Smriti Mundhra cannot be pigeonholed into one oeuvre. The creator of Netflix’s popular “Indian Matchmaking,” which released its second season recently, directed two episodes of Mindy Kaling’s “Never Have I Ever” for the same streamer, and a segment of Brie Larson’s upcoming Disney+ docuseries “Growing Up.” Her “Shelter” doc short on homelessness is nominated for a news and documentary Emmy, as part of HBO Max series “Through Our Eyes.”
Mundhra, whose father, Jagmohan, was also a filmmaker and ran the Culver City theater Meralta, took that name for her production company. “What I love about making films and this work is that it puts a human face on these kinds of big problems.”
Mundhra says viewers are drawn to “Indian Matchmaking” because it engages with topics that we don’t talk about a lot. “Some of it is cringey,” she says. “Some of the things we do and say and believe and have internalized over generations are cringey. It’s difficult to face those topics of conversations; it’s difficult to see that reflected back at you.”
She’s been told by fans that they “inhaled” the show, but as for the critics she says: “First of all, I personally find it wildly entertaining. You have characters and they are on a train that feels relatable, that feels cringey at times, that feels awkward at times, satisfying at times, frustrating at times. It’s just you have to keep watching.”
On a deeper level, though, Mundhra points out that the series raises topics viewers want that are rarely raised. “It brings up these tough conversations — it causes fights,” she says. “But when it happens on a TV show everyone is watching and literally multiple generations, whole families are watching [and] talking about it, so you know it gives an opportunity to talk about it and you are doing it through the proxy of a show and other characters. I think that’s what keeps people engaged.”
Mundhra had met matchmaker Sima Taparia years ago, but at the time wasn’t sure she wanted marriage. She ended up with a Brazilian-Irish husband who may not have been what her parents wanted for a son-in-law, but one they came to love.
Using a matchmaker rather than swiping on an app makes one engage in the process and think about whom they want for a life partner, Mundhra says. It’s a journey that not only the people who engage Sima from Mumbai are going on, but also the matchmaker has traveled. “Sima, from the time I’ve known her, has grown so much, she’s evolved so much,” Mundhra says. “She’s a product of her generation and circumstances. She’s also a very smart businesswoman.”
Mundhra has been juggling several other projects, which she says she’s able to do because her family has been supportive and she has a good team that is diverse at Meralta Films.
“Never Have I Ever,” Netflix
“There was a moment when I was on set and looking around at all these women in sarees and I was like, ‘I can’t believe I got so lucky that this was my first time directing for TV scripted, and this is what I get to do,’ ” she says. “When I was growing up, building my career in the industry it was absolutely inconceivable that there would be a show [with Indians in the cast].
“It’s very difficult to break into scripted TV directing … I was very anxious so I went completely nuts preparing. I watched every of ‘Never Have I Ever’ at least five times.”
Showrunners Lang Fisher and Kaling were welcoming, as were the cast, writers and crew. She directed the third and fourth episodes for Season 2: “Valentine’s Day” and “Navratri.”
“They thought it hilarious to put an ‘Indian Matchmaking’ joke in one of my episodes.”
“Through Our Eyes,” HBO Max
“It’s staggering how big a crisis homelessness is. We are talking about one of the biggest cities in one of the most progressive states,” she says of the News and Documentary Emmy-nominated episode “Shelter” about Los Angeles. “This isn’t like homelessness in some small state, conservative state, whatever. This is happening in a state where everyone wants to solve these problems.”
“Growing Up,” Disney+
Mundhra directed the “Athena” segment of this Disney+ hybrid docuseries that will premiere Sept. 8 and is produced by Brie Larson. Production company Culture House asked her to choose a topic, and Mundhra wanted to do something on body image among 18- to 22-year-olds. She told them, “I would really love if there was a South Asian protagonist, because I think this is an issue that touches so many people and is shrouded in secrecy and shame. No one talks about it. I’ve struggled with my weight, with eating disorders, my entire life and I always felt so alone in that journey until I met Athena. I was like, ‘My gosh if I knew you, I knew someone like you or I could hear you talk about it when I was younger, years of shame and heartache and depression I would have saved myself.”
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