“Bridgerton”: Closing the gap for South Asian representation

Dhwani Porecha, Editorial Board Member

How often have you watched a television show where you could identify yourself with a character—not on personality or likeness—but on culture, ethnicity, or representation?

Recently, representation was illustrated in the most unexpected way. Season two of “Bridgerton” took a unique approach to a period drama and for the first time, the main characters are South Asian. While it is historically inaccurate, it was portrayed in such an elegant manner in which race and ethnicity were incorporated, but not one of the struggles the characters were faced with. 

I remember growing up watching shows such as “Jessie,” where the South Asian character, Ravi, was portrayed as the most stereotypical Indian. Then there were other characters such as Baljeet in “Phineas and Ferb” who have now become the basis for every joke against brown people. It felt insulting and hurtful to many who were of South Asian descent. Such roles should not be called representation as it does not foster inclusivity but rather another excuse to continue the practice of racism. 

However, Bridgerton ditches the traditional route of portraying diversity, and instead takes an approach that stuns many. The second season follows the lives of two sisters, Kate and Edwina Sharma, who enter the seasonas British nobility looking for a husband to wed Edwina. While drama and romance ensues, the most captivating aspect was how inclusion of the Sharma family finally felt like a step in the right direction in terms of  representation. 

From the very beginning, Kate takes on the role of protector and is addressed with respect, which is a cherished dynamic in South Asian cultures. We can see that when Edwina calls Kate “didi,” (meaning “sister”) and Kate calls Edwina “bon,” (“younger sister”). While these are cute nicknames, they are also Bengali phrases that are used in respect when addressing siblings.To see a touch of my everyday life on screen was beautifully refreshing. 

Kate also breaks the role of being compliant, meek, and oppressed, which are often correlated with South Asian culture. Rather, she breaks that boundary with her outspoken personality and wit that is respected by the white characters around her, rather than something to frown upon. 

As the episodes continue, more South Asian culture is emphasized and appreciated. They dress in bright colorful gowns, called “lehengas”, that are made with South Asian fabric and embroidery that represent traditional clothing worn in India. They pair these beautiful, ornate bangles to finish their look along with bold statement-piece jewelry. 

In one episode, Kate mentions how she hates English tea but would instead prefer drinking authentic Indian chai. Another aspect included was hair oiling, a common beauty practice in India. This practice that revitalizes and nourishes the hair is a tradition of bonding that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Last, but not least, is the sacred ritual of the Haldi ceremony. This ritual is performed before weddings, purifies, and cleanses the body. Kate smears turmeric paste on the arms and face of Edwina as it represents a life of prosperity for the couple that is about to begin their life together. This combined with the orchestral cover of “Khabi Khusi Kabhie Gham,” a popular Bollywood song, was just what South Asian fans needed to see. Combining the traditions of European weddings and South Asian is a spectacular way to merge different ethnicities together.

The on-screen representation, especially for young teens/adults such as myself, sends a powerful message that we belong here and have a place in the world. It closes the gap to normalizing that South Asians are a part of the community. Our culture, art, and traditions deserve to be celebrated and it is time that we destroy harmful stereotypes and instead demand that the wrongs be righted. Bridgerton is that representation our generation needs. 

Overall, season two of “Bridgerton” had everything that TV shows have been lacking for years now, and we can only be hopeful that this trend will continue when including people of color moving forward. This is a must-watch show and one of my favorites for 2022.