Sanjeev Bhaskar talks about the current trend in Bollywood movies and British Asian comedy's influence on the UK mainstream. He plays the chef in The Guru alongside Jimi Mistry and Heather Graham.
Why have Goodness Gracious Me and the Kumars at Number 42 been popular with such a broad TV audience?
I think GGM was popular because although it was written and performed by British Asians, the humour was quite universal, it was quite popular around the world. Everyone could relate to the characters, it just so happened that these characteristics lived in Indian bodies. The Kumars similarly, is really about a family, some countries are now developing their own version of the Kumars.
Goodness Gracious Me has been described as “the oil of race relations” – what if any influence do you think it has had on breaking down prejudices towards ‘ethnic’ races in Britain?
It’s probably too early to tell whether GGM has played any long term part in breaking down prejudice, but certainly as far as TV is concerned it informed people that Asians had a sense of humour and that it could be quite ‘cool’ to be Asian. Films like ‘East is East’ and ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ have done so for a film going audience. It’s just that TV programmes reach a far wider audience than any film does. Asians have always been cool incidentally, it’s just that we didn’t bother telling anyone.
Many comedians base characters on family members – how much of an inspiration was your family for the Kumars?
My family was the spark of inspiration for ‘The Kumars’ as were other members of my extended family. The granny was the sort of granny I hoped I would turn into… if I was in a position to do so… most of the stuff I’ve written is based on experience or observation, so everything becomes potential material. Including this!!
Are the Kumars’ idiosyncrasies typical of British Indian culture, or could they be applied to many other families, eg. The Royle Family?
The Kumars’ idiosyncrasies could be applied to any family. Dad’s obsessive about money because he happens to be a business man, in another family it could have been train sets or talking about his car etc
Who has been the most memorable guest you’ve had on the chat show?
There have been many memorable guest on the show: Michael Parkinson, because he really is the king of chat shows in Britain. Martin Kemp, because he was the first ‘80s pop star I’d ever met. Minnie Driver, because she was so surprisingly down to earth, Stephen Fry, because he has the widest general knowledge of anyone I ever met…the list goes on.
What effect is British Asian comedy having on mainstream British comedy?
Again it’s too early to tell the effects of British Asian comedy on the mainstream. There’s only been a couple of tv shows and a handful of films. There’s very few British Asian actors who can do comedy at the moment, and even fewer that write, but hopefully that will change. Actually I don’t think there’s a great difference between British Asian comedy and British comedy, so there!
How did you become involved with The Guru?
I was working with Jimi Mistry on a film called ‘The Mystic Masseur’ when he was auditioning for the part of Rami. I went through some scenes with him, and when he got the part, he generously suggested me for some involvement. The producer rang me and asked if I would act as a dialogue coach on the movie, and then realising my true passions offered me a small part in the film too. I ended up having several small jobs on the film, which was great as I got to be involved in parts of film making that I wouldn’t normally. Also I got to hang out with Jimi and Emil (also in the movie) in New York for a few weeks. How cool is that?
The Guru mixes the Hollywood and Bollywood movie cultures – does this work for you?
The Guru’s mix of Bollywood and Hollywood sits very comfortably with me, just as any John Woo film is a mix of Hong Kong cinemas and Hollywood. A mixture of styles is something that audiences don’t find alien anymore. A lot of Hollywood films are remakes of European films anyway, so the styles are really beginning to be mixed up. There’s very few Hollywood films that have used elements of Bollywood, so it’s quite a new thing and I think people will find it really entertaining.
How do you expect US and UK audiences to receive the film and its typical Brit style comedy?
I honestly think both US and UK audiences are going to warm to the film. The humour is very accessible and lets face it Brit style comedy has done rather well across the world over the last few years: ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ ‘Notting Hill’,‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, etc
Do you think the Guru will act as a springboard for Bollywood style film in global mainstream cinema?
I’m not sure that ‘The Guru’ will act as a springboard but it will certainly remind people that there does exist the option of trying new things and even mixing in a Bollywood element. Bollywood is much bigger than Hollywood, more films are produced in India every year probably than Hollywood and Europe combined. Betcha didn’t know that!!
If so, do you think the genre’s fundamental elements may be in danger of being misinterpreted?
I don’t think that Bollywoods’ fundamental elements could be in danger because they are too numerous. There has always been a market for traditional Bollywood films around the world and that’s been the case for the last 50 years, so I don’t think that it could ever be under any kind of threat. Similarly the fantasy elements of Hong Kong films hasn’t fundamentally changed, it’s just that some directors in the west adapt it better than others.
Bollywood has infiltrated mainstream pop culture in the UK this summer, what do you think has triggered this phenomenon?
I have triggered it completely on my own.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I am currently in the stage play ‘Art’ in London’s fashionable west end til mid September, I start filming the next series of ‘The Kumars at Number 42’ in November, and writing several movie ideas and I start my keep fit routine tomorrow (I’m telling you ‘cos I need to tell someone every day!)