Year Of Is A ‘Pretty Spot On Depiction’ Of High School In Modern, Multicultural Australia

Image courtesy of Stan
Year Of actor Tharanya Tharan
Mild spoilers ahead. Australian teen dramas have long painted a one-dimensional perspective of high school, with virtually all-white casts that don't reflect the diversity of modern, multicultural Australia. It's only in recent years that shows like Bump and Heartbreak High have cut through with more diversity, and Year Of is the latest example following suit.
The Stan show follows a group of teens during their final two years at Jubilee High School. In addition to riding the ups and downs of high school in general, we see them navigate the difficult aftermath of a devastating, shock event. Trauma, grief, class divide, and family dynamics are explored through the show's diverse characters. Kids from social housing mingle with those from wealthier families, and queer people and people of colour are very much part of the central narrative.
Tharanya Tharan, who plays Priya on the show, says that Year Of is "a pretty spot-on depiction" of the real and varied struggles Aussie teens face.
"We have, especially now, a few shows that have come out that revolve revolve around teenagers in this day and age growing up," Tharan tells Refinery29 Australia.
"I think this one specifically is just such a raw and completely unglamourised representation of that. It really feels like a real-life experience getting to know these characters."
Tharan's character Priya faces somewhat of an identity struggle after the death of a loved one. As someone who's often relied on others for support and validation, she's left feeling utterly lost during her grief, and must learn to love herself and her own company. Grief can manifest in different ways, as we see on the show, and these points of difference are hard for Priya to deal with.
Image courtesy of Stan
"I think the feeling of being needed and wanted is really big for her. All she wants to do is be there for her friends," says Tharan.
"It really, really ticks her when she has to be alone, and alone with her thoughts especially. So, when something like this happens...a big life-changing traumatic event, and all the other characters deal with it so differently — some might start keeping to themselves and hole in — [it's hard as] all she's trying to do is reach out and try her best to keep everyone together."
This forces Priya to come to terms with the need to enjoy her own company. As the show progresses, we see more of this inward reflection and self-assurance.
As a young actor of Eelam Tamil descent who's always been interested in the industry, Tharan has long yearned to see more women who look like her on the screen. One of the biggest drawcards to this role, which is her biggest to date, is the fact that Priya is a lead character without racial stereotypes. She's not the nerdy sidekick or the ethnic best friend of the white lead.
"I've [had] many auditions before, but they were all kind of ambiguous for the ethnicity. When Priya came along, it kind of took me by surprise because that was the first audition I had got for a woman of colour that was a lead role... and South Asian," says Tharan.
Given the entertainment industry's long history of stereotyping brown women, Tharan was taken aback that a South Asian character wasn't being pigeonholed because of her skin colour and heritage.
"One thing that I wouldn't have been surprised about was if the character kind of laid into that stereotypical representation of South Asian women, but she didn't at all," says the actor.
"I was reading the script, and if they hadn't put a peg on her ethnicity, I would have never guessed. It really spoke to my personal experience growing up in Australia, having been born and raised here as a South Asian. I hadn't really seen or heard that [on screen] before."
Image courtesy of Stan
Tharan has observed the emergence of more South Asian female representation in entertainment, whether that's Ayesha Madon on Heartbreak High, or Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran on Bridgerton.
"You're seeing it with Bridgerton, and not only were they South Asians, they were darker-skinned South Asians as well. I don't even think that happens in Bollywood often," she laughs, subtly referring to the Bollywood film industry's history of colourism.
"So, not only is that happening in Australia, it's happening worldwide. But I think the fact that it's happening in Australia means it's not just that we're getting momentum of getting more roles on screen, but they are lead roles. No doubt that's going to stick in people's brains and they are going to be seen, appreciated and loved. It's such an amazing breakthrough."
Tharanya stars in Year Of alongside a mix of fresh and familiar faces including Danielle Cormack, Matt Nable, Caroline Brazier, Sam Johnson, Christian Byers, Samson Alston, Joshua Hewson, Samuel El Rahi, Isabella Graiche, Ira Dawson, Nicholas Cradock and Sophia Wright-Mendelsohn.
If there's one thing she wants audiences to take away, it's to feel at home with their emotions, because it'll be a heartwarming and heartbreaking watch at the same time.
"A lot of people are going to be very taken aback and they might need a bit to breathe after the first few episodes. But I think that's a really true-to-life representation... I hope that this show resonates with a lot of people in terms of persevering through really, really hard times, and how much a person can grow during the hardest points in their life."
Year Of premieres on Stan on Friday, June 9.
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!    

More from TV