This review contains spoilers for seasons 1 and 2 of Bridgerton (2020–present).
I wish I could say I have always loved regency dramas, but I have not. With the exception of my favorites, Pride and Prejudice (2005), Becoming Jane (2007), and Sanditon (2019–present), the stories I watched felt stale and I wondered if I wasn’t fully grasping the appeal. Much to my pleasant surprise, this changed when Shondaland’s Bridgerton came into the picture as a fun, fluffy spin on the genre—viewers referred to it as “Gossip Girl meets Downton Abbey”. I enjoyed the first season up till episode six (CW: sexual assault), which made Daphne’s character unbearable for me. I had no desire to rewatch it or its successors unless they did much better.
I was thankful to hear that the second season didn’t contain such glaring, problematic moments. I am part of an audience that wondered what the story would be like without the charming Duke (Regé Jean Page). But any thoughts of him left my mind once I met Viscount Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey), whom I did not expect to like as much as I did. I was excited about the arrival of the Sharmas (pronounced: shur-ma, not shaar-ma) and the dimensions they added to the show. I was particularly intrigued by the worthy opponent Anthony finds in showstopper Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), whose sister Edwina (Charithra Chandran) he wants to court.
Though it is said this season lacks the oomph of the first, its slower burn made me all the more invested. I relished the opportunity to get to know the protagonists, the conflicts within themselves, and the gradually increasing tension between them. Fans rightly point out that there were fewer outright steamy moments compared to last season. But I found a different satisfaction in watching the magnetic pull between the two builds as they realize that they aren’t as different from each other as they initially thought. I could have done with more Kanthony scenes but I was captivated by the ones we got.
Like many Indians (and more broadly, South Asians), I was struck by the representation in Bridgerton, flawed though it is. As someone who has spent years in India and even more in the diaspora, I have found myself caught in the blurry middle. In recent years, I have accepted that my cultural identity is mine to define, and it’s okay that I have lots to learn about traditions from my family’s North Indian states of origin and way beyond. It wasn’t until I began considering North America my first true home that I had to ponder representation in Western media. I wondered: Do I see myself in Hollywood’s movies and shows? (This included the many I grew up on, which I found myself revisiting with an additional layer of complexity.) And in general, is Hollywood doing enough? (Nope.)
As a straddler of the lines drawn between “third culture kid”, “westernized”, and “foreigner”, I also accepted that there were things on all ends that I just could not relate to. While watching Bridgerton, I found myself emotional about the broader, shared customs depicted so beautifully, respectfully, and seamlessly. These details—much like the matter of the Sharmas’ race—weren’t pronounced as much as weaved into the story, leaving no doubt that the Sharma family belonged in the setting. (Of course, it helps that they are well-off and in with the Queen, but let’s have that conversation another time.)
When I saw Kate tenderly oiling her sister’s hair, I remembered that almost every Sunday of 2020, Mamma (my mother) did the same for me at our home in Bangalore, often while we sipped from mugs of filter coffee or Chai. When Edwina addressed Kate as “Didi” (older sister in Hindi) to denote respect, I fondly thought of my brother, who has been calling me the same since he was little. (I hope he never stops!) When the Sharmas adorned vibrant Indian-inspired jewelry and prints, I thought of the cultural touches I add to my own wardrobe and my life. Kate’s bangles reminded me of the beautiful jewelry set that Mamma will pass down to me when I get married, just like her mother had done. When the sisters code-switched with each other, I felt a sense of empathy as a diaspora dweller; it feels like my brain glitches for a flip second before it recalibrates how to speak with different people.
All told, this season of Bridgerton is mostly a step forward. To quote my friend Supriya:
“I definitely think an issue with shows that are made to appeal to POC audiences and represent their stories is that you put this unattainable pressure on them to be perfect and get everything right. And that’s just not fair. So I definitely think the criticism needs to be made with that in mind.”
It would be remiss not to recognize the aspects of Bridgerton’s representation—such as the mishmash of regional cultures and languages—that understandably frustrated Indian viewers, especially Tamil folks. I feel for, though cannot relate to, the wide range of South Indian communities that all too often get the short end of the stick when it comes to authentic representation in cinema. I share the frustrations many Indians have with colorism running rampant and deep, not only in our communities but also in our mainstream cinema like Bollywood, Kollywood, and various Indian film industries.
So it is very significant to see talented, dark-skinned Tamil women portray such complex characters in a genre traditionally dominated by white actors. The Sharma sisters have the agency to be both graceful and outspoken. They are considered desirable, period—their race and culture are neither exotified nor diminished. I was glad to see these thoughts echoed throughout Tiktok, like in this video by Ziad Ahmad, an American-Muslim-Bangladeshi entrepreneur. Ahmad points out that Bridgerton is a gamechanger for South Asians* because it challenges previous depictions in TV, and more largely, Eurocentric standards of what is considered “attractive”. He is spot on in his observation that, for many viewers, this was the first time “… a character’s beauty wasn’t despite of or because of their brownness …”
It means so much to see these characters break out of the boxes that Indian women are often confined to in American and British stories. Shows like Bridgerton have set us on a good path, one that I hope keeps going strong.
Author note: I chose not to use “Desi” because not everyone with South Asian roots identifies with this term. If you are unfamiliar with these discussions, read this piece by Anisha Sircar to learn more.