From One Project to Next, Mindy Kaling Remains a Role Model
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With earnings of $13 million this year, Mindy Kaling has secured the third spot on the Forbes’ list of highest paid television actresses this year. She has consistently figured among the 10 highest paid TV actresses since 2014. As The Mindy Project, the series which she creates and stars in, comes to an end this month, her income is expected to take a hit. However, with the movies Oceans 8 and A Wrinkle in Time lined up, the star is here to stay.
Vera Mindy Chokalingam (her stage name is Mindy Kaling) was born to Avu Chokalingam, an architect, and Swati Chokalingam, a gynecologist, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. America’s “unlikely darling” graduated from Dartmouth with a degree in playwriting. Her rise to fame, over a decade of writing and acting, stems from her ability to charm the audience with her comfort in her own faults and embarrassments.
The 38-year-old actress began as an intern on Late Nights with Conan O Brien where she was quoted by media publications as saying she was a more of “stalk Conan intern than make copies intern”. She did stand-up comedy for a while and was spotted by The Office showrunner Greg Daniels when she was portraying Ben Affleck in an off-Broadway play that she co-wrote with a friend. The Office, where she was the only female writer in the room, was when it all began.
“Where do you get your confidence?” is one of the most oft-asked questions to her. Indeed, the announcement of her pregnancy that she made on August 15 without naming the father has put her on a pedestal for the issue of single motherhood.
She writes in her best-selling book, Why Not Me?: “When an adult white man asks me ‘Where do you get your confidence?’ the tacit assumption behind it is: ‘Because you don’t look like a person who should have any confidence. You’re not white, you’re not a man, and you’re not thin or conventionally attractive. How were you able to overlook these obvious shortcomings to feel confident?’”
She answers the question: “People talk about confidence without ever bringing up hard work. That’s a mistake. I know I sound like some dour older spinster chambermaid on Downton Abbey who has never felt a man’s touch and whose heart has turned to stone, but I don’t understand how you could have self-confidence if you don’t do the work. I work a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Confidence is like respect; you have to earn it.”
And work she does. As a creator, producer and star of The Mindy Project, she is involved in every aspect of production. The show, surprisingly, does not rely on “Indian out of the boat” premise that seems to infuse every character of color — even as she is the first Indian woman to star in her own show, according to The Boston Magazine.
The Mindy Project follows the life of Indian American obstetrician/ gynaecologist Mindy Lahiri, a nod to Indian American author Jhumpa Lahiri, and her quirky colleagues. It follows her as she tries to balance personal and professional life, which is a fertile ground for experimentation in the genre of romantic comedy.
She has earned six Emmy nominations as writer-producer, director, and cast member of the show that launched her in the TV scape, The Office, which is an adaptation of the BBC comedy series of the same title. The show follows the lives of employees in Scranton, and was filmed in a documentary format without a laugh track. Mindy plays Kelly Kapoor, the office “chatterbox” with on-again, off-again relationship with Ryan Howard, the character played by BJ Novak.
Says Novak in The Elle magazine: “A friend of mine who doesn’t know Mindy told me that for a year she considered Mindy’s book one of her closest friends. People really respond to her voice. It’s extremely intelligent without being the least bit pretentious.”
Her two books Why Not Me? And Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) are noted for their breezy comedy, anecdotes and inspirational advice delivered in big sisterly fashion.
The New York Times review said: Why Not Me? shares an extemporaneous, picaresque quality with its predecessors, weaving together stories about nerdy, complicated childhoods; college misadventures at top-tier institutions; early success in improv or Off Broadway; big-time mentors; lucky breaks; artistic triumphs and setbacks; romantic foibles; strange encounters with fame; and some funny (if extraneous) filler. Add to this thoughts on identity, body issues, body issues made worse by Internet trolls, body issues made even worse by journalists at glossy magazines writing about your body, and the weirdness of constantly having to explain why you are portraying an average woman on TV while looking like an average woman.”
As her show The Mindy Project comes to an end, Mindy reflects that she took all the character traits of the men she loved in other sitcoms — from Ricky Gervais to Steve Carrell — the ones who were flawed, to be Mindy Lahiri. She talks to the New York Times about how that could be a legacy: “If that can be the legacy, and (that) I had really funny jokes and said crazy things that women had not said before, then that’s really nice.”