All hail Bridgerton’s newest diamond, Charithra Chandran!
Since the show’s second season debuted on Netflix in March, breaking records globally to become the No. 1 show in 92 countries, the young actress has been lauded by fans not only for her epic performance as Edwina Sharma, the wiser and younger sister of Kate Sharma (played by Simone Ashley), but also for blazing a trail for South Asian representation in Hollywood.
As her star is on a meteoric rise, Chandran, 25, is quick to point out the positive impact it could have for darker-skinned South Asian women — something she can relate to.
“No one let me forget that I was dark-skinned growing up,” she told Teen Vogue in its latest cover story. “My grandma was very light-skinned. Whenever we’d go around in India, they’d always say, ‘Oh, you’d be pretty if you had your grandmother’s coloring.’ ‘Shame about the color of her skin.’ ‘She’s pretty for being dark-skinned.’ All of these comments, all the time.”
Acknowledging that she doesn’t “hold this against” her grandparents, she added that as a child she “wouldn’t be allowed to play outside” in order to avoid getting darker from the sun. Still, when “someone’s attacking you from inside your own family, or trying to oppress you, or create a hierarchy within your own family, that is in some ways, so much harder to deal with,” she explained.
Those social biases were hard to break as she got older. “When the sun is shining and I tan, my instinct is like, ‘oh f*ck, I tanned.’ I’m trying to unlearn it,” Chandran said. “It’s going to be a lifelong struggle. Or like when I’m editing a photo for Instagram, of course the temptations are there, because for most of my life I’ve been taught that that’s what is beautiful. It’s really, really traumatizing. I just desperately don’t want that for my cousins. I just pray, pray, pray that it’s not like that for them.”
Despite starring in one of the most popular shows in the world, Chandran said she still experiences colorism from other South Asians, which she describes as a unique type of betrayal.
“For me, colorism in some ways is more painful because it feels like a betrayal of your own,” adding that it seems to be everywhere she goes — especially in the marketing of so-called “natural” products in Indian grocery stores. “They always hide it under like, ‘it makes you glow,’ ‘brightens,’” she explained. “[But] it’s all synonyms for lighter. So I never, ever was able to forget that I was darker-skinned.”
Chandran isn’t letting any of it get to her head, though. Instead she’s relishing in the love she’s received from fans about the importance of her role for young audiences.
“In particular, what I love are how Desi people feel like we're breaking stereotypes," she explained, referring to culture of those of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin. "The stereotype that Indians are nerdy and insecure, shy or whatever is not at all what Kate and Edwina represent," she added. "We're expanding people's knowledge of not only our culture but also of our people."
Indeed, the show has been praised for putting South Asian traditions front and center without dumbing them down or making them seem exotic, as noted by one the show's writers (below).
So many South Asian practices have been commodified by white consumerism and/or dumbed down. What I love about the haldi ceremony in #bridgertonS2 is that the creators didn’t try to make it exotic — it simply existed without explanation.
— Aparna Verma || read THE BOY WITH FIRE (@Spirited_Gal) March 30, 2022
One example is later in the season, when the Sharma family depicts a haldi ceremony — a pre-wedding tradition in which the bride and groom are covered with turmeric by their loved ones to signify their blessings. While the tradition has been seen in Bollywood movies, it not something usually seen on television.
“I was so taken with the depiction of the whole ceremony. We have literally never seen that in a show like Bridgerton or in this kind of era, and it’s just so amazing and deeply personal,” Chandran said.
Still, despite her growing success, Chandran's biggest hope is to be a lighthouse for other Indian women who might see their own story in Edwina’s.
“I know that many young Indian women are brought up with the idea that their priority is to be a wife and a mother and a sister and a daughter. And so for me, Edwina was incredibly personal because I could see a lot of people that looked like her in that position,” she said. “And if they can get anything from this season, it’s that you are much more in control of your own life than you imagine.”
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