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15 sizzling dramas for lovers of Indian Summers

BY Mark Reynolds

1st Jan 2015 Film & TV

15 sizzling dramas for lovers of Indian Summers

The recent finale of Channel 4’s Indian Summers has left us pining for more Eastern-inspired tales for the small and the silver screen. These Indian takeaways come with second helpings of wit and drama…

 Between the high peaks of Sir Richard Attenborough’s meticulous Gandhi (1982) and the base camp of Gerald Thomas’s irreverent Carry On Up the Khyber (1968) lie a treasure-trove of thoughtful, funny, dramatic and compassionate films and TV series exploring the crossovers, misunderstandings and meeting points between East and West. Here are some of our favourites.


The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Wes Anderson’s characteristic stylised whimsy takes to a new continent in this engaging story of three estranged brothers who seek reconciliation and enlightenment on a train ride across India. Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwarzman) haven’t spoken since they last met a year ago at their father’s funeral, and each of them brings along mental baggage that outweighs even their mountainous Louis Vuitton luggage.

Francis is further hampered by injuries from a motorcycle crash that may not have been purely accidental. The brothers’ deep-seated anxieties are played out against an indifferent if stunning backdrop, and a good deal of fun is had with their blind, fumbling obsessions.
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A Passage to India (1984)

David Lean’s glorious adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel stars Judy Davis and Peggy Ashcroft as the young Adela Quested and her would-be mother-in-law Mrs Moore, who sail together to India from England. It’s the 1920s, and the Indian independence movement is an increasingly belligerent threat to British rule. Adela’s fiancé Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers) is a provincial magistrate trying to keep a lid on the native unrest, but simmering tensions boil over when impoverished widower Aziz Ahmed (Victor Banerjee) is accused of the attempted rape of Adela. James Fox and Alex Guinness lead the supporting cast, the 77-year-old Ashcroft scooped the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and Golden Globe and a Best Actress BAFTA, and Maurice Jarre won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his sweeping musical score.
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The Jewel in the Crown (1984)

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A sumptuous Granada series for ITV, also starring Peggy Ashcroft, based on Paul Scott’s ‘Raj Quartet’ novels. The action begins in the 1940s with Britain at war and the days of the Raj numbered. Hari Kumar (Art Malik) is a British-educated Indian journalist who embarks on an affair with modern-minded Daphne Manners (Susan Wooldridge).

Ashcroft, Tim Piggott-Smith, Charles Dance and Geraldine James are pillars of the expat community facing up to troublesome question of identity, guilt and personal responsibility. The series won five BAFTAs including Best Series, Best Actor (Piggott-Smith) and Best Actress (Ashcroft) and stands the test of time as one of British television’s finest dramas.
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Indian Summers (2015–)

The first series of this provocative original Channel 4 drama opens in 1932 in Simla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where the British Raj rulers spend the summer months to escape the prickly heat. Julie Walters is fussy socialite-in-chief Cynthia Coffin, desperately keeping up appearances as the locals grow restless for home rule, and the idyll is further dented by the mysterious arrival of Jemima West’s single mum Alice Whelan. A second season in 2016 will pick up on events three years on, at which rate we’d reach series 6 before the British get the hint and withdraw.
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East is East (1999)

Linda Bassett and Om Puri star in Ayub Khan-Din’s lovingly detailed, anarchic comedy about a Pakistani-British mixed-race family growing up in 1970s Salford. Jahangir ‘George’ Khan (Puri) and his second wife Ella (Bassett) run the local fish & chip shop and have seven children with distinct identity issues.

Tensions escalate as George busies himself arranging marriages for or disciplining the kids, and regaling anyone who’ll listen with tales of woe from the old country (now at war with Bangladesh), while Ella slyly encourages each of their offspring to follow their individual passions. Archie Punjabi, Jimi Mistry, Chris Bisson and Jordan Routledge as the Khans’ parka-clad youngest lead the rebellion and raise the laughs.
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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

A warmhearted, star-laden comedy about British retirees starting a new life at an outrageously mis-sold seniors facility in Jaipur. Recently widowed Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) is downsizing after selling the marital home to cover her dead husband’s debts; bickering couple Douglas and Jean Ainslie (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) lost their savings investing in their daughter’s internet start-up; Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), in spite of deep-seated racial prejudices, has come to India for a cheaper hip operation; Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is a former high-court judge hoping to rediscover the India of his childhood; Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) is on the lookout for a new husband; and ageing lothario Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) is on a tragic mission to recapture his youth.

Energetic and well-meaning hotel manager Sonny (Dev Patel) just about holds things together as the oldies’ plans shift course.
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Monsoon Wedding (2001)

Mira Nair’s vibrant comedy tells the story of a chaotic and expensively arranged marriage in New Delhi which attracts family members – and their emotional baggage – from all corners of the world. Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Vasundhara Das and Shefali Shetty are the main players in the Verma family, while Vijay Raj and Tillotama Shome steal many a scene in a tantalising subplot in which wedding planner P.K. Dubey falls in love with the Vermas’ maid Alice.

An exuberant delight for all the senses, filled with music, colour, love, scandal, and not a little rain.
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The Lunchbox (2013)

This delicious romantic comedy hinges on an unheard-of mix-up by Mumbai’s famous dabbawallas; the deliverers of lunchtime tiffin boxes from homes and restaurants to the city’s office workers. Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a neglected young wife whose daily meals go unfinished and unremarked upon by her standoffish husband.

When her meals start being misdelivered to sorrowful widower Saajan (Irrfan Jhan), who is on the verge of retirement, the two begin exchanging letters and embark on an imagination-fuelled, unattainable but deeply felt love affair built on the foundations of fine food.
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The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal star in Lasse Hallström’s engaging comedy about an Indian family that moves to rural France and opens a curry house opposite a Michelin-starred fine dining establishment.

Madame Mallory (Mirren), the proprietor of Le Saule Pleureur, is outraged at the unsightly spicy invasion, and wars of minds and hearts ensue across cultures and generations as young chef Hassan (Dayal) takes a short step across the street in order to realise his full potential, much to the chagrin of his father (Puri).
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Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Danny Boyle’s crowd-pleasing comedy tells of teenage Mumbai slum-dweller Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) who wins Indian TV’s equivalent of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? and is promptly arrested under suspicion of cheating the programme-makers out of a fortune.

As his unlikely back story unfolds, we see how indelible life lessons led him to each of the answers. Luckily Irrfan Khan’s police inspector considers Jamal’s evidence “bizarrely plausible”, leaving our hero to scoop the cash and reunite with his lost love Latika (Freida Pinto).
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Bride & Prejudice (2004)

Jane Austen gets a Bollywood makeover in Gurinder Chadha’s lavish (and very silly) musical comedy. Kiwi Martin Henderson plays Will Darcy opposite Aishwarya Rai’s Lalita Bakshi, an Elizabeth Bennett equivalent with partialities and aversions set to 11.

Meticulously following each tic of the original plotting they despise each other, and mellow, and falter, and fall in love – all interspersed with song-and-dance routines that mash up disco with traditional Indian dance. It hardly counts as a plot spoiler to mention that it all ends in a double wedding with the happy couples riding spangly elephants down the streets of Amritsar.


Bend it Like Beckham (2002)

Gurinder Chadha is on more measured ground in this all-British comedy drama that launched the careers of Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra. Jesminder/’Jess’ Kaur Bhamra (Nagra) is the 18-year-old daughter of Punjabi Sikhs in West London who plays football in the park against her parents’ wishes and gets talent-spotted by the star of the local women’s team Juliette ‘Jules’ Paxton (Knightley).

Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays coach Joe, with whom both Jules and Jess dabble as love interest, and culture clashes, jealousies and parental interventions are all set up to be overcome before the ladies can win the league and fly with their dreams.
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The Indian Doctor (2010–13)

This BBC One daytime series stars Goodness Gracious Me’s Sanjeev Bhaskar and Coronation Street’s Ayesha Dharker as a doctor and his wife who move directly from New Delhi to a sleepy South Wales mining village in the 1960s. The casting signals the gently comic drama to come.

Dr Prem Sharma is earnest, committed, better educated and more cultured than anyone in the village – but above all he’s friendly and helpful, which wins him a grudging welcome. His wife Kamini, however, is unimpressed with her new surroundings and agitates for a move to London, which was never going to go down well in the Valleys.
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Once Upon a Time in Mumbai (2010)

Milan Luthria’s unlikely international hit traces the origins of today’s Mumbai underworld back to a 1970s smuggling ring. After a failed suicide attempt Assistant Commissioner Agnel Wilson (Randeep Hooda) tells the story of the villains he has been trailing for decades.

Wilson attempts to take down smuggler-in-chief Sultan Mirza (Ajay Devgan) through his liaisons with a leading Bollywood actress, then rising hoodlum Shoaib Khan (Emraan Hashmi) overthrows Sultan and the violence escalates.


The Namesake (2006)

Mira Nair’s rich and faithful adaptation of the Jhumpa Lahiri novel tells the story of a boy called Gogol, after the Ukranian author, growing up in New York as the son of first-generation immigrants from West Bengal. An idle, pot-smoking teen rejecting his parents’ Old Country customs, he grows to appreciate their traditional values on a summer trip to India, then studies architecture at Yale and re-adopts American ways of dating and chasing a career.

The courtship and marriage of Gogol’s parents Ashoke and Ashima (Irrfan Kahn and Tabu) is also tenderly drawn, and fans of the writer can spot Lahiri in a walk-on role as a family friend.
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