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 241.

    What a refreshing change - something I can sit down to with my family, and not be concerned that I am going to have to worry about 'unsuitable content', but which provides television comedy drama which is gentle but compelling, incredibly entertaining and thought provoking all at the same time! After only four episodes I am hooked. Please tell me this is going to be a long run series!
    Just a shame I have to record it to watch - it would make a very good replacement for some of the current 'prime time' programmes.
    Wonderfully scripted and acted - well done!
    Come on BBC - more of this, and more programmes like this please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    What can I say about this wonderful programme that hasn't already been said. Brilliant story, acting, directing, it's definitely a jewel in the BBC's crown.

    I very much hope that we see a new series in the not too distant future.

    Congratulations to everyone associated with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    I thought like everyone else that this was an excellent series cant wait to see Mr Sharpe get his come upance (hopefully!) . I was lucky to get it recorded so can watchit when I want. Acting by all was superb. I was brought up in this era so can relate to a small villages attitude at that time. Agree with all what was said above.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Brilliant drama. I have really looked forward to it every day. Well done all who are involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    This is an excellent series, it makes such a nice change to have a decent drama series on in the afternoons. Please can we have another series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    saw the trailers and glad i did. what a superb programme. what a shame its only a week long. tape it to enjoy it more as working during the day. well done bbc. keep up the good work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    Please B.B.C. more of this quality programme, but why not in the evening instead

    of some of the rubbish shown ,what excellent actors they are

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    What a superb drama,im loving it at the moment,do you think there could be another series?? (i really really hope so!!!!!!!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    I've really enjoyed this programme. I'm off sick at present and confined to the sofa, this programme has made the week pass quicker and given me something to look forward to. I hope there are more series planned and it will be repeated at a time of day that will get more viewers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    This series should be on "Prime Time TV", it is ideal for an 8pm slot and not hidden on afternoon TV. Well done to the Drama Team.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    This is probably the best drama ive seen in a long time. Thank you very much!
    ps when is it coming on sunday evenings?

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this amazing new BBC serie and want to see more of it.I even wish it would have made it to the big screen it is that brilliant.
    What a great cast and storyline mixed with humour,compassion,sadness at times and a dose of feel good factor.
    I'm amazed this serie was actually broadcasted during the day as it MUST reach a much wider audiance in recognition to the great effort the production team and cast members have put into this.
    Congratulation to everyone and I hope the BBC will make it possible for us to enjoy another serie as there must be more to this story still...Please!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    fantastic series, feel sorry for people who have missed it due to the time it has been on,hope they make some more & maybe put it on a sunday evening i think it would fit in very nicely there, one of the best series i have seen for a long time, well done to all involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    I have watched this series both with interest and enjoyment, it is one of the best things I have seen on TV in quite a while, I like the way it shows how things were in the sixties and the innocence that is no longer there. I like this type of gentle black comedy and feel it is sadly overlooked now.
    The story was really fascinating as was he interaction of all the characters, the culture shock was well played and I hope this cast can work together again to produce at least a sequel so we can see what actually happens to the manager who was thoroughly despicable, and the rest of the cast who will hopefully develop into even better and more fortunate people

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    Absolutely cracking drama why is it on in the daytime, it should be prime time TV instead of all the rubbish we have to endure, it would be a lovely a lovely treat for Xmas what a welcome change from the awful reality shows and tv talent competitions. Very true to life in the sixties, a good job it was set in South Wales and not in North Wales where the majority speak welsh as their first language as I discovered when marrying a man from N> Wales it was like time standing still in the his village. Well done all the actors and the Director especially Sanjeev the lovely girl who played his wife and the receiptionist wonderfully refreshing I cannot wait for more. Thanks all for a fantastic drama.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    My Wife and I thought The Indian Doctor was absolutely delightful and we both eminate from the valleys we can appreciate the authenticity of this wonderful afternoon Drama and we hope there will be a sequel to it

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    This has been a superb series. Peops at the BBC really should consider continuing this series at peak time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    I caught wed programme and had to watch mon and tues and record the rest of the week. an interesting series, well acted and realistic, most enjoyable

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    An excellent series, watched all 5 episodes, please bring it back, worthy of a prime time slot. The lead actors were excellent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    Please tell me that this lovely drama series is a pilot, and that Auntie Beeb, in her wisdom, is considering a prime time series in the not to distant future! There are unresolved issues which are crying out for a further series, if not several series! Well done. And to those who complained about anything in the drama all I can say is that they do not appreciate a good production when they see one!


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