For Many Pakistani Bridgerton Fans Looking For An Escape, A Brunette Kate Sharma Isn’t What They Signed Up For


Her inclusion is seen as a pointless attempt to introduce “masala” into the series and snap them out of their escapist fantasies.

It is a universally recognized truth that Bridgerton is the most-watched English-language series on Netflix. Many of its audiences in Lahore love the romantic drama happy for its Regency era setting. They are fascinated by horse-drawn carriages, castles, period costumes and the essential English of the dialogue.

This audience is mostly made up of women from the upper middle or elite socio-economic class, with an English background. They relate to the on-screen portrayal of the Regency era and many of them are readers of the Jane Austen-inspired genre of romantic fiction. However, most, if not all, have reservations about the show’s diverse and color-conscious cast. In particular, the South Asianization of the main character in season two, which was received with a pinch of salt by those viewers. Lahori viewers Bridgerton watch the import of Kate Sharma in the Bridgerton world as an exotic tool used to increase market reach among South Asian viewers.

The show is based on Julia Quinn’s bestseller Bridgerton series, which consists of eight historical Regency romance novels, each featuring one of the eight children of the late Viscount Bridgerton: Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory and Hyacinth. Quinn’s genre romance novels were very popular in English-speaking romance reading communities in Pakistan even before the success of the television show. Pirated, used and “original” copies of these romance novels can be seen in old Lahore bookstores, as well as major bookstores like Readings and Liberty Books.

My opinions on Bridgerton are informed by feedback from readers of the genre series and viewers of the show, which I gathered from panel interviews, Facebook discussions, and Twitter debates.

The combination of the fictional world of Regency-era England and feel-good romance wields immense appeal to viewers and readers of Lahori. Leaving aside the nuances of this appeal for later discussion, I now focus on the reception of color-conscious casting by people of color.

Diversity lens

The first season of Bridgerton followed the story of Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and her eventual marriage to Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), based on the novel The duke and me. Simon’s dark skin was an instant topic of debate among viewers here, but the cast received overwhelming appreciation. To quote a 25-year-old student of genre fiction, “Romance heroes are traditionally tall, dark, and handsome. Simon is absolutely dashing.

But season two’s dark-skinned Kate Sharma received mostly negative feedback. This season uses the enemy-to-lover trope and the overall framework of The viscount who loved me and features the love story of Bridgerton’s eldest son, Anothony, and Kate Sharma who has just returned from India. In the book, Kate’s surname is Sheffield and she leaves the English countryside with her sister and mother to attend the social season in London. The role is played by Simone Ashley, who is an actor of South Asian descent. Overall, the character is given a different backstory and different demographics for better diversity optics.

Ms. Sharma’s presence in a world of whitewashed stories can be validated by historical facts, but she doesn’t merge with the romantic schema of many viewers as it seems like a rather forced effort for people’s inclusion. of color. Some avid readers of historical novels and Bridgerton Fans of the first season were particularly disappointed with what I’ve come to call the “Sharma Phenomenon”.

Many viewers believe the concept of color-conscious casting and portrayal has been taken “too far” with the inclusion of a dark-skinned Kate in Bridgerton’s universe. One particularly livid 30-year-old fan said: “Of course it’s all fiction and imagination, but a dark hero makes sense and kali the (black) heroine does not. Such responses match my data on readers of the Regency historical novel genre in Pakistan – they don’t want to see themselves in these books.

Readers claim that the “anglicity” of these novels was exotic and sophisticated. To quote an excerpt from reader conversations, “You won’t develop a taste for it if it’s not the original white love story.” I’m frying my brains out with this, so it better be something standard. For like-minded viewers, the introduction of Kate Sharma diminished whiteness’ exoticism and, therefore, escape value.

Indian masala

Apart from Kate’s skin tone, Bridgerton has been criticized for its general “masala treatment” of Indians. Viewers were particularly skeptical of Edwina Sharma’s reference to famous Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib, as she used an anglicized pronunciation of his name. Most of them were very critical of Bollywood music which was also playing in the background in some scenes. A student from Lahore joked, “So Kate is actually a kali Katrina, who drinks masala tea, wears waly jorey embroideryand bed Ghaleeb. I was like it was so boring. Kuch reh tau nai gaya? (Is there anything left?) “His feelings were echoed by his peers who discussed how season two added unnecessary”masalain the name of diversity and inclusion.

The scene where the Sharma sisters apply turmeric to their faces was also criticized for its “obvious attempt to take India where it does not belong”.

Interestingly, there was a clear difference in opinion between resident Pakistani viewers and those in the diaspora, which helps us understand the dynamics of race and ethnicity in two different regions. What is exotic for one audience is banal for another. Diaspora viewers, especially those living in the Anglosphere, were thrilled with a darker-skinned heroine and all the desi references, as it means more representation and inclusion for them.

They liked the Sharma sisters because they got to see women like them in stories they love. It would also be a stretch to assume that not all resident Pakistani viewers reacted well to the South Asian Kate. Some viewers thought a dark-skinned heroine on a popular Western show might finally help change the colonial craze for light-skinned people in Pakistan.

Exoticism and diversity

Pakistani women love books and shows set in Regency England because the exotic English appeals to them and because they relate to that period. All the talk about Bridgerton brings comparisons between the patriarchal, social and economic systems of present-day Pakistan and 19th century England. A participant in my research group defined the relatability of the Regency world: “I love how you can relate to it in some way, the whole concept of scrolling girls around suitors, courtship, engagement formal, arranged marriages [and a] class system. And being obsessed with marrying the girl to the guy with the most titles and lands, etc., etc. Sounds so familiar, right? However, this relatability does not extend to issues of race and ethnicity.

When Desi women watch dramas or read books set in Regency England, they want a momentary escape into an “exotic” world because it is white, not the other way around. The seemingly natural preference of these readers and viewers for whiteness is very close to their cultural values ​​in which, within their own families, the preference for lighter skin tones is endorsed.

It is also a question of desire linked to the image of the white heterosexual protagonists of a love story. This desire is not translated, for the most part, by a desire for the other in the purely sexual sense of the term. One way to understand it would be to link it to the internalized racism of women living in postcolonial Pakistan. But such an explanation would be simplistic and would also undermine the strong pull of gender romance. Another point is that an overwhelming majority of Bridgerton fans are well aware of what they call their “colonial hangover”.

Pakistani audiences’ reception of a fictional Regency-era England is linked to their concept of higher social mannerisms, class and cultural finesse. The world of Bridgerton offers them an exotic place to escape to, and signs of their lived reality, like darker skin tones or Bollywood music, interrupt that escape.

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