A Lesson in Representation and the Beauty in “Bridgerton”

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I am what many people would call a romantic. One whose favorite trope, despite all the alarms it raises, is indeed enemies to lovers. As such, season two of “Bridgerton” was bound to be something I would fall in love with and slightly obsess over. However, I did not expect to also fall in love with how the producers integrated Indian culture and representation into the piece.  

Kate Sharma, played by Simone Ashley, and her sister Edwina Sharma, played by Charithra Chandran, arrive in England with hopes of Edwina finding love and a match that will guarantee her security and happiness. However, their objectives do not go as planned. Though both Kate and Edwina are well-versed in the ways of English nobility, there are many allusions to the country where they once lived — from their clothing to the nickname, “Bon” a word commonly used for younger sisters in India, which Kate uses for her sister. What I personally loved the most was the inclusion of “Didi” — the word used for older sisters​​ — and a scene that displayed common Indian tradition: oiling one’s hair. This scene was especially beautiful for those whose experience of comfort and maintaining healthy hair has been dashed by cruel words about the smell of their hair.  

South Asian representation on screen has been severely lacking and exceedingly biased despite the fact that the South Asian population is growing rapidly in the United States. In my younger years, the only mainstream ‘representation’ I was exposed to was Baljeet from “Phineas and Ferb” and Ravi from “Jessie” — characters who were stereotypical caricatures of Indian Americans. After so many years of being starved of representation in film, “Bridgerton” was a beautiful relief. Within its subtle inclusion of important desi culture was its ability to develop Brown characters beyond their ethnicity. Kate Sharma was not just Indian but a stubborn, caring person who was relatively well-rounded as a character. Moreover, both Kate and Edwina were portrayed as desirable, a trait that has not often been used in film to describe Indian Americans or Indian immigrants wherever they live. The producers of “Bridgerton” were able to pay proper homage to their culture without taking away from the fact that Kate and Edwina were more than just their culture.  

Indeed, culture is an important part of one’s identity but, though I can only attest for myself and close friends, it is common for children of immigrants to feel as though one must choose a culture: those of their ancestors or those of their peers. But in truth, we are both. We are Indian, yes. But we are also people. People who produce art and learn. People who learn the national anthem. People who are willful, romantic and caring. Though I do hope to see more movies and shows with Indian culture at center stage, I believe the techniques “Bridgerton” uses, though subtle, are just as admirable and representative. It seems so simple, so why can’t shows utilize this technique? 

Indian women wearing traditional clothing. Bridgerton has shedded light on Indian culture. Photo by Rodnae Productions/Pexels

One point against “Bridgerton” this season, however, was the presence of historical inaccuracies. The show is set in the early 1800s at that time when the British controlled India. As such, it is unlikely that Indian women would be allowed in English court. But I think the beautiful thing about creating stories now, especially stories whose main focus is not on historical accuracy, is that we can have the people within be representative of the world around us now, rather than the world as it was then. That is not to say we should forget that time. It is imperative we do not. It is imperative our history books do a better job of explaining what really occurred during the reign of the British Empire outside of the 13 Colonies of North America. But “Bridgerton” seems to be aware that its main goal is not to portray a historical event, so therefore, there is no great harm in having representation. If a fictional family can be represented on screen, so can very real people and cultures. In the future, I hope Western audiences can view movies that show more accurate accounts of the history of India alongside tales that include faces that mirror their own. But for now, this is a great start. 

Another argument one could give is fear of misrepresenting a culture — a fair argument had the population not been made up by a sizable amount of Indian Americans who would not mind shedding light on their culture and extensive amounts of information online that may also provide knowledge. Using these resources is easy to include nods to such cultures, something as simple as a word like “Didi,” within a show. Concluding, there is simply no reason why representation like this cannot occur in more media. There is no reason for individuals in the industry to not put in the work to include as many ethnicities as possible for indeed, “Bridgerton” has shown it is not at all hard. 

I am truly upset by “Bridgerton” as it has once again raised my expectations of love to unrealistic levels. But one thing I will continually admire about this show is its representation of South Asian culture. One thing I hope for is that others will take note and continue in the work of increasing representation.

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