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
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    Comment number 381.

    Thought I'd give The Indian Doctor a try and found it a truly rewarding experience. This was a really good set of stories and, truly, I felt sorry for the people unable to watch this treat as it was on so early in the afternoon. Any chance of repeating it to be scheduled later? Also, will there be another series?

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    Comment number 382.

    This may have had a daytime drama budget, but it is definitely a quality evening series. And so many of the threads in the story have remained open - will Kamini ever get to London, how will Sian and Tom cope with becoming parents, will the village ever find out about Rani? Please announce series two soon.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 383.

    My wife and i really enjoyed the Indian Doctor. We recorded it and watched it in the evening.The programme brought back a lot of memories for me, as i used to visit my Grandmother in the Rhondda during the 60s.The acting is superb, coupled with excellent scriptwriting. This would be ideal for evening viewing, perhaps an hour long programme once a week to retain the quality. It had all the best components of Heartbeat(especially with the 60s music) and All creatures great and small. Well done BBC, more of this please

  • rate this
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    Comment number 384.

    My husband and I watched the series and absolutely loved it. So enjoyable to watch and would love to see more of it. Fingers crossed there is another series as we want to know what happens to all of the characters.

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    Comment number 385.

    I really enjoyed this mini-series, which I happened to trip over when browsing iplayer. I dont necessarily agree it needs to be on in the evening, but could the BBC not advertise these gems more. Sanjeev says on his blog that this was a low budget production but it doesnt show, probably because of the quality of the actors and production. I would much rather my license money was spent on this and other quality productions such as missing, than the hugely expensive productions such as Garrows Law. My only criticism of the series is how clean the village looks. My recollection of the Rhonnda in the 60's was slag heaps, coal dust everywhere, and my greatgrandmother was known for shouting at people who opened her windows. I hope there is another mini-series, but please, please dont turn it into a soap.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 386.

    Super short series, we watched each day and found the programme brilliant, more please. Maybe a sunday series would be very popular relaxing end to the week-end, just like TV used to be, a family drama with no objectionable content or looking for sensationalisms.
    Again thankyou BBC

  • rate this
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    Comment number 387.

    My partner and I have really enjoyed the series, more please!

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    Comment number 388.

    This series was wonderful - beautifully scripted and a real treat - it made such a change from re-runs of Diagnosis Murder or Murder She Wrote. Like many other people I just happened to be off work on the Monday otherwise I would have missed it, which would have been a travesty. Thank goodness for Sky+
    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE can we have another series.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 389.

    Amazing and wonderful. Intelligent and emotional. And the actors, every one of them, quite superb.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 390.

    This is the best series that has been on television for a long time and deserves showing at peak times, Jimmy Docerty could be moved I am sure very few people would notice

  • rate this
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    Comment number 391.

    We recorded all the episodes and then during Children in Need, we watched them one after the other, brilliant drama, well made and light and easy to understand, thank you BBC for something, at last, watchable.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 392.

    Having met The Dr in real life I thought I would watch the series and I am absolutely loving it. I am actually watching it on iPlayer and have been trying to find all the episodes as I have only watched three! It is so so good and such a joy after all the reality programmes (which I have to admit to watching!) but we do need more period dramas like the Indian Doctor. The acting is superb, the costumes well presented but I too was surprised at the timing of the programme because it really rates a better position. Well done Sanjeev and the rest of the cast and the BBC. Please lets have another series and lets see more of the Ayesha and Sanjeev partnership in other programmes, they make an interesting pairing. Thanks

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    Comment number 393.

    Have just watched The Indian Doctor on my sky planner and think it really is the best series I have seen for years! An absolutely superb production, brilliantly acted and pure nostalgia for those of us who actually lived through the 60's!

    I do hope there is DVD as I would love to send it to my son and daughter in law in Australia as they have very little quality drama to watch out there.

    Well done BBC, more of this type of drama please

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    Comment number 394.

    Absolutely Brilliant, well written in fact it rates up there with anything the BBC has ever done, a credible story line, witty, reflective and entertaining. Hard to say who deserves the plaudits the most, the writer for his excellent script, the actors (all of them) for their outstanding portrayal of the characters (good and bad) and the BBC for getting back on track with the quality programming they used to put out.

    Only one negative (towards the BBC), why wasn't this put out at Prime Time, if it hadn't been for the rave reviews I heard from folks who didn't have to work in the afternoon's, I'd have missed it. Thanks to iPlayer I feel that my licence fee was worth paying this year. A classic drama from a classic era, the match of anything the BBC has put out for 20 years, or more.

    Congratulations alround to everyone involved, especially to the writer, top draw stuff...

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    Comment number 395.

    What's happened to the second and following episodes of this excellent programme
    (The Indian doctor) Can't seem to find it on any listings.

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    Comment number 396.

    I discovered this as its on at 10:35pm on a Tuesday night on BBC1 Wales, this is excellent family drama and if the BBC have any sense should repeat it UK wide on the Sunday night family slot, it would be a ratings winner, especially since ITV have axed Heartbeat. Also it could redeem the bad decission by the BBC a few years back when they axed Born and Bred :( Any BBC execs watching these blogs take note what your public think; two words, 'Sunday Drama'.

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    Comment number 397.

    I absolutely loved this mini series and it continues to enter my thoughts on a daily basis. I was born in Whitechapel in 1950 and Brick Lane was my "playground" for my formative years. I saw the local Jewish population gradually supplanted by the incomers from the Indian Sub-continent. The local schools merged the new culture and new phrases (mainly swear-words) entered the indigenous school-boy's language. A wonderful time and place to be born and reared; I just wish I had realised so at the time...

    Please make a full-blown series for Sunday evenings to follow on from such great wonderful offerings as "Bally Kissangel", and "Monarch of the Glen"!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 398.

    I very much enjoyed episodes 2 and 3 of The Indian Doctor and will watch next week. But why is it not possible to see the first episode on BBC iplayer?

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    Comment number 399.

    I watched the Indian Doctor, really enjoyed it. Only problem, the time you put it on. people have to leave about 2-45 to do the school run. So probably don't watch to start with. So miss out on one of the good programs, that you have put on. and for a drama their is not many to watch these days. I had to watch the next four on (I player) This should be on at 8 or 9 at night instead of some of the rubbish programs you all keep putting on. PLEASE put some more good DRAMAS like this back on the BBC. I find it really hard to find any programs worth watching these day. On any channel
    Once again this was an excellent program well done for a change

  • rate this
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    Comment number 400.

    What a brilliant series, I loved every minute of each wonderful episode. More of the same please.

 

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