‘The Kumars’… played on five continents, and even when I came up with the idea, I was slightly surprised that no one else had.
Alan Alda and his wife Arlene are two of the most life-affirming people I’ve ever met. He espoused equal rights for women while producing, writing, acting in and directing ‘M*A*S*H’; he used to commute between the set and home because he didn’t want to disrupt his kids’ schooling.
Because of my Asian-ness, I couldn’t be anonymous – what I said, what I ate, what I did at the weekend were startlingly different to what everyone else did. I was also a performer, quick and chameleon-like, good at accents, so that made me stand out.
Both my parents were migrant workers who came to the U.K. in the Fifties to better themselves. The culture I grew up in was to work hard, save hard and to look after your family.
Casting me as King Arthur was quite bold of ‘Spamalot’s producers, although it has been historically proved Arthur was Asian, and that Sunday trading started with Asians in 11th-century Britain.
During an early performance of ‘Spamalot,’ I left my regal gloves in the fridge to cool down and didn’t remember them until I was on stage. They needed to be thawed overnight.
Good diet and exercise are key, but abject fear has its own rewards. And arriving on the first day for rehearsals for ‘Spamalot’ and seeing all these much younger, much fitter people, who I was going to be on stage with, became a catalyst for cutting out the more unhealthy aspects of my life.
Good drama, challenging drama – and comedy for that matter – has a place in the daytime schedule.
I am officially a doctor, and believe it or not, I can save lives and tune certain instruments and can beat peasants with a stick.
I have issues with inheritance tax, particularly coming from a migrant family. My dad has worked incredibly hard all his life, so it seems odd to me that someone who has gone through that experience and has managed to save then gets taxed for dying.
I love team sports – they give me something to focus on rather than the fact that I can’t breathe or my muscles are aching.
I make terrible jokes every time I go into a hospital. I think it’s a defence mechanism.
I might do a fitness video. Actually, more of a fatness video.
I sense a kind of fear of writing black or Asian characters from non-ethnic writers, who perhaps feel that they don’t know the culture and therefore can’t write about it. By and large, if there’s an Asian character, I might get a call. But if the character is called ‘Philip,’ the chances are I won’t.
I started working myself from about 14, really, so I wasn’t a burden on my family. I did a paper round and a milk round. When I was 15 or 16, I worked in a supermarket on Saturdays stacking shelves, and then every summer I temped, right through university until my working days started.
I think family, friends and a sense of community give you greater happiness than money. But, of course, one has to have a minimum on which to live. The joy I get from sitting around and having a laugh is immeasurable – much greater than anything that I have ever bought.
I was far too embarrassed to share the experience of Indian food at school. As a kid, you’re desperate to fit in, to assimilate in some way, and everything about me stood out.
I was greatly influenced by ‘The Goons’ and ‘Monty Python’ reconstituting what comedy was – it could come from a funny word, not just a set up and a pay-off. I liked the zaniness; they were satirical, slightly saucy and very literary in their references.
I was the first member of my family to cross into Pakistan and find his ancestral village.
I went to a psychotherapist for a year and a bit, and it was fantastic. I went in with a very clear question: I couldn’t work out why I behaved in a certain way in certain situations, and I got that answered.
I’m sure I went through a stage when I resented being Indian because in every other manner, in terms of cultural reference points and vocabulary and all the rest of it, I was way ahead of everybody else – so the one thing that set me back was being Indian. And I couldn’t do anything about it.
I’ve always felt I had to prove myself, and now it has become second nature. When I first went to university, I took lodgings with a woman who said, ‘What are the chances of you staining my pans?’ I said, ‘I don’t think I understand the question…’ and she said, ‘When you cook your curries.’
I’ve always saved. I believe in keeping money back for a rainy day and living within my means. I don’t buy expensive clothes; I have a 10-year-old car I’m hoping to replace when a big job comes in. I suppose when we do go on family holidays, I am quite happy to spend when we are there.
If I go anywhere where there are people who vaguely look like me, there is always that feeling of, ‘Actually I do look quite similar to everyone else.’ At moments like that, I become very, very British. My accent gets more clipped, and I stride around as if I’ve got an empire.
It always interested me that ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ and ‘The Kumars,’ when shown around the world, were referred to as British comedy. It was only here that they were referred to as Asian comedy, even though I always felt it was very British in its humour and structure.
It is better to give blood but receive cash than the other way around.
Michael Bates was a very funny actor; he’d served in India, could speak Urdu, and had great comic timing.
My father came to England from India in 1957, and my mum came in 1960.
My head is in India, yet my body remains in Britain. I straddle the world like a colossus. Like a 5ft. 7in. colossus.
My mother had been an English teacher in India before she came to the U.K., and she taught me to read early on – not only in English, but in Hindi, too. My teachers didn’t like the fact that I was reading more quickly than they were teaching, and as a consequence, I would sometimes get bored in class.
My mother says I was two and a half when I first mentioned I wanted to be an actor. My father said, ‘The word is pronounced ‘Doctor!’
My mum thought my TV and film addiction was laziness. If you’re an immigrant, you know you’ll never be an accepted part of society, but you hope your children will be, and you try to make them essential to the community in a practical way – being a doctor or a lawyer. Acting was beyond their comprehension.
On a radio drama, I’d like to feel that I had just as much chance of playing Mr. Darcy as anyone else because I can sound like him, yet many radio producers find it very difficult to extend their imaginations to employing anyone who’s non-white.
One of the benefits for me of starting late in this business is I realised that if acting was the only thing I could do, I would struggle, so I always wrote as well.
The worst moment in my life was when I was seven years old and I discovered that there was a thing such as racism. You don’t know you’re different until someone lets you know.
Theatre has always been better disposed to colourblind casting than telly or film. Given that most television is contemporary, and it reaches 56 million people, I am disappointed there still isn’t more representation.
There are occasions when I’ve had beef, but I generally tend to avoid it, as a nod towards my parents’ culture.
We lived above my father’s launderette. Both my parents ran the launderette, but my father was also a factory supervisor, and my mum worked part-time in an accounts office.
When we created ‘Goodness Gracious Me,’ it was quoting ‘Python’ and Woody Allen lines that really bonded the writers, and the ‘Spamalot’ material is so utterly, wonderfully surreal that it hasn’t dated.
With ‘Mumbai Calling,’ I was surprised it was ITV that went for it because it didn’t traditionally seem like the kind of programme they would make.