Art

Richa Moorjani Celebrates the Glory of Growing Up

The Never Have I Ever actress reflects on the path that led her to playing a role that feels closer to herself that ever before.

Ande Edmunds

Photography by Jesse Volk

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Richa Moorjani.

Richa Moorjani has several major acting roles under her belt but her involvement in the arts dates to childhood. “My first nonprofessional acting job was probably when I was in elementary school and I played the king of fairies in a production of Thumbelina at a summer drama camp for kids,” recalls the 32-year-old, who costars in Mindy Kaling’s Netflix hit series Never Have I Ever and previously worked with the screenwriter on her eponymous The Mindy Project. “I got into acting really young. I grew up in a very artistic family. My parents are both musicians. I started learning Indian classical dance when I was about five years old, and I developed a passion for everything to do with the arts. It was basically my entire lifelong goal to be in TV and film one day.”

While Moorjani has certainly fulfilled that childhood dream, she can also now say that she played a part in a series that premiered in Netflix’s global Top Ten and that she beat out over 15,000 applicants from a global casting call for the opportunity. Never Have I Ever was recently renewed for a third season, just in time to send the world off into the upcoming school year on the trail of the show’s relatable celebration of youth in all its simultaneous glory and mess.

There is no shortage of comedic material wrapped up in the trials and tribulations of high school friendships and first loves, of which the series takes full advantage. But beyond schoolyard drama, Never Have I Ever also centers around the home life of 15-year-old Devi, played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, with her widowed mother Nalini, played by Poorna Jagannathan, and her picture-perfect Indian cousin Kamala, played by Moorjani. The show has been widely recognized for its groundbreaking portrayal of multiple South Asian women as multifaceted protagonists—a rarity in American television.

Scoring the role as Kamala not only brought Moorjani’s TV star goals to fruition, but it also meant achieving another. “Never Have I Ever has basically been kind of a dream for me even before I knew it existed, to be on a show that highlights a South Asian American family with multiple South Asian characters… a show that’s resonated with people all over the world for so many different reasons, it’s a dream come true to work on a project like that,” she says.

richa moorjani

Richa Moorjani.

A San Francisco Bay Area native, Moorjani moved to India early in her career to pursue acting, a pathway mirrored by her character Kamala, who is a biology PhD at Caltech. When asked if she relates to the role Moorjani shares, “There’s so much that I feel like I have in common with Kamala, more than not. I guess the biggest thing is just, both of us are the type of woman who places very high expectations on herself, and we expect perfection in so many ways—perfect in our work, perfect family member, perfect daughter. That can often get in the way of pursuing what we really want or even knowing what we really want because we just want to make everyone happy.”

For Kamala, who is torn between familial duties and the potential of taking an untrodden path, her character development is shown by her growing confidence in herself and ability to distinguish what is meant for her and worth fighting for. Moorjani’s growth as a person and an actress was similarly rooted in resilience toward the pursuit of her career. Such is the magic of Never Have I Ever, which bravely plunges into portraying the slippage between internal desires and external expectations—a universally relatable struggle. Equal parts funny and sincere, the show encourages imperfection as school reconvenes in person again after a year behind computer screens.

For those on Devi’s timeline, Moorjani reflects on her own schooling journey. “The advice I would tell my high school self is: you don’t need anyone’s approval,” she says. “Your uniqueness, which you sometimes think of as something you need to hide, is actually your greatest strength and what will take you far in life. Never let anyone dim your light, just keep shining brighter every day.”

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