'Never Have I Ever' Director Kabir Akhtar Breaks Down The Show's Identity Politics

Ankur Pathak
·2-min read
A still from 'Never Have I Ever'
A still from 'Never Have I Ever'

Among the many things that director Kabir Akhtar did not anticipate about Never Have I Ever’s global success was the fact that it would be loved by those in their 30s and 40s.

“I’m still getting messages from old friends who I haven’t spoken to in years. The show really broke through,” he said from his Los Angeles home, over a Skype call.

Akhtar started off as an editor but later transitioned into directing and helmed the opening segment for the 63rd Emmy Awards while also directing a segment for the 84th Academy Awards. In 2016, he won an Emmy in the Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing For A Comedy Series category for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a win that subsequently led to a lot more opportunities.

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He has a Bollywood connection too—he is a cousin to filmmakers Zoya and Farhan Akhtar—but isn’t too familiar with the industry.

For Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s Never Have I Ever, Akhtar was bought on board to direct two episodes (..Been the loneliest boy in the world/
...Started a nuclear war).

In this interview, the director spoke about the politics of representation, finding the humour right and some of the problematic aspects of the show.

Edited excerpts:

Kabir Akhtar with Maitreyi Ramakrishnan who plays Devi and Jaren Lewison who plays Ben in 'Never Have I Ever'
Kabir Akhtar with Maitreyi Ramakrishnan who plays Devi and Jaren Lewison who plays Ben in 'Never Have I Ever'

For most parts, I had a lot of fun watching the show and I’m guessing you had a lot of fun directing it.

It was my favourite job I had last year. The cast and crew was great and the script was great. There was a lot of scope to bring something to the characters, like breathe life into it. Sometimes you get handed scripts that require a lot of figuring out before you film it. There’s a lot of pieces that don’t quite fit in, but these scripts were great from the start. It really gave us a lot of opportunity and time to play around with it and find different shapes and performances and stories to tell. The scripts were very funny and very sharp.

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