Mindy Kaling might just be the new role model for all of us. Notice, I do not say; Mindy Kaling is the new role model for Indian women. If we are going to say she is good, let's give her credit for being more than just "good for a woman" or "good for an Indian" or "good for a woman of color." The truth is Mindy Kaling is both witty and smart.
Mindy Kaling (whose name at birth was Vera Chokalingam) stars in The Mindy Project which premiered on FOX in September. The Mindy Project tells the story of the eternal search for career balance and a love life. While the show plays into some of the stereotypes of Indians in America (of course she is a doctor), it also expands on the Indian playing the token Indian. She is not a token at all. Let us rejoice, we have a women of color as the lead character! When was the last time we had that? Margaret Cho and Ugly Betty's America Ferrera are the only two names that come to mind.
Though success cannot be measured by Facebook likes, and Twitter followers alone, Kaling has accrued 111 thousand facebook likes, over 2 million twitter followers and has written her own book. She is both writer and star of The Mindy Project. As New York Magazine describes, "every detail of the set, has had to pass through Kaling’s brain and reflect her unique worldview as a self-described 'chubby' 33-year-old Indian-American female comic by way of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Dartmouth College; and eight years as both a writer and a cast member on NBC’s The Office."
Kaling's inspiration for her character comes in part from her mother, who was an OB/GYN. Though Kaling may seem like she is new in the TV scene, she has been a writer with The Office, since 2004. Over the course of her time at The Office, she wrote 24 episodes, directed two episodes, three webisodes and received an Emmy nomination for “Niagara,” which was co-written with The Office creator Greg Daniels.
What about the fact that she is Indian? Does her country of ancestry support or detract from her character? She managed to get through the first episode of The Mindy Project without any overt Indian references, which can be seen as a positive or as a negative depending on your perspective.
Kaling does add a dash of race humor, but not in a way that excludes her myriad of fans. When a car nearly runs her over as she is drunkenly riding a bike, she screams “Racist!” But, beyond that one line there is no mention of race. According to Kaling, she isn’t interested in having her skin color, or her gender define her. “I never want to be called the funniest Indian female comedian that exists,” she tells New York Magazine. “I feel like I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers that are out there. Why would I want to self-categorize myself into a smaller group than I’m able to compete in?”
So how is Kaling's character portrayed beyond a woman who struggles with balancing love and life? New York Magazine describes Kaling as "disastrous but still hopeful at love." In the show, she plays into the age-old metanarrative of a woman searching for a man. But at least she has a job (more than we can say for Hannah on Girls). Kaling goes beyond the preteen-esque youngster as portrayed by Zooey Deschanel’s Jess on New Girl. She’s found her life path, she has had sex with more than a couple of people, and she is confident.
The Mindy Project feels like a more honest version of Sex and the City. As New York Magazine writes, "Both the mainstream and the marginalized can identify with her; by defying easy categorization, she’s become the contemporary Every-woman, both a Mary and a Rhoda." A perpetual rom-com in sitcom form that provides the audience with something we can all almost relate to and a lead character we can all respect both on and off screen.
Kaling should perhaps be everyone's role model. A successful person realizing her dreams. I look forward to seeing how the real Kaling, as well as her character in the Mindy Project end up.