Kelly Kapoor - 'The Office'
Photo by: Ron Tom/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Kelly Kapoor, played by Mindy Kaling, made her first appearance in the second episode of "The Office", titled "Diversity Day", slapping Steve Carell's Michael Scott in the face after her speaks in a stereotypical Indian accent.
Speaking with The A.V. Club, Kaling — who was initially hired on the show as a writer — revealed how Kelly came to be a character in the show. "In the script], they needed a minority to slap [Michael], and [exec producer] Greg [Daniels] picked me", she said, adding, "Greg wanted a kind of shy character that you didn't know much about, except that she was ethnic, to kind of wander in, really pissed off."
As the character evolved, Kelly was revealed to be anything but shy. "[The] first season seems so different than how she is now— the way she dresses, and everything else," Kaling added, recalling the Season 2 episode "Valentine's Day" as when Kelly's personality was really established. "She goes on for a page and a half of dialogue about what happened to her the day before, [and] I really felt like I had an idea of what Kelly was about," Kaling said.
Mindy Lahiri - 'The Mindy Project'
Photo by: Jordin Althaus/Universal Television/Hulu/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images
For her first starring role on TV, Mindy Kaling played OB-GYN Mindy Lahiri in Fox sitcom "The Mindy Project" (which she also wrote and created), whose successful career is in direct contrast to her messy personal life.
“I really fell in love with the format where the main character was very flawed. It was something you had seen countless times on sitcoms with men, but you hadn’t seen with women. And I was so excited to play that part in a bigger capacity than I had,” Kaling told Variety.
Mrs. Who - 'A Wrinkle In Time'
Ph: Atsushi Nishijima /© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection
Minday Kaling held her own alongside Reese WItherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit) and Oprah Winfrey (Mrs. Which) in the film adaptation of the beloved children's novel.
Molly Patel - 'Late Night'
2019. © Amazon /courtesy Everett Collection
In the feature film "Late Night", Mindy Kaling (who also wrote the screenplay and produced), plays wannabe comedy writer Molly Patel, who receives her big break when she's hired to join the writing staff of a struggling late-night talk show hosted by Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) as a diversity hire.
For Kaling, the story hit close to home. "We talk a lot in the movie about the fact that Molly is a diversity hire and I can't think of another movie or TV show that really talks about this head-on with that term," Kaling told NPR. "I was a diversity hire at 'The Office' when I started writing, and it's the reason I had the job — because NBC was paying my salary so that 'The Office' could hire me without having to take a hit on their budget... For years I was so embarrassed by that and I never wanted anyone to know — although of course it was plain as day. It wasn't until years later that I realized that that program and diversity hire is something that I should be wearing proudly, because what it did was it gave me access to work on a show that I would not have had otherwise."
Priya Patel - 'Champions'
Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images
One of the rare disappointments in Mindy Kaling's pantheon of projects, her NBC sitcom "Champions", which was cancelled after just one season.
In the comedy, Anders Holm ("Workaholics") starred as a gym owner who finds himself entrusted with the care of his 15-year-old son (Josie Totah), the result of a high school fling with Priya, played by Kaling.
In an interview with Variety, Kaling explained that writing for Holm's protagonist presented an unexpected learning curve. "Mindy Lahiri would say such crazy things and such questionable things, and when it comes from my mouth, when you’re a 5’3″ Indian American woman with dark skin, it has a very different impact than when it comes from a white man that’s 6’3″. The way that it looks on camera is very different — the level of privilege. How things come across is just completely different. I had to write things that were more palatable coming from his mouth," she said.
Devi Vishwakumar - 'Never Have I Ever'
Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022
Toronto teenager Maitreyi Ramakrishnan beat out 15,000 other actresses for the role of Devi Vishwakumar, Mindy Kaling's semi-autobiographical look at an Indian America teen girl coming of age, which she based on her own high school experiences.
As Kaling told CBC News, she's taken a lot of artistic licence in telling her own story. "I think that's what makes the character cinematic and really fun," Kaling explained. "It's so much more fun to watch someone who believes in themselves and makes big mistakes than someone who chooses not to put themselves out there — which is way more what I was like."
Nalini Vishwakumar - 'Never Have I Ever'
Cr. Jessica Brooks/Netflix © 2023
Another key character in "Never Have I Ever" is Devi's mom, Nalini, played by Poorna Jagannathan.
Interviewed by HuffPost, Jagannathan opened up about how "Never Have I Ever" was unlike anything she'd ever worked on before.
“We’re so used to, like, if there’s one Indian in a series, there’s just no room for another one. That’s the world that we come from,” Jagannathan said. “And suddenly, there’s a show with so many South Asians, so many people of colour, so much diversity."
Bela Malhotra - 'The Sex Lives Of College Girls'
Courtesy of HBO Max
Mindy Kaling also got a little autobiographical with Bela, an aspiring comedy writer who butts up against a wall of sexism when she tries to break into the Harvard Lampoon-like comedy magazine at Essex College, the setting of "The Sex Lives of College Girls".
Speaking with The A.V. Club, Kaling recognized a through-line with the characters she'd created.
"When I think of 'The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahiri, 'NHIE’s Devi, and now with Bela, I guess I’m realizing right now it’s hard for me to write these female Indian characters that are not in some ways off-putting to the world. Bela is fiercely determined to be a comedy writer and knows from a young age that’s what she wants to do. It’s like, I want the show and the other characters to admire that in her, but also see that abject ambition is not necessarily considered a feminine quality," she explained. "When she is put in this sexist environment at the college’s comedy newspaper, obviously I can relate to those situations. But I didn’t want her to be perfect either. I admire that the show tries to do nuances. You really want her to be perfect so that what she’s up against can be black and white, yet she’s not. That’s real to me. The characters have real problems and are imperfect heroines. But because they’re vulnerable and real, you root for them no matter what."