The Indian Doctor: Filming in a Welsh village

Monday 15 November 2010, 10:05

Sanjeev Bhaskar Sanjeev Bhaskar

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The Indian Doctor is about Prem Sharma, and his wife, Kamini, who arrive in Britain in the summer of 1963. Rather than the bright lights of London, they are posted to a small Welsh mining village, taking over from the previous doctor there, who has unexpectedly passed away.

There, they encounter the curious villagers and the local English colliery manager, Richard Sharpe. He is most worried about a missing diary, belonging to the previous doctor, that may have incriminating evidence against him, linking the awful conditions in his mine and unusually high rates of lung disease.

Sanjeev Bhaskar as Dr Prem Shama with his on-screen wife, Kamini Sharma, played by Ayesha Dharker

I first got involved after the producers Deep Sehgal and Tom Ware approached me about 18 months ago. I thought too that it would make a really watchable drama.

I was particularly drawn to the 1960s and that, historically, many doctors from the Commonwealth were invited to Britain to support the relatively new NHS.

Of greater irony was that it was Enoch Powell who was seen to be doing the inviting.

Many members of my family arrived here at that time, so I recalled their stories and plundered their memories to get an idea of the kind of attitudes they faced but more importantly, what their emotional responses were.

I also spoke with a retired Indian doctor who did arrive in the 1960s and practised in a Welsh village (where he still lives), which was invaluable.

The biggest problem, he told me, was understanding the accent (ironically!) and the colloquialisms the locals used. Most Indians had learned very traditional English and had only heard the Queen's English at that.

Though the story does involve race, I don't think it's about racism. It's more about curiosity and preconceptions.

I experienced a degree of racism, particularly when I was at school in west London but I got it from both sides - the Asians and the white kids. There was a lot of racial tension at the time.

Racism, though born mainly out of ignorance, is just another form of bullying. So anyone who's been victimised or intimidated for something that they have no control over, should be able to relate to that.

Mark Williams as mine manager Richard Sharpe in The Indian Doctor

The difference in our Welsh village is that it is small enough for people to get to know the Indian doctor and so even if people do have ignorant notions about him, the opportunity to dispel them is that much quicker.

The predominantly Welsh cast and crew seemed to have worked with each other many times before, especially on Welsh language dramas, so were very familiar with each other.

They were incredibly welcoming and warm towards me which made going into work every day a total pleasure. The crew were amongst the finest I've ever worked with.

I became aware of a collective approach to problem solving that doesn't happen very often in filming. Usually, different departments have to solve their own problems but here everyone pitched in.

I'd worked with Ayesha Dharker (Kamini) in a couple of movies and a mini-series and Mark Williams (Richard Sharpe) too. In fact all three of us were in Anita And Me.

Ayesha is one of the most instinctive and subtle actresses I've ever worked with so I always feel I have to raise my game with her. Mark is a man who can just about play anything. Supremely gifted, razor wit and annoyingly intelligent.

Off set, he's incredibly funny but also interested in everything. Having been involved with Harry Potter for the last 10 years, he's as comfortable conversing with kids as he is with grown ups. I think I fall somewhere between the two.

When you're filming, the script is a fairly organic thing (challenging to the writer!).

There are things that you discover aren't clear or don't work only when you get to the location or the set. Bill Armstrong had delivered a great script with lots of interconnected stories, the overwhelming majority of which is what we filmed.

Miners from Richard Sharpe's mine in The Indian Doctor

The most important thing is for the actors to own the dialogue so minor tweaks were made with the blessings of the directors (Tim Whitby, Deep Sehgal), sometimes on the day. This is normal though.

There were so many highlights - it was probably the best telly experience I've had in the last five years. I tried to learn two Welsh words a day. Everyone from the make up department to sound and cameras pitched in with suggestions - that was fun.

No lowlights I can think of at all, but the 'oddlight' was driving to Cardiff from London and having to pay the toll when you cross the Severn Bridge. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was entering a giant theme park called Wales.

Daytime drama has always had an odd association to it. I suppose people immediately think of an Australian soap and assume that this can be the only tone.

However, recent compact dramas with strong writing and experienced actors, directors and writers such as Missing and Land Girls do suggest that the production values are much higher than merely a soap, which in itself suggests a production line approach to drama.

The main challenge for a daytime drama (apart from having to do everything on a miniscule budget compared to primetime dramas) is having to take into account the range of viewers that may be sitting in front of the box at that time of the day.

I record a lot of programmes, or watch them on iPlayer, so when they're on means a lot less to me than it used to. We would have, no doubt, approached some of the subject areas differently if the show was going out at 9pm, but I hope with the same charm and attention to detail.

I'm really proud to have been involved in such a collaborative, fun effort. All the credit goes to the people behind the cameras. Even the catering was great.

It was probably the most ego-free environment that I've worked in for ages, so perhaps proud is the wrong word. Privileged would be better.

Sanjeev Bhaskar plays Dr Prem Sharma in The Indian Doctor.

The Indian Doctor begins on Monday, 15 November at 2.15pm on BBC One and BBC One HD.

Further broadcasts are listed on the upcoming episodes page.

The Indian Doctor will return for a second series. You can read more about this announcement from Liam Keelan, controller of BBC daytime on the BBC TV blog.

The Indian Doctor is one of two programmes on BBC One to mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Swinging Sixties. Rewind The Sixties, presented by Lulu at 9.15am each weekday morning looks at the huge social change, creative innovation and historic importance that made the decade what it was.

Comments made by writers on the TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Normally I wouldn't see TV at 2.15 in the afternoon, this is a fantastic new series, I just wish it was on in the evening.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Well Done BBC ! Another great series. Like Julieapp, I wish it was on in the evening, but understand the logic for the decision. Looking forward to the future episodes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    As I also had day off from work today I put on television this afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed the start of the new series The Indian Doctor.This series should be on in the evening so it could be enjoyed by more viewers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    This was a promising start to a week of the series. The characters are well written and the period detail excellent. It should be evening viewing, but record it all, it should be worth it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Congratulations once again on an excellent programme - The indian Doctor. It brought back memories of my childhood in a village in Wales when we had our first doctor from abroad. As a youngster one of the questions I used to ask being an innocent infnnt was how did the doctor know when his hands were clean.

    A lot of your programmes bring back my memories of Wales e.g. going to Porthcawl for our annual coach trip, helping my grandfather, the village undertaker, as a youngster, delivering bread by horse and cart with my uncle, many fond memories. Thanks once again for an excellent programme

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I discovered this by accident as I'm usually at work - it almost made my chest infection worthwhile! Sanjeev is always a pleasure to watch and he is supported by an excellent cast. I don't understand why this is on in the afternoon as it would surely fit in well for the traditional Sunday night slot. Never mind, thanks to the iPlayer I'll still be able to watch it once I go back to work. Thanks BBC, looking forward to the DVD already!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    What a wonderful programme. So pleased I decided to record this as I thought my husband would enjoy it. We both loved it and are looking forward to the rest of the series. The cast and the characters are superb. Would be great for prime time viewing.
    How am I going to resist watching this until my Husband gets home from work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    what a lovely heart warming programme, but why in the afternoon this needs to be a Sunday evening watch with the family. So pleased i am at home. Normally i would be at work but currently not well. Cant wait for the next one. Thank you BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I do not usually have time to watch daytime TV, however from the previous trailers about The Indian Doctor, the series intrigued me. I was not disappointed - the acting, characters, setting, story-line, and time-frame are just perfect. So different, refreshing and a great change from the weary repetitions of the like-minded series, Heartbeat. What a pity though this is not on at dinner/prime-time so my husband and I can watch this together - I am sure he would like the series... any chance of showing this Sunday afternoons, if the BBC cannot show this at a later time during the week????
    More please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Wonderful characters, well written, and acted beautifully. No idea what the thought was by putting this on for afternoon viewers, it would work for evening viewers. However, I will make sure I don't miss an episode! I was born in 1961, and lived in a small village near the welsh borders, and near a coal mine, I don't remember it being so dated, or as old fashioned as the programme depicts. Or is that just my age these days? Still a joy to watch, and I look forward to more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The Indian Doctor is a really brilliant drama. I would have nearly missed it as I am normally working. A friend had seen the advert and told me to Sky +. I look forward to watching it. Downton Abbey has finished and we need these excellent dramas. Look forward to more of the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    A refreshing series, hopefully it'll be aired again at a later time when lots more people will be able to enjoy it. Well done BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The Indian Doctor is a really brilliant programme. I only hope that there is not just going to be 5 and its a pilot for a long series in the evenings - we certainly need it. I can't wait for tomorrow's episode and I am taping them to watch again and again. Thanks BBC at last some decent progs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    This is going to be a riveting series. Well done BBC and Saneet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I recently complained to the BBC about the standard of daytime tv and suddenly I had Land Girls and now the wonderful Indian Doctor. This is the kind of quality I expect from the BBC and would like to thank everyone involved for so much genuine entertainment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    A real treat to watch ... many thx

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I am afraid this series - which I had looked forward to watching - is a big disappointment. The story is cliched and the dialogue clunky. Even the humour is very lame indeed. And I am not sure that Sanjeev Bhaskar is the best actor for this role - his accent drifts all over the place. He is an intelligent and sensitive performer, and I'd be amazed if he didn't share some of these worries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Another wonderful drama from the Beeb, which should be shown in an evening. Something like 19.30 hrs on a Sunday. Doctors also should be shown in an evening, there is a need for mild mannered drama in our evening schedules.
    I am loving the acting in "The Indian Doctor", it is comfortable viewing and for those of us of a certain age, a gentle reminder of our youth.
    Thankyou BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    This deserves better than daytime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    excellent drama kept watching the clock, did'nt want it to finish well done!


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