Mississauga’s own Maitreyi Ramakrishnan stars in Netflix’ series Never Have I Ever, from Mindy Kaling, now in its second season. The show’s a bright light in the vast desert of young adult offerings and concerns the life and times of Indian American Devi Vishwakumar as she navigates the landmines of high school. She’s not dark, insecure or floating aimlessly; knows who she is. Devi speaks her mind, has ideas and makes things happen, a character that’s fresh in a post slacker world. Ramakrishnan is in a sweet spot, as an ambassador for Plan International Canada, one of the New York Times’ best actors of the year, named in Time magazine’s 2021 TIME 100 Next, an annual list of individuals who are shaping the future of their fields. And the energy! Ramakrishnan lights up a room as What She Said’ Anne Brodie recently discovered.
Anne – When you read the script and you knew it was Mindy’s story, did you also bring your own stuff to it or did you stick by the script and your observations of Mindy?
Maitreyi – I don’t know if Devi will be floating in the air in other random episodes that maybe are yet to come. We could turn into a sci-fi. We never know. I don’t know. I’m open to those ideas. But when it comes to it being based off of Mindy’s life, I remember the tweet, the tweet didn’t say that it is based off of her childhood, her high school days. And I remember reading that and thinking, okay, cool. I don’t know Mindy. I don’t know what she was like in high school. I don’t know her as a friend back then and be like, oh, I know exactly how she was like. I’ll go do this. It was just like, okay, that’s cool.
When I was just auditioning originally because the original tweet already contained that information that it’s about her young life. So I already knew about that, but this goes on of course while we were filming the first episode, second, third, fourth. But before I had access to her and I was just auditioning, my thought process was, okay, I don’t know her. I know what it’s like to be a teen though and here are the lines. Let me understand this character and what I think this person is to be and also bring a little bit of myself because I know what it’s like to be a teen, right? A little good mix. While filming the first episode, that’s when I got to actually talk to Mindy and start learning and hearing her stories of growing up which was really cool and so awesome to hear. But you bring a little bit of yourself while also understanding like, okay, cool, this is how you grew up, cool.
So you mix the two. It’s a necessity. I don’t see how you could have done it any other way. Dev’s a good person in terms of being a daughter, a friend, a student, a teenager.
She has her ragers and things, but that’s okay. Did you feel a responsibility to the audience or to yourself?
Definitely of course a responsibility to like, A, do a good job, not be a terrible actress. You don’t want to ruin the show here, but also just there was the possibility of representation for sure, but when it comes to Devi being a good person, she is a good person. She’s trying to be a good person. But she’s also like a really messy person that messes up a lot and makes really huge mistakes and does hurt people, which is unfortunate. She’s trying to be better. But that’s the thing. That’s why we love her because she’s still trying. You hate that you love her, you know?
Absolutely, she’s just human like the rest and especially at that time of her life when everything is shifting.
The past is going. This weird new future is spreading out ahead of her, maybe moving back to India. Her world is just on fire right now.
The world is definitely on fire, for sure.
And she has two boyfriends. Niecy Nash who plays your shrink, says, and a truer thing couldn’t be said, “You don’t have two boyfriends. You have zero boyfriends” because you have two boyfriends.
Yeah, by those standards, you have zero. I remember reading that line and I was like, damn, Dr. Ryan, like, damn. Geez. I think at the end of the scene, I think we’ve cut that scene short because it was just more impactful to end on her line and just Devi’s reaction. But I think I actually had a line after that was like, “Damn, Doc. I just meant to drop off some C’s.” That was actually the line.
Okay. I think that is a great example of great scriptwriting and editing now that you say that.
Yes, and editing, top to bottom! Right from the start.
Yeah, for sure. Devi’s mother’s emotional and that’s a worry.
She’s going through her own situation. Just as much as Devi is trying to confront her grief, so was Nalini. At the beach, at the end of season 1, that was the first time she admitted that she’s not doing great. She’s not okay. She’s upset. She’s going through it and she’s confused and she’s scared. So she’s definitely got her own baggage for sure.
Devi is wise enough at her young age to know her mum needs support and understanding even though she’s threatening to move back to India.
In the beginning, Devi definitely does understand that her relationship with her mom is finally bearable and she doesn’t want to mess that up as (narrator) John McEnroe says. So she’s like, okay, cool. I’m going to do this for my mom. All right, whatever. But Devi still does become a brat with Nalini.
I love the party scenes. To me they were really —
Oh my God, I love the party. The party was so much fun.
What a great bunch you work with, honestly.
Devi has a high school Indian frenemy. Have you been there?
I don’t know of, like a Sri Lankan frenemy or a Tamil frenemy. I don’t think I’ve directly had a frenemy, like in general, like a funny background. I think it’s just I’ve had people I don’t like.
Tell me more.
Hear me out, I’m of the firm belief that sometimes we just don’t have to be friends with everyone. We just don’t have to be. But then in Devi’s case, Devi’s sort of lashing out at this girl for some other reasons, like some reasons that are absolutely bonkers and unnecessary. But we’ve been there, like, everyone has had those jealous moments. Have we all been jealous? Yeah. And it’s a growth feeling. And yet again, that’s the reason why people like Devi, she calls out the emotions that we all do feel in our life.
And yet she’s a class act.
I think you’re a little biased to Devi.
I think I might be.
I think you’re a little bit too sweet than she is. Truly, you’re probably the person that spoken most highly of Devi.
I love her. She’s my favourite young character on TV, but guess what? I got to go. Thank you so much and congratulations on all the honours you’ve had.
Thank you. Much appreciated. Stay safe.
All right. You too.
All right. Bye-bye.