Hilarious, flirty, and honest, Mindy Kaling’s “The Mindy Project” playfully relays the plight of the single overachieving woman’s quest for love and personal growth. Single Muslim American ladies of South Asian descent are bound to find the show funny and refreshingly close to home.
While Mindy grew up, she tells us, her understanding of love was shaped by movies: “When I was a kid, all I did was watch romantic comedies while doing homework in the living room. . . In college, everything changed. No supervision. Total freedom. I could watch romantic comedies whenever I wanted to!”
Fast forward by a decade, and Mindy seems to have done as remarkably in her professional life as she has done poorly in her personal life. She is an OB-GYN who is fighting an irresistible attraction to a perpetually bedroom-eyed British-accented colleague. She gets drunk at her ex-boyfriend’s wedding and is arrested for disorderly conduct. Realizing she has hit rock bottom, she decides that she needs a transformation. She explains to the son of a burqa-clad Arabic-speaking pregnant woman that she needs to do things to move her life forward, and therefore can’t take on patients without insurance. In an especially witty exchange with her assistants, she declares that they must no longer send her patients who are “poor with ‘nothing’ money,” but patients who are white.
Knowing more than my fair share of overachieving Muslim women who developed ideas of love based on romantic comedies, I can’t help but feel Mindy in some ways reflects the best and worst in us. It is not wholly evident that Mindy’s cluelessness about love comes from her upbringing by conservative South Asian parents. But there is something to be said for a show like this that acknowledges immigrant issues without centering the show on it. (Mindy’s assistant’s well-meaning defense of her outfit rings too true: “You know, she didn’t grow up in this country!”) It’s also great to see a main character of color and a refreshingly atypical body type have the same concerns as slim-hipped and golden haired characters like Carrie Bradshaw.
Just like “Girls” is the “Sex and the City” for Generation Y, “The Mindy Project” is “Sex and the City” for women of South Asian descent who are living in the west. We are as educated and accomplished as we are clueless about carving out a stable and confident personal space, whether it be in the form of singlehood or a long-term relationship.
One could argue that until this point Mindy Kaling has been brushing close to typecast territory, playing chick-flick obsessed, melodramatic female characters. Consider her roles Kelly Kapoor in “The Office,” who entertains an ongoing obsession about her ex Ryan, and Vaneetha in The Five-Year Engagement, who sobs over The Notebook.
Had Kaling been continued to be confined to those side roles, one might say that she is going with this typecast. But with “The Mindy Project”—for which she is the executive producer as well as the lead star—she has not only embraced that characterization. She has created a fresh, sassy narrative whose beginning holds great promise.
Plan some girls’ nights in around marathon viewings of this show. You’re in for a lot of laughs.
Sarah Farrukh is a graduate student at the University of Toronto. She blogs about faith and books at A Muslimah Writes.