We are in the midst of a rom-com renaissance. Between the glut of new straight-to-streaming loved-up comedies and the box office success of Crazy Rich Asians, the stage is set for the beloved genre to return better than ever.
And who better to lead the charge into the new Golden Age of Rom-Coms than Mindy Kaling, a woman who, as viewers of The Mindy Project know, essentially holds an honorary Ph.D. on the topic? She's doing just that with her next project, a romantic (or at least romantically-tinged) comedy co-starring Priyanka Chopra, which Kaling is cowriting.
In person, as on the screen, Kaling, with her bubbly smile, bright eyes, and montage-worthy wardrobe, exudes the essence of romantic comedies. I get to meet the actress at an event to spread the word about her partnership with DSW for its Do Good campaign, designed to encourage customers to give back by donating shoes to people in need. Kaling is everything you'd imagine her to be: warm and friendly, self-effacing without crossing into self-deprecating, and easy to talk to in that welcoming way of a fast friend made at summer camp.
Most of all—and most quintessentially rom-com—she's genuine, her charm rooted in her lack of anything approaching pretense.
"I partnered with DSW before I even knew about the [Do Good] campaign just because I loved DSW," she says during our chat, expertly peppering her sentence with multiple mentions of the brand's name. Coming from most people, the answer would feel rehearsed at best and phony at worst, but from Kaling, it's neither.
"Obviously, I get opportunities to work with a lot of different companies," she adds with casual candor. "But I truly do care about the people who follow me on social media and don't want them to be seeing that I'm partnering with something that isn't actually something I use. So I was psyched to be able to work with [DSW]."
Kaling and I spend a few minutes talking about DSW—swapping stories about visiting the store in malls with our moms, of the way, as young girls growing up on the lower end of middle class, shopping at the store felt "fancy." I share this for two reasons: First, to illustrate the surprising sincerity behind the seeming display of verbal #sponcon above. And, second, to bring us back to rom-coms.
Kaling has been thinking deeply—and writing—about romantic comedies for years. From her hilariously on-point essay "Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who Are Not Real" from her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, to her news-making, off-the-cuff tweets on the subject, she's time-and-again proven her expertise on all things rom-com. When she shares stories of teenage trips to buy affordable-yet-stylish shoes at the mall, you can't help but picture it as a bright, colorful flashback.
"Of course that'll always be my first love," she says of the romantic comedy genre, lighting up. "You've Got Mail is, I know, a very divisive movie, but I think it's like a perfect film. You can't go wrong with Nora Ephron."
She'll get the chance to express that love through the aforementioned Priyanka Chopra team-up, which she describes as a "buddy comedy" with "romantic comedy elements." It's a project that Chopra actually kicked off...with a personal phone call.
"You know, she just got in touch with me," Kaling says with a can you believe it? grin. "She got in touch with my agent and said, 'I'd love to talk to Mindy about an idea that I have.'"
The idea, Kaling says, was simple: She and Chopra would play relatives and the movie would be a comedy. That was enough to sell Kaling, who tapped Brooklyn Nine-Nine co-creator Dan Goor to co-write the script, based on a concept Chopra and Kaling worked out together.
"He's married to an Indian woman, so he has this window into Indian female culture," Kaling says of Goor, who worked with her to develop the concept for the film, which will see Kaling and Chopra as first cousins, one of whom is Indian American (Kaling) while the other was born and raised in India (Chopra).
"It's really fun to play off of our public personas, which could not be more different," Kaling says of writing for herself and Chopra. "There are certain overlaps—like we both love fashion—but we just come at it from these very different worlds."
Kaling describes the movie, which will center on a wedding in India that brings her character abroad, as a "fish out of water, Indian-American-in-India story" that's been waiting to be told.
"It's been one of the most fun things to finally get an opportunity to talk about all of the real differences I feel from my Indian cousins who are born in India and then the assumptions they make about me being born here, and what it feels like to be fully American, but also know that I'm not Caucasian," she says. "To grapple with all those cultural things is really, really fun."
Kaling stresses that the film, which she's still in the process of writing, is a while off, but she already has glowing things to say about her future co-star and on-screen cousin.
"Honestly, working with Priyanka is great. She got me Jonas brothers tickets and I'm thrilled," Kaling says, beaming unironically. "She's amazing. She just called and was like, 'Do you want to go to the Jonas brothers in December?' And I was like, 'Yes, I'll be 25 years older than the average fan, but I would love to. Yeah, absolutely.'"
When asked about early reports that Chopra may direct their as-of-yet-untitled wedding comedy, Kaling's excitement escalates again.
"Oh my god, if Priyanka wanted to direct, I would be so delighted," she says, her eyes widening with said delight. "I haven't even heard that rumor, but what a dream. I mean, I hope it's true. We always are trying to get women, particularly women of color, to be able to direct. And this is...an actual studio film, you know? So I would be thrilled if she wanted to do that. I have so much faith in her, so that would be a joy."
Chopra taking the director's chair aligns perfectly with Kaling's vision for the future of the romantic comedy, which she is happy to have seen evolve more quickly than ever in recent years.
"Romantic comedies used to be through the lens of a certain type of couple—usually a white couple falling in love, then out of love, and finding each other again. What's been really great about the past couple of years is we're seeing couples that we don't normally see," she says, citing films like Crazy Rich Asians, Netflix's Always Be My Maybe, and Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae's upcoming Lovebirds as prime examples of the increased diversity in romantic comedies. "That's the real difference I've seen in even the past two years. It's now considered bankable and exciting to have people in the leads who are unconventional—and I hope that becomes conventional."
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