‘Two years of anguish’: Mindy Kaling on how her mother’s death led to ‘Never Have I Ever’

The Cambridge native's Netflix show returns for a third season on Friday.

Mindy Kaling and Stephen Colbert.
Mindy Kaling and Stephen Colbert. Scott Kowalchyk/CBS

Mindy Kaling has always put her own life into her work, whether in front of the camera or behind it. The Kaling-produced Netflix hit “Never Have I Ever” has plenty of the Cambridge native’s fingerprints on it as well, but not in the way you might think.

In a cover story interview with Marie Claire, Kaling discussed the genesis of the Netflix show, which returns Friday for Season 3. Originally, Netflix Head of Global TV Bela Bajaria wanted Kaling to create a show based on her amusing anecdotes of growing up as an awkward teenager in the Boston suburbs, which Kaling has chronicled in a series of memoirs.


Instead, Kaling took the general premise — a coming-of-age comedy about an awkward Indian-American teenage girl — and used it as a vessel to tell a somber, heartfelt story about grief.

In “Never Have I Ever,” protagonist Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) experiences many of the standard teen dramas involving boys and friend groups, all while struggling to process the untimely death of her father, which viewers find out early on led to her temporary paralysis.

Kaling, who lost her mother, Swati Chokalingam, to pancreatic cancer in 2012, discussed how her “two years of anguish” following Swati’s death led to her creating “Never Have I Ever.”

“Losing my mom and then wanting to talk about it in a way that is not as sad as the experience of going through it, but being able to be like, ‘If you went through anything like this, you could watch this and feel seen’ — I think that was the goal,” Kaling told the magazine.

According to Kaling, her memories of her mom have changed over time, something that can be seen in the show as well.

“When [Devi] loses her father in the first season, the grief doesn’t go away. He’s always there,” Kaling said. “It’s the same way I feel about my mom. I always am experiencing her loss. But the way I’m experiencing her loss now, the focus changes as it gets further and further away. I can now remember, not as much the times when she was sick and dying, but the lessons I learned from her when she was young and healthy.


“That’s what I like to do in the show with Devi and her dad, Mohan,” Kaling continued. “Seeing her have happy memories of him and him giving her advice, I think was really important to do, instead only focusing on the anguish she felt losing her favorite parent.”

In a more lighthearted interview with Stephen Colbert, Kaling discussed why she decided to end “Never Have I Ever” after four years, despite her reservations.

“I thought four seasons would be perfect for a high school show,” Kaling said. “And now I’m like, why am I [ending] this? I love money.”

Colbert noted that four seasons for four years of high school makes perfect sense.

“It’s a great place to end it,” Kaling added. “We knew what the ending would be when we started it. But you know how it is to launch a show — it took years. It’s like having a baby. I like the writers, I love this group of people. […] So we’re saying goodbye, but I’m sad about it.”


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