A Conversation with Brian Benni: Bravo's Rising Star Gets Candid On Representation, Finding Love & Family Karma
Written by Felicia Gopi
Sunday March 4, 2023
If you’re sleeping on Family Karma, it’s time to wake up. The show, which just wrapped its third season, is a global sensation that boasts a lineup of stars who are all of Indian descent navigating family, friendship and of course, love. Among the cast is possibly one of the fastest-rising stars in the Bravoverse - Brian Benni. Brian’s charm, humour and banter with his parents have easily made him one of the most relatable people I’ve seen on television in a long time. Did I mention he’s also Indo-Caribbean?
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Brian to chat more with him about his identity, his parents’ love story, Family Karma and some of his budding Bravo friendships …and you know, he spilled some serious chai.
Andy Cohen noted on Watch What Happens Live! that he continues to field praise for the Family Karma cast from other Bravolebs and the likes. It comes as no surprise to me because from the minute Brian joined our call he was approachable, kind and super energetic. We got into it right away with him expressing
"Guyanese culture is just…it’s not represented anywhere, we don’t have a voice, we don’t have anything on TV, or just anything to show [...] how much fun it is, and how cultural it is, and how traditional it is."
Of course, I shared with him the sheer pride that was felt across the diaspora when the show aired episode 4 of this season that opens with the Benni family preparing for brunch where Brian’s dad, Mike (Indo-Guyanese), can be seen preparing dishes like bara, goat curry, baigan choka and more accompanied by scotch bonnet peppers. As Mike is preparing brunch Brian’s mom Dharma, can be heard narrating that Guyanese folks are “true Indians [who] grew up in a different country” A sentiment that felt like a resounding sense of validation for a viewer like myself.
“That means so much to me” he responds. He says it was “truly a beautiful moment”. Brian’s mom, Dharma, is also a master of Guyanese recipes, together the family giggles as Brian and his dad joke that Guyanese food “kicks traditional Indian food’s a–”. The moment is light and you can feel the love they share together.
Image courtesy of NBC and Bravo
It’s no coincidence that the families on the show have special connections; it's what makes Family Karma so unique. A reality show about friends who are all of Indian descent living in Miami wouldn’t be real if you didn’t show the importance of family dynamics within the culture. I asked Brian how the show got started (since that seems to be a hot topic in the Bravoverse these days), and he told me that Vishal and Anisha were at the centre of getting the entire group together. “They kinda rounded us together [...] and I’m like, showin’ off the culture? Sign me up!”
“We had no idea where it would go and what it would do, as far as representation or, showing off even Indian culture, then even me coming in as Indo-Caribbean, showing both sides”
They may not have had any idea where the show would go, but it’s clear that Family Karma has really given a voice to Indians and Indo-Caribbeans on television in a truly authentic way.
What adds more to the authenticity of the show is how precious the scenes are when the cast breaks the fourth wall with the crew. It’s a fun thing to see as a Bravholic and it speaks volumes about how respectful the cast is towards the crew. In season 3, episode 4 mentioned above, Brian’s dad can be seen going right up to a crew member to feed them by hand, a gesture that pretty much makes you family.
I asked Brian what he attributes the special relationship between the cast and crew to, and his answer is simple, “we’re all very down to earth, [...] very just kinda humble, [we’re] moreso honoured to be a part of this massive network”
Brian goes on to reveal that many of the Bravolebs he’s met over the course of his time on the network have exhibited a very welcoming energy towards him and his castmates.
“They also have that same energy of [...] very open and loving, and willing to communicate” Expressing things like ”‘hey welcome’, [...] ‘let me show you around’, ‘introduce you to some folks’, it’s cool to see people like that”. He isn’t shy about acknowledging that he’s surrounded by icons in the reality TV world and to hear that they’ve been so kind to the cast of Family Karma is really heartwarming.
This leads us into a fun conversation about the mayhem that was Bravocon 2022! We both shared our love for Kathy Hilton and then, it happened, I asked about that incident…
Twas the morning after Bravocon and all through TikTok…everyone was stirring. Into a frenzy. Joe Gorga, Melissa Gorga and Jennifer Aydin got into an altercation in their hotel lobby and the internet was buzzing. In fact, the walls of the Javits Center were buzzing. As I combed through the footage I noticed a familiar face in the background - Brian Benni.
I bring up the incident and we immediately burst into laughter over what feels like a Bravo fever dream. He sits up in his chair to prepare to give us the rundown of what was going on in his head that night, and down the rabbit hole we go.
“It’s my first time at Bravocon. Meeting all these, mega-icons.” He goes on to explain that he met Melissa and Joe at Bravocon and they were really kind and warm towards him. He walked into the lobby that night, “and I’m just shootin’ the sh-t with Joe, [...] we were talking about comedy actually”
“I just started hearing two people, Jennifer I think, and Melissa [...] just jawing at each other”. He says he wasn’t paying attention though because he was talking to Joe, until “somehow Joe got into it, and it just happened so fast”.
“I thought they were just kidding, so I’m giggling”. He continues to explain that the surrealness of the situation, and the celebratory birthday shots he had done earlier caused him to laugh it off in confusion. “And I’m talking to my brother, I’m like ‘this isn’t real?’”
He tells me that once it started heating up and he realized “oh this is going down, this is actually a real problem” that he did in fact try to deescalate the situation. He continues to note that he did not have any intention of taking sides, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and much like the rest of us, he was very confused as to what was going on in that moment.
He then compares his incessant giggling to a reaction to being yelled at in school and I’m left wondering how anyone could possibly hate on him. Sorry Twitter haters, but Brian Benni does not have a mean bone in his body.
His charm can most definitely be attributed to the love he’s received from his parents and of course from witnessing their incredible love story. When asked about how they met and what challenges they’ve encountered, Brian expresses that he would love to write a book about it.
* * *
Mike, met Dharma at St. Peters College in New Jersey where they were both computer science majors. It was love at first sight for Mike, he knew Dharma was the one and even went so far as to pay off the guy with the locker next to hers for some extra facetime. He made incredible use of said locker real estate, leaving her love notes with lyrics to records like ‘Red Red Wine’ by UB40, and original poetry. One that stuck out to Brian, read:
“Drink hot water,
Drink hot tea,
Burn your lips,
And think of me”
- Mike Benni
Dharma was head over heels and they began dating in secret. When the couple finally told Dharma’s parents about their romance, they were met with disapproval due to their differences in background. As disappointing as it must have been, Mike fought for Dharma.
“He fought. He fought and he fought and he ended up eloping with her, secretly.”
Dharma was emotional when she didn’t receive her family’s blessings, but Mike had a plan. While his in-laws were away at temple, they packed up all of Dharma’s things to move her into his family’s home after waiting at the house to break it to her parents.
Three weeks later, and after some conversations with family, Dharma’s father came around. His relatives talked to him and as Brian explained it, they said “Listen this is true love, your daughter’s in love, this is something that you can only dream for.” And so, love won over in the end.
The entire family is very close now and Brian describes it perfectly “it’s been a beautiful ride ever since”.
He emphatically asserts that Indo-Guyanese people are Indian. Speaking of his dad he lovingly says, “He just brings a little bit more flare, it’s Caribbean you know, a little bit more pizazz”.
When the conversation shifts to the tension that sometimes exists between Indo-Caribbeans and the Indian community, Brian shares that he and his Guyanese side of the family have also faced the need to validate being Indian enough. He’s been challenged in the past with claims that he’s only half Indian, but he shares this candid response.
“No b–ch, I’m full Indian. I’m Guyanese. Learn about it, Google it, read about it.”
He goes on to say “sometimes we don’t get the validation, [...] we kinda get this half-a–ed sort of like, ‘oh, you’re not full Indian'" to which he responds pretty firmly, “yeah we are."
It sparks a conversation between us about Indo-Caribbeans and their affinity for keeping Indian culture alive and I can see how passionate he is about his heritage.
That passion is mirrored by fans around the world who Brian says he’s had many positive conversations with. He still can’t come to grips with the term “fans” but admits that, “When people find inspiration from my story, or anyone else’s story on the show it’s like wow, we’re making a change, we’re affecting peoples’ lives, this is incredible”
The show has had fans chiming in on many topics that are prevalent in Indian and Indo-Caribbean communities. One of those is marriage. He wastes no time getting into the topic and admits that the pressure is immense and the double-standard for women is real.
“I’m not gonna lie, guys, we kind of get a bit of a hall pass when it comes to that”
Listening to his take on the matter is equal parts hopeful as it is refreshing. He says that while he seems to be constantly looking for love he also deals with a ton of pressure to meet someone at various events he attends, commenting, “Well, maybe I don’t want to”. It’s a really relatable take for those of us who face a constant barrage of remarks about meeting someone at every turn when sometimes you just want to chill.
He also shares some kind words for co-star Monica, who’s had a tough season this year with her relationship in the spotlight and the surmounting pressures to get engaged. “She’s a very near and dear best friend to me, and she’s always been there for me forever… love Rishi too, great guy.” He shares his philosophy on the matter which for him means that everything comes down to “perfect timing”.
His message for anyone feeling the pressure to get married is
“If you’re doing your thing and you’re happy and you’re continuing to progress and evolve and grow, who gives a sh-t when you get married.”
I couldn't agree more!
We then dive into something even more sticky than marriage, aunty drama. I asked Brian where his relationships were with Vishal and Amrit and he appeared to be really disappointed when he expressed that “there’s a rift”. Although he expresses his frustration and tension might still be there, it’s clear that Brian, Vishal and Amrit all have the same foundation of mutual respect and love for one another. He stresses that “it’s not that deep” and notes that he is still in touch with both Vishal and Amrit via text.
“I got too much love for those boys [...] I know we’ll resolve it”
The vibes are high and we get to a burning question on every fan’s mind. It’s not really a question, it’s more of a demand: Give Family Karma a Reunion.
When I ask Brian about it he exclaims “Oh, hell yeah we need a reunion!” He sees it as a therapeutic opportunity for their friend group to sort out their issues and we both marvel at the potential production of what would possibly be the most beautiful reunion set with the most stunning outfits to match. He says “it would be like a Bollywood movie” and we both cross our fingers on the issue.
As a seasoned Bravoholic, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Brian’s extensive relationships once again throughout the Bravoverse which ultimately make him a great candidate for crossovers. I toy with the idea of him summering in the Hamptons and he laughs noting that I mentioned some interesting names. He explains that he’s always gravitated towards the casts of Summer House, Winter House, and The Real Housewives of Potomac, partly because they share the same production company, Truly Original.
“They’ve always been very cool to me, we always have a great time together, we party, we have a lot of fun, [...] you know they’re just right up my alley” It’s a fun note to wind down the conversation on and I’m left excited to see what’s next for Brian.
At the beginning of this piece, I mention that it’s Brian’s charm and humour that make him so relatable and I’ve come away from this interview with a better understanding of who he is, what he values and why so many people he’s met along his journey to success are drawn to him. Family Karma, as real and authentic as it is, is still just a one-hour a week glimpse into the lives of its cast members. As an avid fan of Bravo, I am so grateful for the opportunity to get to know Brian because it reminded me that he and his co-stars are even bigger and bolder in real life.