On Beauty Standards & South Asian identity
“Fargo/Never Have I Ever star” Richa Moorjani and I explore South Asian American identity, the cultural divides between Hollywood & Bollywood, the damaging impact of Western beauty ideals as well the pressure on South Asian women to be “skinny” at odds with our genetics.
Richa gets personal sharing her early life, her parents, her real-life friendship with Poorna Jagannathan and her cast mates on Netflix hit ‘Never Have I Ever.’ And the importance of South Asian representation on TV & in Hollywood.
Finally, Richa and I share inspiration for all the South Asian women out there, about owning your light and seizing the endless possibilities.
•How women (including beautiful TV stars) struggle with toxic beauty standards
• How traditional South Asian beauty ideals of curvy bodies have been overtaken by Western beauty standards of “skinny”
•Our dual identities are incredibly beautiful, letting us become these rich, multi-layered beings
•Fighting for South Asian representation in all areas of life including TV & Hollywood is crucial
•Asking for representation of our South Asian bodies, truly as they are, is just as important
MORE ABOUT THIS EPISODE WITH RICHA MOORJANI
Hello everyone, and welcome back to another amazing episode of the Masala Podcast!
I, Sangeeta Pillai host of this podcast, am thrilled to share my conversation with the exceptionally talented Richa Moorjani. We talk about challenging beauty standards, about the importance of representation, about our dual identities as South Asian women living in the West – and so much more.
American actress Richa Moorjani hails from a South Asian family deeply rooted in music, her life filled with melodies and rhythms since her childhood. Her mother is a singer who lived in Mysore before migrating to the United States at the age of seven. A self-taught musical maestro, her father merged his love for music and community, creating bonds with fellow Indian immigrants.
Together, they formed a band that celebrated their roots through the sounds of Hindi cover songs.
Richa’s upbringing in America sowed the seeds of a cultural blend that would later influence Richa’s own artistic endeavours.
But this episode isn’t all about music, TV and the arts.
We’re going to get very serious, and make some impact on the cultural divides between Hollywood, and Bollywood.
We’re going to confront a critical issue that hits close to home for many of us: the dominance of Western beauty standards and their profound impact on our South Asian cultural ideals. Women, in particular South Asian, really struggle with the Western beauty ideal of “skinny” that is at odds with our very genetics.
In sharing our personal stories, we’ll dissect the intense pressures to conform and the struggle for acceptance, all while highlighting the nuanced racism that we face and our collective yearning for true representation in the media.
You’re in for a treat as we reminisce about the familial ties fostered on the beloved show “Never Have I Ever,” where Richa brings life to the character of Kamala. She’ll share the beauty of her real-life friendship with Poorna Jagannathan and the heartfelt connection shared with the diverse cast mates.
Plus, we’ll delve into the cultural impact of the show and Richa’s exciting role as Indira in the hit series “Fargo.”
I’m especially excited for what Richa has to share today – wisdom to her younger self and all the South Asian women out there about owning your light and seizing the endless possibilities.
I’ll shed some light on the transformations within our South Asian communities in the UK and the US, celebrating the progress and new paths that are emerging for South Asian women.
Join us as I take you through Richa’s incredible story, from a child enamoured with classical dance to a shining presence in the acting world, underscoring the essential need for real representation and the empowering effect of stories that embrace our cultural intricacies.
So settle in as I, Sangeeta, lead you through a conversation filled with not just the challenges but the remarkable victories and advancements for South Asians in the media and beyond, all here on the Masala Podcast.
Body Positivity Resources
S5 Ep 13, Fargo & Never Have I Ever star Richa Moorjani
Besharam, Batameez, Gandi.
Never Have I Ever/Fargo Star Richa Moorjani on Masala Podcast
Richa Moorjani: [00:00:00] It’s a very pervasive thing that I feel affects me, affects everyone that I know in this industry, and people who watch these movies and watch movies from Bollywood, and I just think it’s sad.
Sangeeta Pillai: In this episode, I explore the theme of beauty standards among other topics. I’m interviewing the very talented actor, Richa Moorjani
Who played Kamala in the hit Netflix show “Never have I Ever”
Richa Moorjani: I feel very privileged to be here at a time where people have paved the way for me and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it had not been for actors who have come much before me. And it was much more difficult for them when they, when they arrived in town.
Sangeeta Pillai: We discussed the tussle between Western and Eastern beauty standards. Why is it that as South Asian women, we’ve bought into the whole skinny Western beauty aesthetic. We also explore other topics like the importance of South [00:01:00] Asian representation in entertainment Richa shares her commitment to shining a light on South Asian talent.
I loved my conversation with Richa, I hope you do too.
Besharam! Batameez! Gandi!
Sangeeta Pillai: I’m Sangeeta Pillai, and this is The Masala podcast. This multi award-winning feminist podcast for and by South Asian women is all about cultural taboos. From sex, sexuality, mental health, menopause to nipple hair and more. This season is a US special, and it took me by surprise. You see, I interviewed these incredible South Asian American women.
I expected to hear some angst around identity and belonging. Instead, they told me how comfortable they were with both their South Asian and American identity. I confess, this is [00:02:00] not the podcast season I set out to record. It’s so much more powerful. Hello and welcome to Masala Podcast. So today I have with me someone I’ve admired from afar for a very long time.
Richa Moorjani. I’ve watched her on screen. I kind of follow her on Instagram, and I was absolutely thrilled that Richa wanted to be on Missal podcast. Welcome to Masala Podcast. Richa.
Now I read that your parents were musicians in a Bollywood cover band. That sounds brilliant. Tell me a little bit about that.
Richa Moorjani: So yes, my parents are both musicians and my mother actually moved to the US when she was seven years old, so she pretty much grew up here.
Although, you know, the first seven years of her life, she was in Miso, and my dad moved here to get his PhD at uc, Berkeley in his twenties. Both of them had always had such a passion for music. My mom was a singer, [00:03:00] I mean, is a singer, and my dad likes to play. He’s, he’s a self-taught musician, so he plays many different instruments.
When he went to Berkeley, he became close friends with several other Indian immigrants, and they formed a band together to play Hindi cover songs, and they needed a female lead singer. So they held auditions so much before I ever went for auditions. My mom went for auditions and she auditioned for the band because she lived in the same area.
And uh, that’s how they met. And my dad went to go watch her perform at one of her performances. She sang Alia. And he watched her perform and he said, not only is she going to sing in my band, she’s going to be my wife. And then, oh my God, that’s literally what happened.
Sangeeta Pillai: That story sounded so much like a Bollywood love story, and it reminded me of all the romantic Bollywood films that I grew up watching in Mumbai [00:04:00] Silsa, which featured my teenage crush, Amitabh Bachchan.
The story mirrored some saucy rumours involving the stars of that film. I also remember watching the old black and white film mug about the love affair between a crown prince and a court dancer. Then there’s the favourite of so many,
or DDLJ as it’s referred to, but you know, now looking back and reflecting on these classic Bollywood romances. So much misogyny in so many of them, but that’s for another conversation. For now, let’s get back to Richa and hear more about how she grew up in the Bay Area.
Richa Moorjani: I think a lot of people think of it.
Obviously as you know, the tech hub, it’s Silicon Valley and I. That’s all true, but there’s also a thriving arts scene in the Bay Area and a huge South Asian community. So I grew [00:05:00] up totally immersed in culture, in arts. I grew up doing Indian classical dance. My grandmother had a company that she started of her own for over 40 years called Bay Area Performing Arts, where she brought the, the most famous musicians from India, like Zakir Hussein and.
Shiv Kumar Sharma, all the biggest Indian classical musicians. She had concerts for them in the Bay Area. She was the producer. So I grew up surrounded by all these things, and naturally that led me to having a passion for storytelling and acting and dance. So I really think that, you know, my roots as an artist definitely began in the Bay Area.
You were saying
Sangeeta Pillai: there were a lot of South Asians in the area. Like did it feel like you were part of that was, what was it like? Did it feel like you’re part of that community?
Richa Moorjani: Yes, absolutely. You know, we have a big extended family in the Bay Area, and I say extended because that’s, you know, our family, friends who I grew up with, they feel more like [00:06:00] cousins and sisters and brothers.
They don’t just feel like friends of the family. I felt like I had almost two different lives. One life was at school where, I mean, there were South Asian people in my school and I had a lot of South Asian friends, but still, you know, it was an American school and definitely didn’t feel like I was, I don’t know, immersed in my culture at school.
But then, you know, the weekends was my second life and that was when we would be with our extended family and going to Mela and I don’t know, other performances and concerts and. Spending time with people from my community.
Sangeeta Pillai: Hmm. I always come across this phrase about like leading a double life as, as somebody from the diaspora.
I see, I hear this in Britain, I hear this in America. Did it feel like that, in a sense that there was this Indian part of you and then there was this American part of you?
Richa Moorjani: Yes, absolutely. I don’t know. It it, it was something that I had to navigate and it definitely led to identity crisis, just like for many [00:07:00] people.
Yeah. That we know. But one thing I’m very grateful for is that my parents not, it was never forced, you know, they never forced me to connect to my culture and do cultural things. It was always just very organic and natural and, and I always loved my culture.
Sangeeta Pillai: I grew up watching beautiful women in Indian movies, but all these women had curves.
They were real women. Whether it was the glamorous, mad in old black and white movies, or Madhuri Dixit doing her super sexy “Dhak Dhak” song, none of these gorgeous women were what you’d call skinny. But now when I see Bollywood films or even South Asian fashion magazines, the aesthetic has definitely changed to a western thin and skinny look.
I think this obsession with weight is designed to keep [00:08:00] women feeling bad about themselves, constantly striving to be thinner. It got me thinking, when did our South Asian culture, which loved sensual voluptous shapes switch to this Western beauty standard of slimness. When did we move from celebrating real South Asian women with their luscious curves and start worshiping at the altar of thinness?
Richa Moorjani: When you do Indian classical dance, it’s that direct connection to culture and heritage that I don’t think anything else can give you. I mean, when I, when, when you’re not living in the motherland. So
Sangeeta Pillai: Your kind of whole journey to become an actor, did you ever see people like you who were actors when you were younger, when you were maybe like, I dunno, as a teenager or whenever that that dream started for you, did you see anyone like you that you thought, oh, I could be this [00:09:00] person?
Richa Moorjani: Definitely not in Hollywood, but in Bollywood. Yes. And that’s why I grew up thinking, because I, I, you know, since before I can even remember, I wanted to be an actor. But I always thought as a young girl, and even up until college, I thought, well, if I wanna be an actor, I have to move to India because that’s the only place where I can do it.
And, and also I, I loved Bollywood films and it was really where I, you know, watching Bollywood films is what made me want to become an actor. What was the journey
Sangeeta Pillai: like to become this big Hollywood actor that you are now? It can’t have been easier, I’m
Richa Moorjani: guessing. It has not and still isn’t easy, and I don’t think it’ll ever be easy.
I’m sure people understand that it’s not easy to be an artist, but unless and until you’ve actually tried it, I don’t think people can really comprehend how difficult it is. I would never do anything else. It’s been the most fulfilling journey and you know, the power of storytelling and art and what we can do through telling stories on television and in film, even in [00:10:00] theater.
I don’t think there’s anything else that can have such an impact on the world. How long
Sangeeta Pillai: did it take you to maybe from that dream of like, okay, this is what I wanna do to actually sort of doing it. How many years was it? It
Richa Moorjani: took many years. You know, like I said, I, I grew up always wanting to be an actor and I knew that was all I ever wanted to do, and I was so fortunate and blessed to have a family that nurtured that and supported that because, because of coming from an artistic family, they never once told me that, you know, no, you have to be a doctor, you have to be a lawyer.
I never heard that once from my family, so I’m so grateful for that. Mm-hmm. Although maybe they should have, because it might have, you know, maybe it would’ve been a better path for me. I don’t know. But I’m joking. So, you know, I, I grew up always obviously wanting to be an actor. I went to college after college.
I moved to LA that was about 12 years ago. I. I mean, I guess you could say that that’s really when my journey as a professional actor began. But it took many, many years and many hundreds, if not [00:11:00] thousands of auditions to get something. Like never have I ever.
Sangeeta Pillai: Wow. And I think that’s the point I was trying to make because from the outside, somebody who looks at your journey or any, you know, successful actor, like, oh, you know, rich is in this amazing, never have ever.
And but without really realizing the thousands of auditions that you’ve just said. That’s for any creative, any artist, any writer, any actor. Like, I think, and I think I just wanna talk about that because I, I don’t think enough is talked about that, especially in the world of, that we live in, like social media, whatever, whatever.
Like, hey, someone’s famous and someone’s making it, but we don’t talk about the journey and the kind of relentless. Belief and faith and trying to make it happen. Right. I know that one of the things you feel very passionately about is shining a light on kind of South Asian diaspora and representation in the arts TV film.
Why is this important to you?
Richa Moorjani: [00:12:00] Oh, man. If it wasn’t important to me, I don’t think I would really have a purpose as an artist. You know, if, if we, and when I say we, I mean as South Asian creatives and, and artists are not fighting for authentic representation, nobody else is going to be fighting for that. I can guarantee you that.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you know, I, I feel very privileged to be here at a time where people have paved the way for me, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it had not been for actors who have come much before me. And it was much more difficult for them when they arrived in town. Even, you know, for myself when I moved here 12 years ago, I mean, the opportunities that I’m seeing today and the people I’m seeing on screen today, that did not exist when I first moved here.
So things have really changed a lot, and that does not mean it’s all good now. There’s still so much to fight for, and that’s something that I tried to never forget is as much progress that has been made. We are still very, [00:13:00] very behind and. If we get complacent, that’s the dangerous thing to do because there’s still so much to fight for.
Sangeeta Pillai: For me, it’s really heartening when I see what’s happening in the us. You know, shows like never have Ever, and there’s just so much coming out of the US and all of you’re doing incredible work. It makes me really, really happy. I’ve just come back from a month in New York, so this is the longest I’ve spent and.
I kind of saw what South Asian creatives are doing in the US and it made me really proud, really happy, really excited. I mean, I don’t know any of you, but just the fact that you are out there, you’re these incredible women make creating big change. I don’t think it’s happening in the same way in the uk.
Just seeing that, you know, it just made me really, really happy. I also loved, I spoke to a lot of, you know, south Asian women and folks and creatives, and there seems to be a level of [00:14:00] comfort in this duality of being American and South Asian, and I don’t see that as much in the uk. So here you are either British or you are Indian nor Pakistani or whatever.
Whereas in America, it feels like everybody’s like, I’m, I don’t know, Italian American. I’m Indian American, I’m this and that. Has it always been like this? This kind of double barrelled identity that I think.
Richa Moorjani: That’s really interesting. I’m glad you shared that with me because I didn’t know there was such a stark difference.
But honestly, I don’t think it’s that different to be honest, because, no, I don’t think it’s always been that way here. I think that it is, we are definitely in a time where it is cool to be Asian or South Asian or, or, or really just a person of color. I don’t think that, yeah. It was always that way. I did not grow up feeling like it was cool to be Indian.
I was very proud of my culture and it, if anything, it just angered me [00:15:00] that people didn’t see how glorious my culture was and how amazing we are and how beautiful everything about being South Asian is. I don’t think I, I think I might’ve been kind of alone in that I know a lot of people who were ashamed of being Indian and, and I don’t blame them.
Mm-Hmm. We lived in a very different time. So I think things have changed in that sense. And I do think that, obviously, you know, speaking of representation, that’s another reason why representation is so important, because I do believe that with authentic representation, people feel seen and they feel a sense of belonging and.
Shows like never have I ever, you know, that’s just the scratching the surface. But I do feel like, and I’ve seen with my own eyes and and heard stories from both young people in high school or younger, and even people from my generation and older who say that this show has given the such a deep sense of belonging and a sense of confidence in themselves and in their culture that they didn’t have before.[00:16:00]
Sangeeta Pillai: The other thing that really struck me in in this month in the US was women, south Asian American women are killing it. Oh my God. Like I went into Sephora and there were like six, maybe five or six brands led by South, you know, like haircare, fashion, makeup, uh, there was food. There’s this, there’s that. And again, that’s not happening in the uk like.
Not at all. I was, and I’ve been saying this to a lot of people since I’ve come, I’ve only been back for like two weeks and I’ve been telling people that there’s a real sense of South Asian female power, you know, in America at the moment, you know, in New York and LA and some of the other kind of big, bigger places.
Where does that come from? When did that start? I’m really, really curious.
Richa Moorjani: Yeah. It’s something I’ve noticed too. I think it’s really. Something that I’ve noticed in the past four or five years. I don’t think I ever really saw [00:17:00] it that way before five years ago. I do not know the answer to that. I don’t know why, but I, if I really think about it, I mean, I think it obviously must have something to do with the fact that, you know, we are in this, we are now in, in the generation where we have the freedom and the ability to be able to pursue different types of careers and professions that our parents did not have the privilege to do because, you know, most of us.
Our children of immigrants who came to this country. Yeah. And they didn’t have those options. Yeah. They, you know, our, our mothers did not, were mostly homemakers. They didn’t have the option to, you know, become actors or work it for a magazine or Yeah. Go into politics, you know, they just. It was a very different time.
And I think, yeah, it’s important to remember that as much as we are such a huge part of the fabric of society, we are still a very new minority to this country. Yeah. When people complain about how, you know, uh, south Asians never had a chance before, I’m like, well, we are still pretty new to this country and you [00:18:00] know, black people have been here much longer than us and that’s why, you know, it’s taking us a little bit more time to catch up.
But I do feel a lot of hope. I mean, I’ve seen so much progress and I think if we just continue on this path, things will be so different for the future generations. For me, it was a real difference.
Sangeeta Pillai: There was a real stark, really positive difference, and I, it, it made me feel really, really happy. Actually, something you mentioned earlier that I wanted to pick up on Kaha, you are a professionally trained Kaha dancer.
So tell me about this, like dance, what does it mean in, in your life, in your
Richa Moorjani: world? It means everything to me. I mean, it’s such a big part of my identity. Mm-Hmm. That I don’t even know who I would be had I not been a dancer growing up, if that makes sense. And as I said, it was, you know, beyond just being a dancer, learning Indian classical dance.
So it, it is so much a part of my identity as an artist, but as a South Asian person and someone from the diaspora, and I feel so, so [00:19:00] blessed and also. Just grateful to my family for, you know, encouraging me to learn and to continue learning because a lot of, I think it’s very common for South Asian kids to grow up learning an instrument or Hindu classical or, or some Indian classical or you know, some kind of dance form.
Yeah. But most people don’t continue it and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’m just so happy that my parents encouraged me to continue and. That I stuck with it because it’s not easy and it is, uh, you know, to really be a serious classical artist, whether that’s a musician or a dancer, you really have to dedicate your life to it.
Yeah. And there’s a huge part of me that actually feels, has always felt torn between that and acting. Yeah. Not that I can’t do both, which I do, but. You know, if I really wanted to be an accomplished Gug dancer, I would’ve had to really dedicate my life to that.
Sangeeta Pillai: But it sounds like it’s really informed your life in many [00:20:00] ways.
It, it just sounds like the way you speak about it, dance is so much about kind of connecting with the body, isn’t it? And being in the body. When I look at your social posts and your Instagram, you seem really comfortable in your body. That’s what it comes across. And. It’s to me as, as a woman and a feminist kind of living in this day and age, and as an older person as well, there’s such a conflict between kind of women and how comfortable we are allowed to be in our bodies and how we’ve gotta almost fight for that comfort and that sense of confidence.
Confidence is a weird word, but do you feel that confidence? Have you always had it?
Richa Moorjani: I will say, I, reflecting on it as you’re speaking, no, I have not always been confident in my body. I’ve always had a lot of insecurities and still do, but you know, there are times where I feel more confident than other times and certain parts of myself that I feel more confident [00:21:00] about than other parts, and that’s something that I’m just continuing to navigate and, and learning to accept.
But I will say that dance has given me a lot of confidence and I feel the most confident when I’m dancing. It’s, it’s, and acting for that matter. I think when I’m, when I’m immersed in what I love to do so much, yeah. Vanity goes out the window. I don’t care what I look like, I don’t care what my body looks like.
I’m just so, uh, in the flow, if that makes sense. I’m way more, uh, self-conscious and not confident when I have to be myself. I just wanted to
Sangeeta Pillai: talk to you about this Western versus South Asian ideal. Have you ever
Richa Moorjani: thought about it? I mean, I, I totally agree with everything you’re saying. I think that it’s very interesting just to see how those standards have evolved over the years, especially in our culture because of being so influenced by western standards of beauty, which are extremely toxic and unrealistic, and Hollywood plays a major role in perpetuating [00:22:00] those toxic standards.
It’s a very pervasive thing that I feel affects me, affects everyone that I know in this industry and people who watch these movies and watch movies from Bollywood. And I just think it’s sad because it’s not realistic, it’s not sustainable and it’s not healthy and it,
Sangeeta Pillai: It is not even who we are genetically.
And I think that’s what bothers me. Like we are as Asian women, we’re curvy. Like, you know, we’ve got hips and breasts and bellies and it’s who we are genetically. And I feel like there’s all this pressure to fit into something that we’re not. And where on one hand we’re like embracing who we are, like we’re eating our rotes and you know, making chich tea and I’m making up ons or whatever, you know, so there’s that part of us that we’ve kind of reconnected with or we are in the process of reconnecting with.
But in terms of our beauty aesthetic, we’re still kind [00:23:00] of, I don’t know, buying into the Western standard because is it, ’cause we live in the West, but you know, everywhere is dominated by the West. And I think that bothers me. Who we are naturally. Who we are genetically isn’t cool, isn’t beautiful. Where I think it is beautiful.
Richa Moorjani: I agree and I think it’s, I don’t know what the solution is, but I definitely do think it’s a systemic problem. I have been, I have never in my life thought that I was overweight. I’ve always been underweight. I’ve always been the skinny person in, in my, you know, the group of groups of people I would hang out with.
Yeah. And now I’m told, oh, this designer may not be able to dress you because you’re not a size zero. And I’m like, excuse me. Like, it just doesn’t make any sense. It’s just absolutely sickening.
Sangeeta Pillai: It’s like we’re constantly being made to feel awful about ourselves. Imagine if, if you are made to feel that you are like one of the most beautiful women I know you’re on, you know, you’re on our TV screens.
You are. And if you are [00:24:00] made to feel like that, like I really feel for the rest of us, you know, how are we supposed to kind of, to feel beautiful and I want us to feel beautiful? Why should we not feel beautiful? Right. And
Richa Moorjani: that’s why I’m saying it’s, it’s a systemic problem because, you know, we’re, we’re literally told that.
There’s something wrong with you and that’s why you are not going to be dressed for this occasion, or you’re not going to be invited to this thing, or you’re not going to be, you know, the star of I. I’m just saying, you know, in general, not that those things have all been told to me, but these are the things that I hear, and so people feel like they have to conform to these ideals.
And like I said, I don’t know what the solution is, but I do think that having conversations like this is very important and. It’s just, I think we have to, as much as we have to fight for authentic representation, I think that also applies to authentic representation of what our bodies should look like or do look like.
Sangeeta Pillai: Absolutely. And the right to exist as we are [00:25:00] and, and not have to it. It always, to me feels like to be a woman is like this goal that’s always out of your reach. You know, you’re like to be a beautiful woman. Hey, you’ve gotta, I don’t know, work out more, eat less, you know, ha have, be on a diet, whatever, you know, buy these pills, whatever there is.
And it’s, it’s always to make us feel not good enough. Not beautiful enough, not desirable enough. It makes me really, really angry. Uh, I don’t have the solution either, but it just feels like I, I want to talk about it and I want us to talk about it so that there’s somewhere there’s a chance for change in, in, in some way.
Richa Moorjani: I think that the focus should just always be on what makes you feel healthy and what makes you feel strong and what you look like. It will be a result of that.
Sangeeta Pillai: Do you get many messages from South Asian women saying, oh wow, I love how you look, or, I wanna look like you, or you make me feel good, or any of these things?
Richa Moorjani: Yeah, maybe I do. I, I would say [00:26:00] more so I get messages like. I just love what you’re doing for South Asian for our community and how you’re pav the way, and yeah, maybe I get a little bit of both, but maybe those are the message that’s messages that stand out to me more.
Sangeeta Pillai: I moved to the UK from India almost two decades ago, and I’ve never seen real first generation Indian women like me represented in Western TV or media.
That’s why it was such a joy to see Kamala’s character. Played by Richer In. Never have I Ever, I loved how Kamala keeps her Indian side, even as she discovers the freedoms that America offers her. I also love the fact that Kamala is a fully rounded character in the show where so many Indian characters in Western shows are like a pale pastiche of real Indian people.
Think of characters like APU in The Simpsons, whose voice was such a racist, [00:27:00] caricature, talking of voices. I do love the fact that Kamala’s accent stays sort of Indian in the show, and let me tell you, there’s a subtle yet powerful pressure on immigrants like me to sound more British or American or Australian to just change ourselves and fit in.
As somebody who’s from India and is Indian and now lives in the uk, certain times it feels like you have to earn, you know, you’re not quite there yet, as, as, as first generation person. It’s very subtle and it’s, it’s sort of like a little bit of racism even within the South Asian
Richa Moorjani: community. Absolutely. I think South Asians are some of the most racist people in the world.
Sangeeta Pillai: I’m glad you said it, not me.
Richa Moorjani: It’s true. We have to. It’s true. We have to, uh, learn to recognize that. Yeah,
Sangeeta Pillai: so true. So true. Like someone told me there’s this whole fresh off the [00:28:00] boat freshy. Uh, it’s a pioneer thing in Britain where if you’ve just arrived like me. Even though it’s been 18 years, you are still fresh off the board and you’ve gotta earn your, your place.
So, you know, like stay in your lane, earn your place kind of thing. So as an Indian girl, like I loved how Kamala was equal to everybody else. She was a, a char, a real character. Not like this, you know, in the sidelines kind of character, not an oppressed Indian woman, you know, which we see a lot of. Tell me a little bit about her and how she kind of evolved.
Yeah. Well, it’s interesting that you say that because I also did feel that, you know, throughout the Four Seasons, Kamala did have to, in a way not prove herself, but you know, you know, we saw the whole storyline of her at her lab. Yeah. And that wasn’t. It didn’t only have to do with her being a South Asian, but it was, it was more so I [00:29:00] guess to do with being a woman, but, but really being a woman of color because this is a real thing that exists in the world of stem for women of color.
Yeah. Is they are not taken seriously. They are not given the same opportunities. They don’t get the credit that they deserve. And so I really thought it was brilliant that they included that storyline. I know it was not. A very long storyline, but it was something that was very important and I, I received so many messages from young and older women of color and South Asian women who are in stem who say, this is exactly what I go through, and I’m so happy that you showed this because it makes me feel less alone.
Sangeeta Pillai: That in itself is amazing. We never see fully rounded South Asian characters. Right. It was such a joy to see Kamala and see Kamala evolve along with all the other characters, and I loved how you played her as well. And it’s, it’s, it’s very heartening to hear that other women in stem kind of careers and [00:30:00] jobs felt seen and heard, so that is really, really beautiful.
Let’s talk about Indira, your character in the new Hulu series Fargo. Tell me a little bit about Indra.
Richa Moorjani: Wow. Well, um, to pivot from Kamala, there could be more different, but also they have some similarities. One, uh, fun fact that I didn’t realize was that Indra is also another name for Goddess Lakshmi who sits on a lotus flower, which we know is Kamala.
So I thought that was a little bit cosmic. Oh yeah. But, uh, you know, for people who have not seen Fargo yet, one thing I’ll say is that. If you want to watch the season that I’m in, you don’t have to watch the previous seasons because every, and they call it installments, every installment is a totally different story with a new cast and new everything.
So this is installment five, and it’s a totally standalone, uh, season. Indra is a cop. Fargo [00:31:00] has always had a central female cop character all the way from the movie with Francis McDormand playing the Marge Gunderson role. And this is the first time that not only is a woman of color, the main cop, but it is a South Asian woman.
So it was very exciting to me when I got the scripts and I hope it’s exciting to the community and she’s a very, very important character. Who kind of represents the moral center of all the quirky, crazy characters. But at the same time, she’s very messy and has a lot of, uh, personal issues that she’s dealing with.
Sangeeta Pillai: No, that sounds brilliant. I haven’t seen it yet, but I, I’m really looking forward to watching it. Yeah. Tell me what’s it like to, to play these women, you know, and, and you are someone who’s been an actor for a little while and now these are the characters that you’re playing. These Indian women, these real women with real stuff going on in their lives, whether it’s Kamala or Indra, what, what does that feel like?
Richa Moorjani (00:32:00]
It feels, I, I mean, I just feel very fortunate to get to play these women because. I feel like all of these women are extensions of myself and you know, I’m not the kind of actor that gets lost in characters. If anything, I try to find who I am in these characters and how I relate to them, even if they’re very different from me.
There’s always something that I find a little connection to, and I feel like I’ve grown so much from playing these characters, not just as an actor, but as a person. And I’m really excited that I got to do something that was so drastically different from never have I ever to. Be able to challenge myself as an artist and also show the worlds that I can do something totally different with.
Sangeeta Pillai: Never have I ever, because the whole story is so South Asian. The cultural nuances are, you know, incredible. I’m sure you’ve heard this before a million times, but praying to Krishna and, you know, like the, the, the kind of very subtle cues of our culture. They’re kind of [00:33:00] on our screens and we’ve never seen that before.
What was the experience like being in that, in that world with other actors all South Asian, the stories being South Asian, the references being South Asian. What was that like?
Richa Moorjani: Honestly, it felt like a dream. It felt like a dream when I was there doing it. And even now reflecting on it and thinking about it, it feels like a dream that never actually really happened because it is so rare.
That has, has never happened. And I hope it happens again. But it has never happened before, until never have I ever, never had I ever been on a set like that before. I, you know, I, I would honestly, driving from my home to Universal Studios, which is where we shot. Every morning I would just be counting my blessings and, and just honestly in sometimes in disbelief that that’s, that was my job and that’s what I got to do.
That, that, that was something that I had the privilege to do and to tell that story and to be surrounded by people [00:34:00] wearing South Asian clothes and eating South Asian food on set, and really feeling like we owned that set, which is just a feeling that I had never had before.
Sangeeta Pillai: Wow. And it’s sad that you’ve never had that before.
Isn’t it like thinking about it? Anybody from not just you? I mean, like, we’ve never had that before.
Richa Moorjani: It is sad, but I do think they’re always, you know, something always has to be the first thing, right? Yeah. And I’m, I’m, I’m really looking forward to seeing what other opportunities come from. Never have I ever creating a path, and I, and I have seen firsthand how much.
More of a spotlight our community is getting and how many more opportunities are being created.
Sangeeta Pillai: Absolutely. And I think for me, what’s particularly heartening is, you know, the, the thing you are told is that if you do something so culturally specific no, it, it’s not gonna work. It’s not gonna be successful.
Richa Moorjani: this was an example that that’s not
Sangeeta Pillai: true. Yeah, [00:35:00] exactly. Like look at how it worked and look at how successful it was. Yes. So, to me that’s super, super heartening. Yeah. Do you still, are you, I, I imagine, and this is probably just in my head, that everyone’s really good friends from, never have I ever, and you all stayed connected, and you’re all in each other’s lives and you like hang out with each other.
Yeah. Is is that true or is it just in my head?
Richa Moorjani: It No, it’s not just in your head. We are definitely, you know, we grew up together on that set. I mean. And I are literally best friends now. We talk to each other every single day. I’ll probably FaceTime her right after this, but it was an intergenerational cast, right?
So we’re all kind of different ages, but you know, the younger kids who played the high school students, including my three, you know, like they were literally babies when we did season one. And it’s just been incredible to see how everyone has grown up together. And by the end, it really felt like a family.
I think there’s just something about, you know, that cast. Being on, on a show like that, that specific show, with a cast like that, you [00:36:00] know, even if we all go on to do different things, I think we will always have that connection. It’s very special.
Sangeeta Pillai: So if you were sitting and talking to Richa, five years old, what would you say to her?
Richa Moorjani: Five years old. Wow.
Sangeeta Pillai: Oh, six years old. A young, a young version of you.
Richa Moorjani: A young Richa, sure. I would just say. Don’t ever let any, I don’t know, it’s, it’s hard to say because I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I’ve accomplished because of who I’ve always been, and I had to make mistakes along the way and I had to learn certain lessons.
So I almost don’t wanna change that trajectory. But if it would give some comfort, I would just say, never let anyone dim your light or apologize for being the way you are. You’re perfect exactly as you are. That’s
Sangeeta Pillai: beautiful. And is there anything you’d like to say to listeners of Masala [00:37:00] podcast?
Something that helps them, inspires them in their own life journeys? They’re all South Asian women like my, that’s my audience.
Richa Moorjani: Oh. I don’t feel like I’m qualified to give advice to all the South Asian listening to this, to be honest.
Sangeeta Pillai: No, no, no, no, no. Anything from your own life. It doesn’t have to be like you.
I’m not holding you responsible for inspiring every South Asian woman in the world, but what would you say that would help? Because. You’ve done it. You are successful. You are kind of owning it.
Richa Moorjani: Thank you. I don’t know. I mean, if anything, I would just tell them what I would tell myself that this is your moment and you know you are living in the best time possible to be able to accomplish everything you’ve ever wanted to accomplish.
So don’t let any opportunity pass you by. That’s beautiful.
Sangeeta Pillai: Is it? I dunno. Thank you so much. Yeah, I think so. I think so. Okay. ’cause it’s also allowing ourselves to, to believe that it’s [00:38:00] possible because if you live in a world that tells you it’s, it’s, we often won’t even allow ourselves to reach for something.
Right. And. It’s almost like somebody gives you permission to say, say you are saying this, or somebody else, or me saying, Hey, you know, it’s possible you can, you know, now’s the time and there’s never been a better time, which is what you are saying. And it’s absolutely right. Like I saw it. There’s never been a better time to be a South Asian woman to be doing the thing you wanna do whatever it is.
You wanna have a STEM career, you wanna be an actor, you wanna have a podcast, whatever it is, it is possible and it has. Never been more possible than it is right now.
Richa Moorjani: This has been such a delight to talk to you.
Sangeeta Pillai: Thank you so much, Richa. It’s been an absolute joy and pleasure to have you in Masala podcast.
Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you for listening to Masala Podcast. Masala Podcast is part of my platform, Soul Sutras, dedicated to celebrating and supporting South Asian women. This is a space for all of us bad deities who don’t do as we’re told. This is where we get to celebrate our culture our way and be exactly who we want to be. I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch via email at soulsutras.co.uk or my website soulsutras.co.uk.
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Besharam, Batameez, GandI.