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Is Bravo's ‘Family Karma” actually what we needed for the culture?

By:
Navneet Chana (IG: @navneetchana)

Family Karma has been called a “breakthrough for Desis on TV,” but is it?

The show behind the now infamous line, “I have no sharam, and if you find my sharam, please don't return it back,” is back for another season, and I think it just might be better than before. 

Family Karma provides a look into the intriguing lives of seven wealthy South Asian American families living in Miami, Florida, who’ve known each other since childhood. 

The show is the first reality program on American and Canadian TV with an all South Asian American cast. 

When the show first aired, I was afraid it would be another show with stereotypical narratives of Indians, because while brown-skinned individuals have been portrayed on American TV before, they often fall prey to either stereotypes, or cultural appropriation. 

However, the show is exactly the kind of representation the South Asian community needed. In an interview with ET Canada, Anisha Ramakrishna describes how the show’s second season has received a “wild” response not only from the South Asian community, but also from fans of diverse backgrounds. 

Not only is the show making great strides in terms of representation, but because of the diverse viewership, the show is countering many of the racist stereotypes we’ve all seen on American television growing up. 

However, one critique of the show is the over-glamourization of the first generation American experience. The show puts a large emphasis on how these particularly wealthy Indian Americans live, when in reality a vast majority of Asian Americans/Canadians cannot compare. 

The experience of these seven wealthy families does not speak for 5.4 million South Asians in America. Don't get me wrong, the show is doing a lot in terms of representation and talking about taboo topics but I just couldn’t relate to the depiction of over-privileged lives of first generation children living off wealthy parents. But, being far from reality is precisely why reality TV sells! 

As for representation, the show really has its share of variety. There’s Monica, your extremely “filmy” friend obsessed with all things Bollywood. There’s Amrit, who’s shared his struggles of coming out to his very traditional family, and even Bali aunty, the 45-year-old divorcee who somehow fits in with the young crowd but never misses a gossip sesh opportunity with the aunties. Although, doesn’t everyone have that one family member? 

The show is no holds barred for the South Asian family experience. Family Karma explores topics including: coming out to your traditional Indian parents, divorce/marriage, interracial relationships, ageism, sexism and openly drinking with your parents (a privilege might I add). This show discusses it all, in a non-judgemental and organic way. 

A memorable moment was Amrit Kapai’s family discussing his experience coming out and they did not hold back. 

Amrit’s mom, who happens to be my favourite aunty in the show, openly discussed the struggle of having to come to terms with her son being gay, and welcoming a white son-in-law. 

These are two separate difficult discussions to have with traditional parents in this community, so having these discussions on such a popular TV show is a step towards normalizing openly being LGBTQ+ in the South Asian community. 

But while the show is making huge strides up the “representation ladder,” there are still some hurdles that remain, including the fact that the show's selling point is an out-dated misconception that Indian people are only obsessed with image, when this isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to the South Asian community.

Even with its critiques, I can’t deny that the show is wildly entertaining and a must watch. 

Here’s to hoping that Family Karma is just the start of relevant and relatable South Asian representation on North American TV, because at the very least, it is wildly entertaining.
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Navneet holds a bachelor’s degree focused in Health Science - Population and Quantitative Studies from Simon Fraser University, cultivating a passion for health promotion, policy and social justice. She has recently found a passion in writing about pop-culture, mental health and living in a South Asian diaspora. Her passion for feminism, diversity and progress lights a fire beneath everything she does. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, travelling and baking.

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