The Sharma women are the best part of Bridgerton’s second season — well, okay, Anthony’s gazing is A+++ but it’s Kate he gazes at, so I give her those points also. My perception of the season was “messy,” for a variety of complex reasons, a lot of which are that some editorial choices they made ended up making the pacing wacky and some of the characters too dense. (I also really, really am tired of Eloise being a snoot and unable to hold her shit together in public; all of her scenes were filler to me.) Charithra Chandran’s Edwina is a character whose entire purpose is to delay the inevitable love story across all eight episodes — a thankless job, especially once the Kate/Anthony chemistry becomes so obvious — and the show frequently compromised her intelligence in order to do that, which bummed me out. But none of that is Charithra’s fault. Edwina’s main character traits were written as “pretty” and “kind,” so I thought Charithra did yeoman’s work fleshing that out with the right notes of optimism and naiveté and, when the time came, a disillusionment and determination that built on those core traits rather than replacing them. She had a tough line to walk, basically, and I thought she walked it well. I hope she sticks around next season as Edwina grows into her spine and maybe explores that wisp of potential the Queen hinted at in the finale. Maybe she and Eloise can rub off on each other, so that Eloise is less irritating and Edwina is a little saucier.

But, I will also be frank and say that — as all good interviews should do — reading this piece, and liking Charithra so much in it, definitely did make me look back more fondly upon Edwina. Please do read this profile, because it’s well done and Charithra has a lot to say, particularly about colorism, and the weight of the torch she now carries. She is really, touchingly frank about the effects of growing up in a time where lightness was prioritized even by the older generations of her own family (which she discusses with great compassion for their points of view), and the lasting stamp that puts on a person. With apologies for the length of this, I didn’t feel right editing it down:

This young woman is beautiful, radiant by any standard, intelligent, accomplished, and ambitious. But this is understandably something that has taken up mental space for her. She once tried to wash the color off her hands when she was younger.

She’s never used the skin lightening cream Fair and Lovely (which is ubiquitous in India, and can even be found in Indian grocery stores in the U.S. and UK), but has been exposed to similar “natural” products — “and they always hide it under like, ‘it makes you glow,’ ‘brightens’ — it’s all synonyms for lighter. So I never, ever was able to forget that I was darker-skinned.”

It becomes that much more emotional that Chandran isn’t just a new ensemble member of the Bridgerton cast; she and [Simone] Ashley are the leads. The most famous Bollywood actresses are very fair-skinned. In Chandran’s family, like many others, darker-skinned women are told it’s harder to find a husband in arranged marriages. But in the number one show in the world right now, in one of the most romantic stories of modern times, it is darker-skinned women who are told they deserve to be loved as they are, without any conditions. It is Chandran’s character who is crowned the most desirable woman in all of London — and that’s not even getting into the subversion of colonialism, given the imperialist legacy Britain has in India.

Chandran is incredibly conscious of the agency she has now and the influence she potentially has over other people. But sometimes the societally-taught instincts are still there.

“When the sun is shining and I tan, my instinct is like, ‘oh f*ck, I tanned.’ I’m trying to unlearn it,” she says. “It’s going to be a lifelong struggle. Or like when I’m editing a photo for Instagram, of course the temptations are there, because for most of my life I’ve been taught that that’s what is beautiful. It’s really, really traumatizing. I just desperately don’t want that for my cousins. I just pray, pray, pray that it’s not like that for them.”

And that’s just one piece of the interview — which, in a neat piece of synergy, is by a woman whose surname is also Sharma, and has her own perspective to offer about what it means to see herself in TV’s most talked-about romance. It’s definitely worth reading. And now let’s see which of the Vogues, UK or US, jumps on Simone Ashley first. I’m betting on Enninful, but you never know.

[Photos: Allyssa Heuze for Teen Vogue; author: Versha Sharma]