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    Goodness gracious - it's Kulvinder Ghir!
    Kulvinder Ghir
    Kulvinder Ghir as Anil in Flight
    Although he is probably best known for Goodness Gracious Me, Kulvinder Ghir is one of the country’s most versatile actors. In Milton Keynes this week as part of the RSC’s tour of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Katy Lewis caught up with him backstage.

    Read our review of Midnight's Children

    BBC News: Review of Midnight's Children

    Milton Keynes Theatre
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    Tue 20 May: 7:30pm
    Wed 21 May: 2:30pm, 7:30pm
    Thu 22 May: 7:30pm
    Fri 23 May: 7:30pm
    Sat 24 May: 2:30pm, 7:30pm

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    The name of Kulvinder Ghir may not necessarily be a household one, but as one quarter of the highly successful 'Goodness Gracious Me' team, you will almost certainly know who he is.

    The Goodness Gracious Me team
    In Goodness Gracious Me - Kulvinder (far left) with Meera Syal, producer Anil Gupta, Nina Wadia, and Sanjeev Bhaskar

    But coupled with this he is one of Britain’s most successful actors, appearing in Bend It Like Beckham and Rita, Sue and Bob Too and plays such as Trevor Griffith's Thatcher's Children as well as stints with the Royal National Theatre and many others. He is now making his debut with the RSC.

    Kulvinder has certainly come a long way since his days as a Yorkshire market trader who plied his theatrical trade in Working Men’s clubs as a comedian and impressionist. But it was the ability to conquer tough audiences like those that put him in good stead for the world of stage, film and TV and made him such a versatile performer.

    He is currently touring the country with the RSC in their acclaimed adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight’s Children, following successful runs in London and New York.

    I managed to catch up with him in his dressing room and get a few minutes of his time before he had to go and have his large prosthetic nose fitted and prepare for the three hour epic!

    Find out more about Midnight’s Children >>

    Why would you encourage people to come and see Midnight’s Children?

    It’s a fantastical journey, where you are taken through what’s been happening in the last 70 years in India, which will help people understand where they are today.

    quote I think that we really take people on a journey and it's very educational in that sense, especially for people who don't know about India's history. quote
    Kulvinder Ghir on Midnight's Children

    The play is also light and it’s touching. It’s an important play for today, and at the same time it’s also a celebration of Rushdie’s writing.

    It’s also a great joy to see 20 Asian actors, or actors with multiracial backgrounds coming on and performing.

    And it's intriguing. I’ve found this all the time that I’ve been working on it and it’s still growing. It’s a fresh new piece of work, it’s an interesting piece of work and each night is different night as well!

    Although the members of the company play many different parts in the play, your main character is Adam. Can you tell me a bit about him?

    Yes, Adam is a doctor and is quite radical in his beliefs when the play kicks off in 1915. He renounces religion and has a humanity of his own.

    He has an essential ideology about where he is heading as a Muslim, working and growing up in India. I would say that he is more of a socialist in his views at that time but at the same time he wants a free India and doesn’t want to see his country segregated into pieces like Pakistan or Bangladesh.

    Midnight's Children
    Midnight's Children

    He is a passionate man – and very passionate about his beliefs, but although he starts off the play being an optimist, as time develops and the play goes on the optimism is taken away from him due to what India goes through.

    The book is enormous, packed with over 60 years of history. Does it translate well onto the stage?

    Yes I think it does. I think that we really take people on a journey and it's very educational in that sense, especially for people who don't know about India's history.

    I think if we did the whole of the book it wouldn't be a three hour play, it would be an eight hour play. But in the translation that we have with Salman working on it as much as much as Simon Reade [former RSC dramaturg, and co-Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic] and Tim Supple [also the director] we've made it an event within itself.

    There are also many different aspects of style used within the piece to translate the story. As well as physical theatre and music there are different types of media used such as the large screen and this makes it unique. In this way there's a freshness about this production. It has its moments of poetry in the pathos and there's great humour in it as well. I think that this really lends to the piece as it's not as heavy as people might think it is.

    And it's not judgemental, the factual storytelling makes you actually decide where history lies.

    Did the book have an impact on you?

    quote I have never labelled myself as an Asian actor just as an actor.quote
    Kulvinder Ghir

    Yes very much so. I hadn't read it before I came to the play but when I decided to do it I obviously read the book and during the rehearsal period it just came off the page fantastically. To physicalise this book is a mammoth task and it's a fantastic thing for the RSC to take it on board.

    You must be exhausted?!

    Yeah [he laughs] but doing the tour and performing to so many different audiences is just a joy again. There are always different audiences, and in this way you can see how the play works on many different levels. It’s interesting to see how each audience receives it in different parts of the country.

    You've had a very varied career and started off at a young age as an impressionist in working men's clubs. How did you get from there to here?

    Yes. The first time I set foot on a stage doing impressions I was about 13. I started doing the clubs when I was 15 until I was 17 and then I headed off to drama school which was a sound step for me to develop a career in this profession. But in a sense I've never looked back to where it all began as I'm always looking forward to see where it will continue.

    Have you found it at all difficult as a British Asian actor not to be cast as a stereotype?

    quote When we first did it we had no idea it was going to be successfulquote
    Kulvinder Ghir on Goodness Gracious Me

    I think that it's important that the route I took was just like any other actor. I have never labelled myself as an Asian actor just as an actor. Working in theatre I’ve had the opportunity to do both Shakespeare and contemporary texts and worked with modern writers such as Trevor Griffiths. It is the challenge of parts that is needed for all actors and as long as that variety is there I like to label myself as a British actor.

    The RSC has been criticised in the past for not employing non-white actors in leading roles. Is this production of Midnight’s Children a step forward?

    Definitely, when was it that they last had a completely multi-racial British company like this? But it would be nice to come back and do a Shakespeare as well!

    As a quarter of the Goodness Gracious Me cast you've had the opportunity to play a big part in the symbiosis of British and Asian culture. In fact. It was described by The Times as ‘the oil of race relations’. Why do you think that the series has been so successful?

    When we first did it we had no idea it was going to be successful and it wasn't a preplanned thing of what would work and what wouldn't. I think it was successful because it came from us. We dug deep into our culture and celebrated it. We dealt with the simple issue of humanity. I think that when you balance culture with humanity, nobody is that much different from anybody else and that's what made the series mainstream.

    A particular generation have grown up now and whether it be a black family, an Asian family or a white family, they all have their individual problems and relationships

    And this second generation are more confident?

    Definitely - much more, and we are able to celebrate the Indian in our culture as well as the British Asian culture that we have.

    Kulvinder as Chunky Lafunga in Goodness Gracious Me

    It is going to school in this country that created a particular humour within us and we [the Goodness Gracious Me team] found a way where we could balance our own cultural roots with what we learnt growing up here. I think that those are the elements that helped to make it work, as well as turning things on their head [such as the infamous ‘Going Out For an English’ text] and any one can relate to that.

    What was also great about the programme is that it covered all age groups, from six-year-olds to 70-year-olds, because they could all relate to the same situation. So the programme was successful without realising there was an audience out there for it.

    It was also just very funny which is why it was successful, and it was comedy from a new perspective, moving away from the white, male, middle class humour that we so often see on our screens. But comedy isn’t neutral, it depends on what people are laughing at. Did you ever worry that people were laughing at the culture rather than with it?

    It was assumed that from the responses that we had it was more about being able to laugh at yourself as much as within your community. But we never ever went out to undermine any culture or any form of religion we just thought "this makes us laugh".

    Goodness Gracious Me
    The Coopers in Goodness Gracious Me

    The sketches were close to us and our families because they were coming from us, we were just very, very lucky that other people related to it and found it funny as well.

    Do you have a favourite sketch or character from the series?

    Chunky [Lafunga' a stereotype of a slimey Bollywood hunk], is a fun character and the Coopers are again extraordinary. But there are such a variety of characters that I really enjoy playing all of them.

    You have done so much – it’s hard to pick out just a few things to talk to you about but I recently saw the hit film Bend It Like Beckham. What was it like being part of that?

    Kulvinder Ghir in The Wedding Party
    Kulvinder Ghir as Subi in The Wedding Party

    Again it was a fantastic experience. I’d known Gurinder [Chadha ] the director beforehand and the whole thing was a great joy because I was working with old friends. Not just the core that I normally work with from Goodness Gracious Me, but lots of old friends from the theatre, television and film work I had done were working on it as well, and that was a great celebration.

    The story was also very simply and beautifully told. It worked on many different levels but it wasn’t being shoved down your throat. I really enjoyed dancing as well!

    What are you most proud of in your career so far?

    I’m quite proud of the whole lot actually because I’ve had such a diverse career. I’ve never been static in one place and I always wanted to do that. And touch wood that will carry on!

    Can you choose your parts now?

    To a level, yes. You get scripts through, you look at the work and you feel what you want to be involved in and if you can bring anything to it. The most important thing is working with the right people. I’ve got more choice now than at any other time, but whether that will last I don’t know!

    Mela Mania
    Mina Anwar as Sita and Kulvinder as Aftab in Mela Mania, a comedy recorded at the 2001 Mela Festival in Bradford

    I hope that the current Indian or Asian trend, or the minority trend or whatever they want to call it, doesn’t finish because it gives us much more variety within our lives and the ability to create. I think that’s where it’s a very positive thing for this country.

    Is there a part you’d still really like to play? Hamlet or something?

    Yeah - at the moment Shakespeare intrigues me – maybe even Macbeth, now that would be an idea! But it must be something that’s going to challenge me again. I don’t really look for a particular part or say that this is what I would like to play. It’s more to do with when it’s feasibly possible to do it and somebody believes that you can actually perform and achieve it. Then it gives me an extra joy to play and perform it.

    As long as the work is challenging and the quality is there, I’ll do it!

    Read our review of Midnight's Children >>

    your comments

    Rohit Kumar, High Wycombe Thursday, 18-Mar-2004 13:42:53 GMT
    This is a great story I always watch goodness gracious me because it is the best asian program ever!!! I am look to be in an asian program because I love t act and i am a great actor! Im currently trying to look for acting work.


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