Never Have I Ever star Poorna Jagannathan discusses Nalini's journey with grief
Warning: This post contains spoilers about Never Have I Ever season 2.
When Never Have I Ever first premiered, fans quickly fell in love with Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and all that her teenage world had to offer. But they also fell in love with her extremely strict mother, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), the queen of setting boundaries and delivering hilarious one-liners.
"The character is completely different from who I am," Poorna Jagannathan says, instead pointing to family members as inspiration for Nalini. "My mother is the queen of non sequiturs. Everything is very black-and-white. But my mother wasn't strict actually, we grew up with very few boundaries, but there are women and men in my family that just lay down the law. There's very little middle ground."
At the core of Nalini's parenting style is the fact that she's grieving. She recently lost her incredibly supportive husband, Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy). "Sometimes it takes really big events for people to let go of who they were and start molding into who they end up being, and that means letting go of a lot of things that they hold sacred," Jagannathan says. "The art of understanding and being understood is always deepened after a huge loss."
Nalini's experience is defined by that loss, a fact that's evident whenever the series uses flashbacks. Suddenly, viewers get to see a different side of Nalini. "The writing is much softer when Mohan is around," says Jagannathan. "The character is softer, she doesn't have to fix everything. She knows someone has her back. The writers creates two different times, one when someone had her back and one that no one has her back."
But in season 2, Nalini finds someone to have her back at least a little when she starts dating fellow dermatologist Dr. Jackson (Common). "Nalini feels seen by Dr. Jackson," says Jagannathan. "She's seen for what she's so proud of: being a professional woman. He sees her as an equal. It was exactly Nalini needs at this particular junction."
However, that's not to say Nalini has moved on. By season's end, Nalini ends things with Dr. Jackson, telling her daughter that her time with him wasn't about moving on but rather about a break from the pain of losing Mohan. "You might say Nalini has gotten her groove back in season 2 but that's not true, it's really these tiny tiny steps forward and big steps back," Jagannathan says. "That is the anatomy of grief frankly. And the fact that a YA show can actually make space to explore that, I think, is one of its huge achievements."
Never Have I Ever season 2 is on Netflix now.