Powerhouse woman

The rise

By Amit Roy
  • Published 16.05.18
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Mindy Kaling

Name the Indian woman in America of whom it was said: “She’s funny, she’s highly intelligent, she’s confident and stylish. She’s somebody that we really want to be in business with.”

Another clue: in 2012, she was included in the Time magazine’s list of the world 100 most influential people in the world. In 2014, she was named one of Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year.

The answer is 38-year-old writer, comedienne and TV producer Mindy Kaling, who was born Vera Mindy Chokalingam in 1979 at Cambridge, Massachusetts, to father Avu Chokalingam, an architect, and mother Swati Chokalingam, an obstetrician and gynaecologist.

Mindy was conceived in Nigeria where her father, a Tamil, and her mother, a Bengali, had met while working in the same hospital but they emigrated to the US shortly before the birth of their daughter.

She remembers that as a child she was encouraged to be “silent” — she was “a chubby little girl with glasses” who tapped out her thoughts on a typewriter while her strict mother tended to patients in her surgery.

Mindy has a brother, Vijay Jojo Chokal-Ingam, an educational consultant.

Later, on the stand-up comedy circuit, Mindy Chokalingam became “Mindy Kaling” because she found announcers had problems pronouncing “Chokalingam”. In any case, unlike the Brits, Americans don’t much believe in diversity.

Mindy is famous in America for writing, producing and starring in her own television show called The Mindy Project in which she plays a character called Dr Mindy Lahiri. The character was inspired by her mother, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2012. The surname in “Mindy Lahiri” has been taken from another Bengali — author Jhumpa Lahiri.

The Mindy Project began airing on Fox in 2012. When Fox cancelled after the third series in 2015, it was picked up by Hulu, a subscription video on demand service, for a 26-episode fourth season and a 16-episode fifth season.

In March 2017, Mindy announced that the show’s sixth season, which concluded on 14 November 2017, would be her last.

Her memoirs — Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And other concerns) and Why Not Me? — have been bestsellers.

Mindy is in the news for two reasons. In December she gave birth to a baby daughter, Katherine Swati (after her late mother) but she left off the father’s name from the birth certificate.

Liz Hurley in the Versace dress

The second is that it has been announced that she is going to adapt the 1994 British comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral, for a series for Hulu, whose head of content, Craig Erwich, was the one who declared: “Mindy embodies Hulu. She’s funny, she’s highly intelligent, she’s confident and stylish. She’s somebody that we really want to be in business with.”

Four Weddings and a Funeral, made with a budget of £3m, proved an unexpected success and took nearly $250m in global sales. The movie made a star of Hugh Grant, who plays a character called Charles (Grant), and also brought notoriety to his then girlfriend, Elizabeth Hurley, who wore “that dress” - a revealing Versace outfit barely held together with large pins — to the film’s London premiere.

The film, which tells of the intersecting lives of a number of friends who keep meeting over the course of four weddings and a funeral, had a talented supporting cast that included Kristin Scott Thomas, James Fleet, Simon Callow, John Hannah, Charlotte Coleman, David Bower, Corin Redgrave and Rowan Atkinson. At the end, Grant’s character gets together with the woman he has always loved — an American woman called Carrie, played by Andie MacDowell. Only she has to promise never to marry him.

The film displays a very British sense of humour so it will be intriguing to see how Mindy adapts it for Americans, who are generally strangers to irony and understatement. The film won Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Grant won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The film also took the BAFTA Awards for Best Film, Best Direction and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Scott Thomas.

Although still early in development at Hulu, each season will reportedly have different characters in a different location each season, with the lead possibly remaining the same. Whether that includes incorporating any storylines or characters from the original film remains to be seen.

One development that encourages confidence is that Richard Curtis, who wrote the original film, will help Mindy with the adaptation of Four Weddings and a Funeral as executive producer.

Mindy is also in the cast of the much anticipated feature film, Ocean’s 8, which stars Cate Blanchett (president of the jury at Cannes this year), Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, and Awkwafina. This is due for release on June 8.