In all of the crossovers I have ever seen over multiple cinematic universes, few of them make as much sense to me as the inclusion of Indian femmes and in a show focused on an illustrious marriage market such as Bridgerton season 2.
The Netflix series — Bridgerton — follows marriage obsessed debutants and their equally marriage obsessed ‘mamas’ as they aim to marry well off gentlemen from the same class around their ‘ton’. While it is not only the fixation on marriage that Indian society and Bollywood hold dear but it is also the romantic tropes that are present in both period dramas and Bollywood that make the crossover an easy sell. And Netflix really did sell it with the release of Bridgerton season 2 this March.
Bridgerton season 2 follows the story of Kate and Edwina Sharma from Bombay as they make their debut into London society in search of a suitable husband for Edwina. This inclusion of Indian femmes in a period drama is a great for more equitable representation in western tv however, not every part of this representation was met with praise.
Speaking on the Indian representation in the show, writer Dhavi Solani tells Vice, “…But for me, it’s all a bit kabhi khushi, kabhi gham”. That translates to ‘sometimes happiness, sometimes sadness’. Speaking to the issues throughout the season Solani touches on the historical inaccuracies and errors in language throughout. Although I can’t seem to find myself extremely upset about this representation, Solani brings up incredibly important points throughout the article.
For many people like me who grew up as third generation Indians in countries outside of India, we have an experience of Indian culture diluted by realities and traditions of the cultures we now live within. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with this, at all in fact. But rather, representation such as this, which delicately weaves elements/experiences of culture universal to those of Indian heritage is interesting to see.
From the instrumental rendition of the iconic title song from Kabhi Kushi, Kabhi Gham to the inclusion of a haldi ceremony, I would argue that the representation in Bridgerton was successful in quite a few aspects. I attribute this success to the show incorporating small nods to Indian culture that many people like me can relate to, despite being so removed from our Indian heritage. Many femmes can relate to the special cultural practice of seeing big sister Kate oiling her little sister’s hair.
At the crux of it I think that the Sharma sisters as characters pass the biggest hurdle that the representation of POC in Hollywood often face — having their entire characters centre around the fact that they are not white. Most representations do not even attempt to pass this hurdle and render characters which enforce the western framework of othering despite attempting to do the very opposite.
Here, the Sharma sisters each have a character and plot line which aligns with the main goal of the show. I am willing to forgive the few present transgressions as the show in its entirety did not leave me feeling as though the Indian characters within it were mocked or tokenised — as is standard practice with most Indian representation in western tv and cinema.
Kate, Edwina and even their mother Mary are able to have parts of their heritage incorporated into the show without it appearing as being Indian is what makes up their entire personality.
While no representation can ever accurately sum up an entire group of people or will ever be 100% accurate for everyone, Bridgerton season 2 is one of the better representations brown femmes have seen in recent years. This is not to say it is perfect as I do agree with many points brought up in Dhavi Solani’s article mentioned above — it is, however, a step in the right direction.
I also consider how both Kate and Edwina are darker skinned, standing in contrast to the usual colourist casting methods adopted by both Hollywood and Bollywood.
There is no way to deny the importance of western Indian audiences seeing themselves on screen, especially when represented outside of the usual parameters and Hollywood standards. Growing up I would’ve never imagined that an Indian femme would star in an English period drama, and with most of the media I consume being English, it is great for me to see.
I indulged in Bridgerton with the thinking that things are not supposed to be perfect as the world Bridgerton is set in is so far removed from reality. So, while there is a lot of sadness or disappointment experienced when one realises that the representation is not as accurate as it could have been through more thorough research, I would sum up Bridgerton season two as “sometimes sadness, but mainly happiness” or as Google translate suggests “Kabhi gham, lekin mukhy roop se khushee”.