(Credit: Netflix)

Editor's Choice

How ‘Bridgerton’ season 2 misrepresented the Indian culture

With slow-burn desire and sky-rocketing sexual tension, the second season of Netflix’s Bridgerton has already topped Netflix charts and garnered quite the buzz. Created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes, the show is based on Julia Quinn’s novel The Viscount Who Loved Me and deals with the romantic pursuits of the eldest Bridgerton brother, Anthony. As Anthony tries to find a wife this courting season, the show tones down on the sex scenes, introducing slow-burn forbidden romance, chance glances and a hate-love relationship. 

Starring Jonathan Bailey as Anthony, most of the cast returns in their reprising roles. This includes Nicola Coughlan, Phoebe Dynevor, Adjoa Andoh, Lorraine Ashbourne, Bessie Carter, Harriet Cains, Ruth Gemmell, Martins Imhangbe, Florence Hunt, Luke Newton, Claudia Jessie, Luke Thompson, Golda Rosheuvel, Polly Walker, Will Tilston and Julie Andrews. 

The show also welcomes Simone Shley as Kate Sharma and Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma, two Indian sisters who come to Regency-era London from Bombay, India, with their mother to help find Edwina a man to settle down with. Quickly, Edwina is hailed as the diamond of the season and gains the interest of Anthony. However, Kate, who overheard Anthony’s requirements for a wife, is disapproving of him and does not trust his intentions towards her sister whom she genuinely adores. 

The entire season focuses on how Kate and Anthony’s disdain for one another culminates into a torrid romantic affair unbeknownst to the younger Sharma sister. Although there is a lot of melodrama and conflict towards the end with Anthony being unable to focus on Edwina during their nuptials, Kate and Anthony finally have a happy ending, as is common in Quinn’s novels, with a happy Edwina showering her blessings on the couple. 

While I was pretty excited about the diverse casting and the ability to see a South Asian character gain the foreground in a Netflix series, my hopes quickly fizzled when I watched the show. Yes, the showrunners manage to nail the fashion. Representing Indian sisters who want to assimilate into the aristocratic British society, the designers manage to use a variety of Indian fabrics, clothing and jewellery to blend in the multicultural perspective.

To usher in diversity, they even introduce marital customs like the traditional Haldi ceremony. However, all of it seems very forced and the glaring mistakes in some of the scenes make it very hard for me, as an Indian, to not snort at the creators’ oblivious minds. After all, fact-checking should be a five-minute affair in today’s web-dominated world, right? 

In the first episode, a few minutes into the audience being introduced to the Sharma sisters, Kate Sharma makes a statement that probably has every Indian laughing and fuming at the same time. While emphasising Edwina’s creative, artistic and intellectual prowess, Kate tells Lady Danbury about the various languages she knows “in addition to Marathi and Hindusthani of course”. Huh? Marathi is the local language used in the state of Maharashtra in India.

Since the Sharma sisters come all the way from Bombay, it is only natural for Edwina to have a good command of the language. However, Indian viewers were left dumbfounded by the use of the word “Hindustani” which literally translates to Indian. The most widely used language in the country is Hindi and perhaps the screenplay writers were careless enough to make these clumsy references without research, further adding to the general South Asian perception about the West’s lack of understanding of our culture. 

Later, while Kate talks about the instruments her sister can play, she mentions something along the lines of “maruli” after saying sitar. In India, there exists no “maruli” but a murali, which translates to a bansuri or flute that is played by Lord Krishna according to the fables. I am pretty sure my fellow countrymen and women have found their toes curling in embarrassment at the sheer misrepresentation of the words and the lack of understanding about the same. And in no way do we blame Simone Ashley because she tried her level best but only the lazy writers of the second season of Bridgerton who thought it was completely alright to sprinkle in a few Indian references without double-checking their accuracy or relevance. 

While the references to words like “Bon” (used to refer to a younger sister) and “appa” were questioned by some as it sees the creative team liberally assimilating different cultures without knowing the difference, I still decided to look past it at the brighter side. While “bon” is used by Bengalis to refer to their younger sister and Bengal is more than two thousand kilometres away from Bombay, “appa” is a term that is usually used in South India to refer to one’s father.

While the diverse creative team did try hard to break free of prejudices and introduce racially diverse characters to encourage a broader perspective, a bit of research would have helped their case. Adorning the sisters in emerald and gold jewellery, dressing them up in embellished costumes and making them utter a few “Hindusthani” references will simply not make the cut!