The Anglo-Indian TV star Sanjeev Bhaskar brings his trademark humour and insight to a collection of journeys across his family's ancestral homeland.
TV show explores India's coming of age
Getting under the skin of the world's latest superpower is no easy feat, but the British actor, comedian and writer Sanjeev Bhaskar jets off to India to give it a try in this four-part travelogue series which makes its UAE television premiere this week.
India with Sanjeev Bhaskar burrows into the chaos and contradictions of a nation where the world's finest software engineers live alongside beggars, and high-tech call centres dot the shanty towns and crumbling temples.
"(Even) in this day and age of multichannel TV and the internet, there's nothing that replicates actually going somewhere, particularly with India. I hadn't seen a programme where anybody of Indian origin had actually gone around to have a look at it," says the presenter, born and raised in Britain with an Indian heritage, and an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) since 2005. He is best known for the award-winning BBC comedy series Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No 42.
"I wanted to show 21st-century India. There are kinds of buzzwords when people talk about India. They'll think about poverty. And they'll think about elephants and tigers or the Himalayas. I just wanted to suggest - and show - that 21st-century India may not be the sum of all the images they have in their head."
Once revered as an almost magical land of untold riches and home to the treasured Taj Mahal, India has, since its independence, witnessed more change than any other nation on Earth. Bhaskar often steps off the tourist trail, beyond the Bollywood kitsch and the garish colours, to reveal a country now coming of age.
While Bhaskar's trademark humour may grate on those viewers who would prefer the proceedings be more about India and less about his insights, he nevertheless proves a worthy lens to focus his Indian experiences into the heart and mind.
Bhaskar's travelogue also takes an intensely personal turn when he retraces his father's journey from Pakistan to New Delhi in 1947.
With almost as many English speakers as the US and the usual global fast-food chains, parts of India can feel very familiar, adds Bhaskar, but "take half a step to the left or right and you can have the full Indian experience. It'll make you feel you've been transplanted to another world and another time. And I think, in that sense, it's fantastic."
* India with Sanjeev Bhaskar is on at 10.55pm on Wednesday (Part 1) and 9pm on Thursday (Part 2) on BBC Entertainment.
Highlights from Sanjeev Bhaskar's travelogue:
1. Mumbai Dreams
The journey begins in Mumbai, where Bhaskar uncovers an entrepreneurial spirit in India's glamorous financial capital, home to both the country's wealthiest citizens and the second largest slum in Asia. After his cameo appearance in a soap opera, he heads south to Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, where software engineers solve the world's IT problems. Further south, on the stunning backwaters of Kerala, he finds progress comes with a price.
2. The Longest Road
In a poignant journey to find his ancestral home, Bhaskar traces India's Grand Trunk Road high into the mountains and beyond, into Pakistan. His first trek across the border makes for a fun, and often surreal, road trip. He retraces the journey his family made in 1947, when they, and millions of others, were displaced from their homes following the Partition of India.
3. Mystic River
In Calcutta, he searches for the spiritual soul of India in the communities alongside the fabled River Ganges. Awash in colour during Diwali, the festival of light, Bhaskar absorbs the city, once the capital of the Raj, in all its festive glory with fireworks as well as displays of worship.
4. A Camel Called Sanjeev
In Rajasthan, Bhaskar wonders aloud whether India can keep up with the modern world. In Jodhpur, he joins the Maharaja at a party to muse on the future of modern royals. The journey continues into deepest Rajasthan as Bhaskar encounters a group of camels, some on a more intimate level than expected. At the birthplace of Gandhi, he considers how Hindus and Muslims live alongside each other.
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