Goodness Gracious! British television is Asianised
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Goodness Gracious! British television is Asianised

With a huge captive audience, Asian-oriented serials are money-spinners for television channels, reports Vijay Dutt.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2003 12:28 IST

The success of the nearly three million Asian community in Britain is being reflected in the increasing focus in television programme on its mindset, attitudes andlifestyle.There is a special attention on the second and third generation, whose blending of the Asian and British cultures has had telling impact on the society as a whole.

 Second Generation

BBC had heralded the drive to attract Asian viewers way back in mid-60s when it dawned on the media that Asians had come to stay and were becoming vibrantly visible. Now all networks, notably Channel 4, are having special transmissions of Indian films and serials.

Apart from regularly showing hit Bollywood movies, Channel 4 just concluded a two-episode serial, Second Generation, with Om Puri, Anupam Kher and Parminder Nagra of Bend It Like Beckham fame, that raised its viewership ratings. The serial has given rise to some introspection by the Indian community because it shows how the second generation teenagers are different from their heritage but when in crisis how they seek peace in India and its values.

At the turn of the century, it was the sparkling and funny Goodness Gracious Me, the BBC TV serial with Indian characters, that became a flagship for British Asian comedy. The serial took its name, with the irony that is the hallmark of the show, from the Peter Seller's cod-Indian novelty hit of 1960.

Goodness Gracious me

A mega success, it was in a way a triumphant culmination of efforts by the British radio and television since mid-60s to focus on the community that had integrated into the social milieu of the country and become an important and lucrative segment.

Put together by Anil Gupta for BBC, the aim through the serial was to circumvent the ingrained impression that an ethnic-minority performance team would not be able to deliver a mainstream hit, which it did. It topped the charts - a rare feat for an Asian-oriented serial with an all Asian cast.

The earlier effort in the 1980s with the Tandoori Nights, starring Saeed Jaffrey, had failed to make much impact in UK, although it did attract viewers in India.

Goodness Gracious Me hit the jackpot and drew even the discerning British viewers who for the first time realised that Asians were now so confident and successful that they could afford to laugh at their own expense. Its main actors, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal,shot overnight into stardom, fame and riches. Bhaskar has now broken into the big league and Syal has become a film producer and honoured with OBE.

Asians are now the most lucrative target group for any and all commercial ventures. The broadsheets and television networks, in particular, have increased their effort to create a niche for themselves in the Asian households.

Kumar's at No 42

BBC followed up its successful

Goodness Gracious Me


Kumar's at Number


, a comedy serial combining a chat show with a sitcom, created by Sanjeev Bhaskar and starring Meera Syal. It was aired from 2001. The story revolves round Mr and Mrs Kumar, who have built a studio for their 30-something son Sanjeev at the back of their Wembley house where a garden used to be. From there the son hosts a chat show with his parents and man-mad granny, played by Syal, chipping in with questions of their own.

The guests invited for the show have included major British film and television stars, politicians, broadcasters and pop singers. However, in comparison to

Goodness Gracious Me

the serial failed to make many Indians laugh. Now, it has been sold to US network NBC in a £6 million deal.

BBC is now touting Canterbury Tales featuring a conniving Asian family. It promises a very encouraging autumn for Asian actors. The episode was recently unveiled. In the episode, Om Puri plays the lead role along with Nitin Ganatra and Indira Verma.

The Sea Captain's Tale

The adaptation of the

Sea Captain's Tale

is set in Gravesend where Jeetendra (Om Puri) is a wealthy money-lender. The tale is, indeed, a story of British Asians, but it is "a noir, a tale of sex and money and simmering with violence," says its director.

Channel 4 has injected the lure of Bollywood in its forthcoming Bollywood Princess. It will focus on finding the first British-born female, an unknown, to win a part in a major Mumbai movie. Through that Channel 4 will scour the country for a young Asian woman to win this opportunity of a lifetime. Following the selection, six girls will be sent to Mumbai to learn the art of Bollywood.

The Asian-oriented serials have become the trend, as they have a massive captive audience and are a major source of advertisement from both Asian and British businesses. In Second Generation, the sponsors were Renault makers and there were several ad intermissions, each lasting about three minutes.

BBC has a 24-hour station in Leicester for Asians and all major channels even have commissioning editors for Asian programmes.

First Published: Dec 25, 2003 21:33 IST