The scene-stealer shares her own influence on Kamala’s style in Mindy Kaling’s Netflix series and her speed-shopping trip for her “Vogue” India-covered wedding.
We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what’s “you”? These are some of the questions we’re putting to prominent figures in our column “How I Shop.”
In “Never Have I Ever,” Devi’s cousin Kamala is too focused on studying for her PhD, bingeing “Riverdale” and secretly meeting with CalTech snack, Steve, to spend her days perusing Westfield Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks. Although, she did set aside time to catch a “fashion segment on ‘The Today Show’ for a fun way to mix professional and casual” for a Skype session with prospective future in-laws. And she is oft-mistaken for a runway model (*as a bike guy crashes into the Vishwakumar family’s garbage cans*).
Fittingly, in real life, the actor who plays Kamala, Richa Moorjana — who landed the role after an open-casting call garnering over 15,000 applicants — is also a self-confessed non-fashion person. “I’m not really into shopping,” she admits, on a call from her home in Los Angeles.
Well, Moorjani has been busy. Before stealing scenes in Mindy Kaling‘s recent Netflix hit, she racked up spots on “The Mindy Project,” of course, and “NCIS: Los Angeles.” She’s also an accomplished dancer and choreographer. (Moorjani is trained in Kathak, a classical Indian dance, and minored in Theatre and Dance at the University of California, Davis.) Plus, the multi-hyphenate recently tied the knot over a four-day, multi-event wedding, which was documented through a gorgeous spread in Vogue India — wonderfully ironic for a self-confessed non-fashion person.
In prepping for “Never Have I Ever,” Moorjani gave costume designer Salvador Perez input on her multi-cultural character, who bridges India with her new Southern California home. Kamala was originally written as wearing “Western-style” clothing the majority of the series, but the actor thought she would wear a mix, like Moorjani — who was born in northern California but spent time in Bollywood — does in real life.
“I wear a lot of Indian clothes, whether it’s really casual tunics with comfortable pants at home or when I go out, sometimes I’ll wear a fancy Indian top with jeans,” she explains. “I like to fuse the styles because that’s what represents me being Indian-American. So I had a conversation with Salvador and just told him that’s how I dress and that I know a lot of people, who have either grown up here or come from India and live here now, that wear a mix of both. That’s why Kamala ended wearing a lot more Indian clothes on the show, which I was excited about.”
Moorjani and the super-chic Poorna Jagannathan, who plays Devi’s mom Nalini, also told Perez about their favorite Indian designers, like Anita Dongre. The costume designer then looked to the Mumbai-based brand for Nalini’s dressier outfits, plus Kamala’s beautiful gold and pink embroidered kurta (above) for the final episode’s beach scene.
Moorjani explains that the piece — her favorite in the series — would normally be worn over some type of trouser, but Perez styled it as a midi-length dress. “It was just beautiful and flowy and totally my style, even though I don’t own anything like it,” she says.
While waiting out the Covid-19 crisis at home, Moorjani admits to giving in to shopping online sales for basics. In a Kamala move, she’s also taking the downtime to study: “I was already very interested in learning more about sustainable fashion, I’ve been trying to do more reading up on that since we’re in quarantine,” she says. (Psst: Read Whitney Bauck‘s stuff!)
The actor took the time to share how her glamorous Bollywood-musician mom influenced her style, what it was like speed-shopping for herself and wedding party in just two weeks and why that trip meant so much to her.
“I was definitely influenced a lot by my mom’s style. She moved [to the United States] when she was seven, so she had to acclimate and adapt to Western culture very early in life, during a time when there were a lot less Indian people around her than there are today. She has a very interesting style. She wears a lot of Western clothes, but when we go to events, she’ll wear gorgeous Indian clothes.
“When I was a young girl, seeing my mom performing on stage with their band — and wearing these stunning Indian clothes — was really inspirational to me. I always saw my mom as someone who was so glamorous and embodied this beautiful image of an Indian woman living in America, never letting her culture take a back seat.
“I might wear something similar to what I wore in the last episode [of ‘Never Have I Ever’] with jeans, just to mix it up a little bit. Now, when I look at Instagram, there are all these emerging South Asian/North American designers and brands that are coming up, specializing in infusing Western with Indian. I like Papa Don’t Preach by Shubika and Toronto-based Mani Jassal. I’ve been seeing really interesting trends of people wearing these long scarves called dupattas — but instead of wearing them traditionally, they wrap them around to make them look like a sari worn with jeans. I want to try that when I’m not in quarantine anymore.
“Mostly, my style is just comfortable. Right now, I’m wearing these loose black harem-style pants and a tank top. That’s pretty much what I always wear in L.A., because it’s warm here all the time. I’m not really big on wearing big, fancy designer outfits — maybe for an event, but day-to-day, it’s just comfortable-chic.
“Since we couldn’t obviously have a real premiere, we had a virtual red carpet before the show came out. I had received a dress from a stylist, Liya Thachil — it’s actually my first time working with her — for an event that was supposed to happen before quarantine started. I ended up wearing that for the virtual red carpet. It was this beautiful, emerald-green and turquoise, very Princess Jasmine-like dress by [South Asian Canadian brand] Live the Collective. It’s off-the-shoulder and has gold embellishment. My husband was wearing a mask and took those pictures of me on our roof.
“My wedding happened right after we finished shooting [“Never Have I Ever”] and that was the first time in my life that I started learning about fashion and designers. Before that, I never really had an interest, to be honest. That was the first time I delved into that world and I found some really amazing designers. I went shopping for all my wedding clothes in New Delhi.
“What I loved the most about it was just the bonding experience I had with my mom. Because we have so many events, people will spend five to six months wedding shopping, spread out. But because we were only in India for two weeks, we had to do everything in a very short amount of time. Neither of us is an expert on shopping in India, so we had to rely a lot on our family friends who live there, who were so helpful. It was a whirlwind. We had a very strict schedule, starting early in the morning and going until late at night. We were out and about, every single day, buying everything from my outfits to half our family’s and family friends’ outfits. I even picked out all my husband’s outfits.
“A lot of the stuff was custom-made, so it wasn’t just like, ‘This is what I want and we’ll get this.’ It was me picking materials, fabric, borders and tassels. It was really fun because it was the first time I was so involved in what I was going to wear for an event — and for everyone around me, too, from my family to my bridesmaids. I was very shocked because I didn’t think we would get that done in those two weeks, and it came together really beautifully.
“I don’t really like to spend a lot of money on outfits and it took a lot of convincing from my friends and my parents to be like, ‘This is your wedding. This is the only time you’re going to spend this much money, probably, on outfits. Just do it.’ So I tried to have an open mind and it was fun, obviously. I can appreciate beautiful clothing and design, because, for me, it’s also very artistic.
“I also tried — I don’t know if this would ever happen — but I tried to pick outfits that I could see myself wearing again one day, because I hate the idea of spending so much on an outfit and never wearing it again. I can see myself wearing elements [of it.] For example, I could wear the blouse with something more casual on the bottom. Or my reception dress, which is this a gold cream gown [by Gaurav Gupta] with this very embellished mesh top, I can see myself wearing that on the red carpet one day.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.