A still of Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma and Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma in season 2 of Netflix and Shondaland's Bridgerton.

The Representation of Indian People in Bridgerton

The Representation of Indian People in Bridgerton

Season 2 of Bridgerton came out in March, and quickly took the internet and world by storm. This season was captivating not only due to the central love story but also for its feature of Indian women in Regency era England. Anthony Bridgerton’s love interests were the Sharma Sisters played by Simone Ashley (Kate Sharma) and Charithra Chandran (Edwina Sharma). These women were arguably the focal point of the season, with great performances in their respective roles. Not only did their presence in this season mark a milestone for the representation of South Asian characters in mainstream television, but their roles in the show were also historically accurate and added interesting cultural elements to the show. 

Bridgerton has been under scrutiny for its historical accuracy and the different types of characters it cast in high society London in the 1800’s. Historical accuracy is not always of the utmost importance and it should be noted that taking an identity-conscious approach to casting and including actors of all backgrounds into a Western TV show is also important. That being said, the representation of Indian women in this season is accurate to the time period and acknowledges the British colonial legacy in India. During the colonial era, British officials working for the British East India Company at the time often had families in India and brought them back to England to be educated. Historians say it is unclear the extent to which these people could maintain their traditions and names once they arrived in England, but acknowledging their presence in British society in a period-piece show like Bridgerton is important for revealing the true level of cultural diversity that arose as a result of British colonial legacies. 

Aside from the historical accuracy of the Sharma Sisters in British society, their roles added various interesting elements to the season including costume design and at-home traditions. The costume designer for the show, Sophie Canale, told Harper’s Bazaar that the Sharma’s Indian heritage was intentionally woven into their costume design. She said she used Indian fabrics and embroidery patterns to create a new take on traditional Regency style dresses. Additionally, the family jewelry was inspired by traditional Indian jewels and styles. There are also many examples of Indian cultural traditions throughout the show. Before the wedding, the Sharma women practice a Haldi Ceremony wherein Edwina, Kate, and her mother apply a Haldi mask made of turmeric and other herbs. It is part of Hindu tradition to do so and the mask is said to brighten the skin for the wedding. Throughout the season the sisters also refer to their father as “Appa” the traditional Tamil word for father, and Edwina refers to Kate as “Didi” meaning older sister. 

Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran’s portrayal of the Sharma Sisters in Bridgerton was an important moment that brought greater representation of South Asian characters in typically Western TV shows. Bridgerton is one of the most popular shows right now. Its high viewership means that many primarily American and British viewers have learned about traditions, language, and culture they might not have otherwise through the story of the Sharma Sisters.

Cover image retrieved from rottentomatoes.com