Much like her character on the Netflix show Never Have I Ever, Richa Moorjani knows a thing or two about flying across the world to pursue her dreams. In the Mindy Kaling-helmed coming of age series, Moorjani plays Kamala, teen protagonist Devi's (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) older cousin from India, who is living with Devi's family. At the same time, she pursues her Ph.D. in biology at CalTech.
Though Moorjani isn't a Ph.D. candidate, she, too, made a big move early in her career: "My whole life, wanting to become an actor meant wanting to become an actor in Bollywood because I never saw myself in Hollywood," she says. "It didn't even occur to me that that's something I could do." So when Moorjani felt that "itch" of going to India, she graduated from college and moved to Mumbai. "Part of me wanted to be connected to my roots and to expand my mind by living there," Moorjani says.
The move was a risk that paid off—even if Moorjani did eventually end up returning to L.A. "It was important for my personal growth and my growth as an actor," she says. And as a result, when the role of Kamala came her way, she was ready. "I think that's why I immediately related to her. I know what it feels like to move across the world from your family for a dream."
As for the dream itself, Moorjani seems to be living it. When she's not working on the hit streaming series, she likes to relax at home, practice yoga daily, and try new recipes. Since becoming a vegan in early 2020, Moorjani has spent her days tinkering with her cruelty-free chocolate chip cookie recipe (which she swears is the best) and testing cruelty-free beauty and makeup brands. Over a recent Zoom call, Moorjani discussed her artistic upbringing, vegan beauty routine, and go-to weekday comfort meal. Read more ahead.
I found out that your parents manage a family band. Is that true?
Yes, they've had a Bollywood music band for over 40 years—before they married. My dad moved to Berkeley from India to get his Ph.D. in his twenties, and my mom moved into the U.S. when she was seven-years-old. Once my dad got to school, he started a band with his friends to play Bollywood songs. They were looking for a female lead singer for the band, and my grandmother took my mom to an audition, which is how my parents met. She became the singer, and then they fell in love, and then they got married, and they lived happily ever after.
So you can say you've had creative pursuits in your blood from the beginning?
Yes. I think that's why I was destined to become an artist: I grew up around artists and going to shows and band practices. Culture also plays a huge role. My parents played Indian music and had me learn Indian classical dance when I was five-years-old. All of that opened me up to the world of performing.
How early on did you realize you wanted to act? Were your parents supportive?
It sounds cheesy, but I've always wanted to be an actor for as long as I can remember. My parents have always been supportive but also emphasized the importance of education and academia. Even though my parents are artists, my dad's an engineer, and my mom's a therapist, education is a big part of our family. The arts are a big part of South Asian culture, and many people I knew growing up also learned dance or some form of Indian classical music or instrument. However, these things were always encouraged as a hobby, not something actually to make your career one day.
My family always loved acting for me as a hobby, but they knew I was serious about it when I wanted to pursue it after school. That's why I had a connection when I read the role of Kamala. I know the feeling of wanting to follow your path but not wanting to let your family down. It can be difficult, especially with the added elements of cultural and family expectations. Still, I have learned a lot from playing Kamala about the importance of using your inner voice and following your path.
When you're trying to honor that inner voice, what do you do to stay in touch with yourself?
Honestly, it's a constant journey. Just like Kamala, I am a people pleaser and hate to disappoint people. I hate it when people are upset with me, but I am learning to be okay with [the fact that] not everyone will always be happy, but knowing that my happiness also matters.
What do you do for self-care, whether that's physical or mental?
I do it all. [laughs] I go to therapy, I journal, I exercise, I meditate, I have a breathing practice, I have a yoga practice. I was going to say I try to eat healthily, but that's not true. I have a huge sweet tooth, and I'm not strict with myself when it comes to my diet, aside from the fact that I became vegan right before the pandemic started. I will eat a good vegan brownie if I've had a long day and want to eat a brownie—that's part of my self-care, actually.
Since you became vegan before the pandemic, did you spend a lot of time experimenting in the kitchen?
Yeah. I've always been passionate about cooking and baking, but during the pandemic, I had more time to figure out proper meals and recipes. Also, being Indian, the food we cook and eat at home is primarily vegan, so it wasn't really something new to me. I became vegan overnight after watching a documentary and never looked back.
First of all, what documentary was that?
It's called Cowspiracy, and it's on Netflix. I would never watch it again. [laughs] But I recommend other people to watch it because it changed my life. You could say I was in denial because I didn't want to give up dairy. And I understand that many people still feel that way, so I make no judgments and never want to shame anyone. Everyone's on their own journey.
What are some of your favorite go-to recipes now that you're vegan?
I have a huge sweet tooth, and I will say that I make the best vegan chocolate chip cookies. On a weeknight, if I don't have that much time, I make something called kitchurdi, an Indian dish that is an ayurvedic recipe. It's made with lentils, rice, and spices; you can add different vegetables. I make it in my instant pot, and it's perfect if you're ever feeling sick, having digestive issues, or want a comforting, hot meal.
What does your morning routine look like?
I have a big glass of warm lemon water when I wake up. I have an hour-long practice of breathing yoga and meditation. Then, when it comes to skincare, I use all vegan products. I first wash my face, and then there's an exfoliator from Ranavat that I really like. Then I love using the Osea Black Algae Flash Mask ($48). I love a facial spray, and I'm constantly spraying my face with Caudalie Beauty Elixir ($49) throughout the day. The gamechanger product for me is Ranavat's Saffron Brightening Face Serum ($135). I have really dry skin, and this serum keeps my skin glowy and moisturized throughout the day.
Do you have a hard time finding vegan beauty products that you like?
Not really, especially now there are so many great brands. I would say it's more challenging with makeup, but there are many more options. I love Ilia and Kosas is also great. Right now, I'm only wearing a little bit of Live Tinted Huestick Multistick ($24), which also works as a blush and is from a South Asian-owned vegan brand. I usually don't wear much makeup—mainly just a bit of lipstick, so I don't look dead. [Laughs]