Mindy Kaling on How the Loss of Her Mother Inspired 'Never Have I Ever'

mindy kaling never have i ever season 3
credit: Claire Leahy

Minor Spoilers ahead.

Netflix series Never Have I Ever Season 3 dropped on Friday and fans everywhere are excitedly binging to see what — and who — is next in protagonist Devi’s (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) life.

Spoiler alert: this season is all about Devi’s journey with self-love and self-discovery as she navigates the difficulties that come with high school while simultaneously coping with the grief over losing her father.

The storyline around Devi’s grappling with grief is not surprising; after all, it was inspired by showrunner and actress Mindy Kaling’s personal experience. Kaling’s mother passed away in 2012 after an eight-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

The resulting grief from Kaling’s painful loss obviously had a huge impact on her. She told Marie Claire,

“I can only describe it as just anguish for two years.”

never have i ever mindy kaling grief
Courtesy Netflix

It’s that experience that led to the evolution of Devi’s grief we see in season 3 of Never Have I Ever. Instead of solely focusing on the pain and anguish, as she did in season 1, Devi is now starting to remember the good times. And it’s precisely the transformational change that Mindy went through herself. She explained,

“When [Devi] loses her father in the first season, the grief doesn’t go away. He’s always there. It’s the same way I feel about my mom. I always am experiencing her loss.”

She continued,

“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 (Sendhil Ramamurthy). Seeing her have happy memories of him and him giving her advice, I think was really important to do, instead of only focusing on the anguish she felt losing her favorite parent.”

devi never have i ever outfits
credit: Lara Solanki/Netflix © 2022

Additionally, she wanted to create a show that allowed others who had dealt with the loss of a parent to see their experiences on screen. Mindy said,

“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.”

So far, Mindy has done a wonderful job realistically portraying grief. In season 1, we see Devi go through depression, anger, and denial as she deals with the recent and sudden death of her father. She’s stuck in a chaotic existence where she lashes out at her friends, is reluctant to cope with her loss, and deflects having conversations about it even with her therapist — like a true teenager. Truth is, Devi portrays the reality of grief: it’s messy, complicated, and disheartening no matter how old you are.

never have i ever season 3 grief
Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

Still, for someone at the start of her formative years, Devi demonstrates how grief is not a singular emotion, but a complex range of overwhelming feelings and thoughts that ebb and flow over time and take time to process. Like others who suffered a great loss, Devi is just trying to fill a void in her life. Everyone copes differently, and for Devi, high school romances and heartbreaks, arguments with her mother, and self-doubt make up the fabric of her bereavement.

Grief can be extremely isolating, not just for Devi but for other characters on the show. Devi’s mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), a doctor, spends her career helping others with their ailments while she silently struggles. In Season 3, we get a glimpse of her loneliness when she is urged by her mother-in-law to make friends and have more of a personal life. The characters on Never Have I Ever, like Kaling in real life, realize that grief never fully goes away, but instead can be repurposed into honoring the memory and existence of a loved one.

Never Have I Ever is a great example of a television show that portrays the realities and messiness of loss by illustrating how futile it is to escape it. Still, despite being a show with a largely teenage audience, Never Have I Ever successfully gives viewers of all ages a chance to empathize and humanize with others who have gone through a traumatic loss. It provides a platform for fans, of all backgrounds, to feel as if they are not alone to bear the weight of their respective grief.

never have i ever grief devi
Courtesy Netflix

TV Psychologist Emma Kenny chatted with Harper’s Bazaar about the importance of realistic representation of grief and explained,

“When grief is portrayed and represented on TV and social media, it reminds the individual struggling that they’re not alone and, more importantly, that they are acknowledged and understood. Grief can be traumatizing and complex, so when they see others saying that these reactions are understandable and also common, it can help soothe the sting of loss.”

Even though Mindy Kaling intends on ending the show with season 4, Devi’s journey with grief has only just begun and will presumably continue long after the series end.

You can currently watch Never Have I Ever season 3 on Netflix.

Feature photo license: 

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Pooja Shah
Pooja Shah is a lawyer and freelance writer from New York City.  When she is not binging a new TV show, she’s actively browsing google flights for her next travel destination or looking up vegetarian recipes she will never actually cook.