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 281.

    What a great drama - should have been primetime. Look forward to seeing it back?

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    I couldn't watch the Indian Doctor at the time it was aired, (due to Cbeebies), but caught up on iplayer. What a brilliant drama! Why are there no more episodes and why is it not on in the evening?. I find it difficult to find something different to watch most evenings and this would fill the gap. Well done!

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    Absolutely delightful. Couldn't wait to get home from work to watch The Indian Doctor. Deserves an evening slot.

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    Comment number 284.

    Hi Everyone, it's The Indian Doctor here. Well. I’m bereft of words. But here goes: Thank you everyone who’s taken the time and effort to tap their keys and contribute to this blog. To say I’m overwhelmed and humbled is a gargantuan understatement. I didn’t think I’d ever be grateful to people who were at home feeling poorly but from mrsbohan and Angela’s chest infections, through, dodgy knees, bad backs, legs, sore throats etc, thank you for watching and I hope to high heaven you’re all feeling better. Any chance you could all be mildly unwell when I’m on the telly next?

    Lovely to hear from eddy mik too and sincerely hope that you’re on the end and back having your barbecues soon. Thanks too, to Scottielass3, Ann, Jaxinspain and anyone else watching from abroad, via dodgy routes or not! I’m also indebted to susandora, Dr Savi, terry Davies and others for their personal insights. And to first time bloggers like Dheeru and others.

    And thanks too, to those who expressed constructive criticism, it is duly noted and taken on board. I can only reiterate that this show was a total delight to do. Primary credit goes to 3 people who’ve blogged already, namely Tom Ware, Deep Sehgal and Bill Armstrong. I would like to add the name of Tim Whitby, who directed the first 3 episodes and set such a strong and clear tone for the series.

    The entire cast was exemplary, the crew was superlative to a man and woman, and Wales was massively generous in its welcome and weather! The people of Blaenavon, Llantrisant and other places we filmed were warm and patient.

    I’m aware of how fortunate I am to do the job that I do but for good folk I've never met to put it into words and choose to express it here, means such a lot. A big hug to the lot of you.

    By the way, for those of you who mentioned me by name, you get a hug AND one other tactile show of affection of your choice!!

    You’ve all certainly encouraged me to hope for more episodes in the near future.
    Love and peace, and to our Welsh speakers, Cariad and Diolch!
    Sanjeev x

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    After having watched the Indian Doctor on my day off from work on Monday,I could not wait to watch each evening on iplayer.I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and look forward, hopefully to another series soon but having its rightful slot in the evening, as more viewers may also have the same pleasure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    Excellent Drama, well done BBC.
    Just a minor thing, the bollywood song played in the Second episode - 'Aaj mausam bada be-iman' is from movie 'Loafer' made in 1973 ( Not sure how the song record was available in 1963 ? ).

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    Really enjoyed the series. Perhaps a good programme for a Sunday evening. I want more!

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    Excellent BBC something to watch at last,had this recorded as I am working ,hopefully this is not the end of the story ,what about a follow up series .

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    This programme was brilliant, too good for afternoon television and should be shown as prime time hopefully there will be a continuation of the series

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    Superb. I enjoyed this (taster?) very much. It has everything. Let's go there again...and soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    As an Indian doctor who arrived here in the 60's, I watched the series with great interest and nostalgia. There were some uncanny paralels with both my wife's and my own experiences. Well done BBC, I thoroughly enjoyed the series.

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    Comment number 292.

    Excellent programme,why was it not shown in the evening???? You would have had high ratings!!!

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    Comment number 293.

    I've just watched the first two episodes on iplayer and want to add my appreciated of an excellent programme to those above.

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    Comment number 294.

    This has been a wonderful series. Sanjeev has,at last, been given a brilliant role to play. He's a great actor and, in this series, he has a great supporting cast. I agree with previous comments that this should be prime time family viewing on Sunday evening.
    Hope Auntie Beeb has furthur series to follow, hopefully in the same period and in the same villlage.
    Well done; very well done, hoping for more of the same very soon!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    I have just watched the fifth and final episode of this absolutely brilliant series and switched off with a sigh because I want to know what happens next. Please, please let us have more of the Indian doctor - this programme deserves a prime-time slot and a long running series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    Congratulations to all the cast and crew! This is exactly what I want to see on TV.

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    Comment number 297.

    The recent "Indian Doctor" series has been great; far too good to only be screened on a weekday afternoon. I really believe that this has the potential to become a long running series, a bit like a cross between "Last of the Summer Wine" and "Heartbeat", that really deserves to be screened on a Sunday evening perhaps. Sanjeev and the rest of the cast were absolutely brilliant. As you will have gathered; I also agree with many of the previous comments; this really should be prime time family viewing. I sincerely hope that the Beeb has plans for a more to follow. Very well done let's have more.

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    Comment number 298.

    We were visiting from the U.S. and were fortunate to find this series. We are fans of Mr. Bhaskar. The series is gorgeous, as is Sanjeev. I hope it returns. I'll figure out how to get back to the U.K, maybe break a leg or something, and spend the afternoons watching this show!!! Thanks BBC for making our visit so memorable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Never commented before but as most of the programmes I like get cancelled after the first series I just wanted to say how good I thought this was. Excellent performance by all. Please make more!

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    With a first hand knowledge of being myself a real Indian Doctor settled in Wales since 60s, really enjoyed the excellent drama.
    We hope series will continue and be shown during prime time.
    Well done BBC.


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