Richa Moorjani has won over fans worldwide for her portrayal of Never Have I Ever's Kamala, a brilliant and beautiful Caltech PhD student from India living in Sherman Oaks, California, with her 15-year-old cousin, Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), and her strict Indian auntie Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan).
But Moorjani's own mother just might be her character's biggest admirer. "She loves Kamala so much, she'll ask me to be Kamala when I'm at home. And I'm like, 'That's not how it works,'" Moorjani says with a laugh.
In season two of the Netflix series (created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher), Kamala's storyline focuses on her work as a biologist. She is "dealing with the very real challenges and struggles that a lot of women of color face in the fields of STEM," Moorjani says, referring to science, technology, engineering and math.
Moorjani is quite familiar with academia, having been born and raised in the Bay Area surrounded by brainy people. "My dad and his side of the family are academics. They all have PhDs in science," she says.
And, yes, her parents had hoped that she, too, would earn a PhD one day. But they'll have to be satisfied with her playing a PhD candidate on screen. "This is the closest I'll ever get to having a PhD in science," she says, noting that her parents, who also play in a Bollywood music band, were deeply supportive of her artistic goals.
An actor and dancer — she's trained in classical Indian and Bollywood dancing as well as ballet, hip-hop and jazz — Moorjani spent nine years in Los Angeles before being cast in Never Have I Ever, her first lead role in a series. The opportunity means a lot to her professionally and personally.
"A show about a South Asian family — with not just one but three leading South Asian female characters — created by Mindy Kaling, who I've looked up to forever..." marvels Moorjani, who previously had a small role in an episode of Kaling's The Mindy Project. "When I was growing up, there was nothing like this, where I saw anybody who looked remotely like me on TV, or that reflected my experiences," she says. "We need so much more of this."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2021