Colonial drama ‘Indian Summers’ heats up British TV screens

Replete with power plays and high society scandal, ‘Indian Summers’ premiered on television this weekend

Nabila Pathan

Published: Updated:

Following a month of trailers and billboards in city centers, costing around £14 million ($22 million) to create, the highly anticipated arrival of a new ten part drama series called “Indian Summers” premiered on British television this weekend.

Widely reported as one of the most expensive British television drama series to be created by Channel 4, its first episode aired on Sunday night lasting 90 minutes and served more as an introductory episode to the vast cast of characters.

Set in the Himalayan hill station of Simla in 1932, considered to be the “summer capital” where the British Raj ruling elite often decamped to every summer to escape the heat, “Indian Summers” is a series of plots woven round a web of class, caste, racial, religious and sexual tensions; moving towards a political reality that will eventually see the creation of a new nation and the demise of an empire.

Whether it's the soon to be Viceroy and his mysterious sister played by Jemima West or the Indian clerk (Nikesh Patel) at odds with his revolutionary sister (Ayesha Kala) whilst heartbroken at not being able to marry outside of his Parsi community, the interconnected story plots run parallel to each other.

Conflicted relations

The Anglo-Asian cast effectively bring the conflicted relations and discords to life. Bollywood veterans like Roshan Seth and Lillete Dubey are some of the names that join the British lineup of actors.

At the heart of hill station Simla’s society is widowed 60-year-old Cynthia, played by renowned British actor Julie Walters. As the owner of the Royal Club, where much of the high drama unfolds, her character has been described as a force to be reckoned with.

According to Walters, the script for the drama has not detracted from the essence of the political reality:

“It isn’t romanticized and it isn’t nostalgic,” she told The Express. “There’s a real edgy, gritty feeling to it and I’d never seen that done before. I think when this period has been portrayed in the past it hasn’t been that balanced. This corrects that.”
Not since the 1980s has colonial India been the setting for a British prime time television drama. Set in 1930s India, when British rule was nearly coming to an end, it continues in the footsteps of other dramas like “A Jewel in the Crown” that recount that time in history.

Widening the net

But unlike dramas that have in the past focused on British Indian control, “Indian Summers” extends the focus beyond the aristocracy and sheds light also on Indian civilians in charge of running the day to day administration of the empire.

In an interview with The Independent, Paul Rutman, the writer and creator of the drama series explains how he hopes audiences “will love the characters and have a different sense of the roles we’ve played in some of the crises and sectarian violence we see today.

“Politicians in the UK have this anxiety about our place on the world stage, this feeling that we’re a smaller nation than we once were. Perhaps we can be smaller and wiser now.”

Whilst the drama has been shot on the tropical island of Penang in Malaysia, the producers of the lavish periodic drama have had no expenses spared in putting together sets that resemble the beauty of Simla.

“Indian Summers” promises suspense and plenty of scandal as historical facts underpin the unfolding drama. The series showcases the real-life dichotomy of the then 1932 India, where desire for independence is met with brute opposition from the colonial rulers.

According to television critic Gabriel Tate writing for The Independent, “Indian Summers is a very Channel 4 costume drama: a fresh spin on a familiar theme, surreptitiously subversive and giving voice to often ignored minorities. If all goes to plan, there will be four return visits, each focused on a different summer on the road to partition in 1947.”

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