Design by Grace Aretakis

When the first season of “Bridgerton” came out, I refused to watch it. To me, it seemed like another romantic period drama that would try and fail to live up to “Pride and Prejudice.” After the initial hype died down, I forgot about it. Until, of course, the second season was released. The first things I saw were the stills — and my jaw dropped. 

For the first time, I was seeing true South Asian representation in a period piece. I saw images of Kate (Simone Ashley, “Sex Education”) and Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran, “Alex Rider”) decked out in some of the most beautiful outfits I had ever seen. The colors complimented them wonderfully, and the jewelry was a subtle yet meaningful nod to the characters’ Indian heritage. Seeing Edwina Sharma wearing her jhumka (classic bell-shaped earrings) was enough to propel me to hit play on the series.

In case you haven’t succumbed to the whirlwind hype that is the second season of “Bridgerton,” here’s a basic rundown: Viscount Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey, “Broadchurch”), eldest of the eight Bridgerton siblings and heir to the estate, has decided he will finally settle down and marry. Adamant on keeping love out of his marriage and simply seeking a suitable bride, Anthony sets his sights on the diamond of the season: Miss Edwina Sharma, who has arrived from India with her older sister Kate and mother, Mary (Shelley Conn, “Good Omens”). Kate proves to be a formidable obstacle in Anthony’s courtship of her sister, but it soon becomes clear that the Kate and Anthony have a closer bond than either of them could have imagined.

The “enemies to lovers” trope is no doubt perfectly executed, and it’s something that viewers (including myself) have been absolutely eating up. But it wasn’t the story that made this season so great to me. It was the representation. I know the phrase “representation is important” has been thrown around often recently, but I can’t stress how true it is. Think about the South Asian representation in most shows and movies. How are we characterized? Weird. Nerdy. Awkward. Ugly. While most of us can agree that we’ve happily left the “Baljeet” and “Ravi” stereotypes behind, it hasn’t necessarily gotten much better. Shows like “Never Have I Ever” and “The Sex Lives of College Girls” have South Asian girls at the forefront yet somehow still manage to play into those damaging stereotypes. Exhibit A: Bela’s comment in “The Sex Lives of College Girls” about how she used to be an “Indian loser with sweaty armpits, cystic acne and glasses,” but medically fixing all of that made her “normal.” I’m sorry, does “normalcy” not include the Indian part? And don’t even get me started on the general unlikeability of Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, “Turning Red”) in “Never Have I Ever.”

“Bridgerton” blazed a new path for good South Asian representation. The Sharmas are Indian through and through, but that’s not all they are. Their ethnicity is an asset, not a liability. Their culture was embraced in the most graceful way possible. The first words out of Kate Sharma’s mouth in the entire season are “Oh baap re,” a Hindi phrase roughly translated to “oh my god.” It only gets better from there.

As a South Indian myself, I have always referred to my mom and dad as “Amma” and “Appa” — something I used to feel uncomfortable doing in elementary school growing up with peers who used the more familiar English terms. So it goes without saying that I couldn’t help but smile when Kate referred to her parents as “Amma” and “Appa.” When I watched Kate apply oil to her younger sister’s hair, I know I don’t just speak for myself when I say that I thought about my own mother and grandmother lovingly doing the same for me. Every time Edwina affectionately calls Kate “Didi” (‘elder sister’ in Hindi) or Kate calls Edwina “Bon” (‘sister’ in Bengali), viewers are reminded of who these characters are at their core and where their love for each other comes from. 

It was certainly the little things, like the instrumental version of the Bollywood song “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” playing in the background of the Sharmas’ pre-wedding haldi ceremony that made me and my roommates smile ear to ear. Looking back now, however, I can pinpoint with much more accuracy the deeper reason I enjoyed the representation in “Bridgerton.” In not addressing the stereotypes that have previously surrounded Indian characters in media, Shonda Rhimes actually did address them. Kate and Edwina’s beauty was never seen as surprising. Their culture was never odd or exotic. Their Indian accents were realistic and charming. Neither of them were beautiful “for an Indian girl” — a phrase I have heard far too many times. They were simply beautiful and deserving of the same passionate love that everyone else was. When Anthony called Kate by her full, ethnic name, my heart absolutely melted. In calling her “Kathani Sharma,” Anthony acknowledged who Kate was, and showed her that he loved every part of her. 

Did “Bridgerton” make me miss my Amma’s oil head massages? Yes. Did it have me contemplating how to wear jhumka with every outfit? Also yes. But as I sit here writing this piece while listening to the instrumental “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham,” I realize that it did so much more for me and for every South Asian girl that was left breathless after this season. It showed me that people like me have a place everywhere, that everyone deserves a “Kanthony” type of love.

Daily Arts Writer Swara Ramaswamy can be reached at