Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Indian Actors in Britain

I have (for the umpteenth time) remembered the late and excellent comedy actor Dino Shafeek, mainly because I just had a filled chapati, and there was a scene in It Ain't Half Hot Mum on board a train where Dino had to try to get his mother's meal-time chapati to her without the filling dropping out. If you ever saw it, you'll know what I mean...

It was a real shame to lose him at a comparatively young age; but we in this country have been blessed with a good sprinkling of high quality Indian actors, both comedic and serious. It was thus with some pleasure that, on checking at the Internet Movie DataBase (IMDB), I found that Saeed Jaffrey is still with us, at the grand age of 84, and still very much active in the profession.

Now, this is the man who has one award and two nominations (including one BAFTA) to his name, and is still working in one, two or three productions a year, every year. His short-lived sitcom Tandoori Nights was more a gentle observation than a real comedy – which probably was responsible for its being dropped so soon, and one can understand the TV executives' thinking here – and was a delight in its own way, if incorrectly 'pigeonholed'...

Those like me who are old enough to remember Gangsters, the freewheeling double-series that brought recognition to the late Maurice Colbourne (real name: Roger Middleton) before Howard's Way cemented that, might recall that there were several good Indian-origin (and similar) actors in that, including Ahmed Khalil (whose ethnic origin I have never discovered), Saeed Jaffrey again, and – for just four episodes in the second series – the wonderful Zia Mohyeddin.

 Anyone who saw that will recall his charismatic portrayal of Iqbal Khan (yes, a somewhat mixed name!) and his quest in that mini-arc at the start of the second season – and he was just so English somehow! I always thought it was an impressive performance, and a good reminder that there is actually scope for genuine acting talent originating from that part of the world.

By comparison, the mass-produced fluff from Bollywood (aimed at gullible peasants – and that's the industry's view, not mine) is absolute rubbish – as the Ivory-Merchant productions have also shown over the decades. The lesson is not to judge Indian actors and others in the business as if they were mere Bollywood types (although there are a few gems hidden in there too, such as Sridevi) – there are a fair number who are a lot better than that...

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