
It was disgusting. I am a brown girl that sweats. Let’s have that open and honest conversation. I sweat a lot. I really do. The helmet was basically a motorcycle helmet with felt all around it and, oh my god, that body — eugh! There were no fans inside. But I was going to get into it no matter how sweaty it was. I really wanted to do the dance and I was very excited.
How do you think Devi’s depiction of messiness in Season 3 sets a positive example for young brown girls?
We are often told by, not just film and TV, but by society that we can’t mess up. The reality is — and I’m just speaking just as a brown girl, but this goes for many identities and background — we have to be perfect at so many things. As someone who’s in the entertainment industry, it’s not enough for me to just be good as a comedic actress. I need to be able to then be a great dramatic actress, then be able to play all of these different instruments, speak well in public settings, and just be so much because that’s what society demands of us. And, TV has shown that we aren’t allowed to make mistakes and that we have to be prim and proper, otherwise we’ll upset people.
But Devi messes up royally. And she’s still somehow a character we root for. I think that’s really refreshing — I love seeing a brown girl mess up. One of my favorite things that fans say is, “We support Devi’s rights, but also Devi’s wrongs.”
What do you want to say to the brown girls who are figuring out how to love themselves through the chaos?
Hang in there. Focus on loving yourself, don’t take random losers’ opinions about you, don’t worry about what they have to say about you. If you mess up, it’s going to be okay, because you’ll come back up on top. Don’t let that one mess-up define you. You are so much more than the person you are today — there’s so much more to your life that’s going to happen that you don’t even know. It’s going to be amazing, exciting and rich — and I can’t wait for you to see that. Because, I didn’t know what my life was going to be like this a couple of years ago, and I’m already pretty psyched. But I’m even more psyched about the years to come.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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