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 301.

    I don't normally watch television in an afternoon, I thoroughly enjoyed this and could hardly wait for the next episode. Well done BBC

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    Well done the BBC for 'Indian doctor'. This & 'Moving on' are top quality dramas that deserve evening viewing. I have admired Sanjeev Bhaskar's work for years & this confirms his acting ability. Years ago I wished there was a recorded version of Zadie'sSmith's 'White Teeth' so my blind father could experience it. I thought then that of the actors I knew only Sanjeev & Meera Syal had the range to do it. How about it BBC?

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    What a brilliant series The Indian Doctor is. Having been brought up in a small Welsh village in the 60's, it's brought back happy memories of my wonderful childhood. The acting is superb and it was very natural and very easy to watch. I hope you will make another series and show it on prime time television. I can't wait for another.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    Excellent. BBC drama as it should be. MORE PLEASE. My husband, who normally doesn't watch drama or series programmes, did watch and was bowled over by the quality of the acting and of the story. What a breath of fresh air for the drama to be based in Wales instead of 'Up North'. (We are East Anglians.) Congratulations Sanjeev Bhaskar. MORE PLEASE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    A warm and very engaging light comedy with some bite as well (corporate responsibility in the workplace, social issues etc).

    Very sharply cast: an effortlessness to the actors’ contributions. Very much an ensemble work of acting, rather than a vehicle for any single performer. It becomes meaningless to single out any one actor, so strong is the collective achievement.

    You can see it was a happy shoot.

    It was beautifully shot by Ray Orton and skilfully and deftly written by Bill Armstrong.

    Did anyone spot Bill Armstrong in an (I think) unaccredited appearance as Mr McGregor from the Coal Board? Writer Bill Armstrong is also an actor (“William Armstrong”). That’s William Armstrong above - hinting at a promotion to Mark Williams.

    I hope The Indian Doctor gets repeated in a more mainstream slot, to give it the platform that all those concerned clearly deserve. It was fun and charming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    I can only repeat what everyone else has said. A brilliant program, I enjoyed it so much of a afternoon, told my husband, sister and other family memebers who managed to watch it on iplayer and subsequently they went on to recomend it to other people.

    We are now desperatly hopeing that there will be more to come as so many storylines still left to build on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    Brilliant ! well done BBC this is a classic, shame its only a run of five and wasted on an afternoon slot I recorded them. Hope its given a longer series at a better time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    Aunty! You have done it again! A repeat please and another series is in order!

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    The Indian Doctor is the best series I have seen for a long time.
    More of the same please BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    For those who missed the series it is being repeated on BBC Wales starting this wednesday at 10.45pm so if you have Sky tune into BBC Wales on page 972.

    Excellent series which is actually filmed in the town where I live in South Wales, and is another series which has been filmed in the town. (others include, the citadel, border cafe and two series of Coal House.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    Hope it’s not lost on BBC drama commissioners that the series has gained such a strong reaction on this blog page!

    The series hit the comedy-drama balance/tone perfectly. A fairly recent BBC documentary (about the history of the NHS?) explored how Indian doctors in the 60s and 70s, educated at home under British methods of medical training , came to the UK as hospital doctors etc but would be blatantly or covertly blocked from progression to Consultant level, even though they were very capable ... Very sad.

    It’s a shameful episode in British history and maybe Dr Prem Sharma’s next experience – although it could be too strong on the drama and just not right for the lightness and comedy! Oh well.

    I think if we watch The Indian Doctor space, a second series will emerge ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    The Indian Doctor, has been a brilliant series. please let us some more! also Doctors on every day at 1.45 is excellant! the series of moving on was so good! this is what we need! thankyou BBC FOR SOME GOOD TV , AND EXCELLANT ACTORS

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    BRILLIANT! I was made redundant a few weeks ago, I have been really down in the dumps until last week when I started watching this programme. It was something to look forward to - and being Welsh I could relate to a lot of the authenticity of Welsh village life - which was so well acted. This programme reminds me of a Welsh version of ITV'S Heartbeat - only with a Welsh theme. Well done BBC hope that a second series is in the planning. I think it would be brilliant to see it again on a Sunday Evening for a wider audience to have the chance to enjoy it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    A very enjoyable programme. Note that the Union Flag was wrong side up at Fete.
    Was this a Welsh thing ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    What a breath of fresh air this program was, not the usual swearing and violence. I was brought up in the 60s so I can relate too a lot of the stuff that was in it. A massive well done too all the people involved in The Indian Doctor. I do hope we can expect more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    Sorry Hallam001, you are wrong on every count I am sure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    My husband and I have greatly enjoyed The Indian Doctor this week. The acting,script,storyline and setting were all excellent. I agree with the numerous comments above that have suggested that the quality of this programme justifies it being repeated on the evening or weekend schedule. Also having introduced these characters it could easily lead to a further series. I realise that drama is very expensive to screen but I would imagine that this would be the sort of programme which would appeal to other countries with close links to Britain, such as America and Canada.
    I hope the BBC bosses will consider favourably all the positive comments about The Indian Doctor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    Excellent drama. I thoroughly enjoyed it and want to see more of it! Well done everyone.

    In 3rd episode, right at the end, you and Ayesha talk about the time you spent at Dal Lake.
    I'm just curious as to whose idea it was to mention Dal Lake?
    Have you ever been to Dal Lake?

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    The Indian Doctor is great!!! No foul language, no real nastines, great scripts and fine acting. I do hope that there will be another series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    Although predictable from first episode should be shown Sunday evenings. Last episode needs rewriting as so many loose ends. Perhaps extend to three more episodes and later run another series on lines of Dr Finlay's Casebook but updated. Could be a winner. Would need good scripts with strong stories - suggest you emply the writers of The Archers.


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