BRITAINS FAVOURITE ASIAN FAMILY RETURN WITH A NEW SERIES
With the announcement of The Kumars at Number 42 returning to television, The Asian Today’s Hifzha Shaheen sat down with Asian comedy queen Meera Syal to talk about what lies ahead in the programme and any future endeavours.
1. How does it feel to be back on the set of The Kumars?
It’s great! It’s great to have the old granny slippers back on. No, its one of the few roles that I can play where I don’t have to worry about looking older or looking glamorous. It’s fantastic. I can rock out looking really bad. It’s such as relaxing part. But, it just feels like we’ve never been away really. It’s like putting on a really old comfortable pair of slippers. It’s really nice to be back.
2. Is it only because of the slippers?
It’s both the slippers and being back with the gang. We just have so much fun doing it. We meet loads of people. We improvise, which makes the show really different and special. Guests seem to have fun on it; it’s quite a joyful experience. Its one of those shows where at the end, you just seem to come out very happy because you’ve had a good time and the guests have had a good time.
3. What’s changed from the original series?
Well, what we didn’t want to do was repeat what we did last time because I don’t think there was any point in bringing something back if you’re just going to do the same; we wanted to choose different elements. So, we have a new character who is our landlady and she’s called Hawney. The Kumars have lost all their money; dad’s warehouse has burnt down in a mysterious fire and they’ve been hit by the recession so they don’t live in a big house in Wembley anymore. Instead they live in a tiny flat in Hounslow above a newsagent. So, their circumstances have changed a lot because we wanted to reflect what has been going on in the country as well. And now their doing the show from their rented accommodation, and the landlady, one of her roles is that if they don’t let her join in then she puts the rent up, so she’s on the sofa as well.
4. How does the family deal with that change?
It’s good. It’s given us a new dynamic. The guests have come in to a smaller place and you’ve got this thing between Ummi and Hawney because she doesn’t want her to be there. You know there’s a different feel to it. But it’s actually made it a lot of fun because Harvey Preeti, who plays Hawney, is really good at improvising and she’s brought a lot of laugh and fun with the character and she’s such a great and big character as well. She’s sort of this aspiring actress as well who’s only ever played corpses, (laughs) yeah she’s really good at playing dead bodies! She’s never actually done a proper part and only done something’s in Punjabi soaps so she thinks she’s this great actress. So every guest that comes on and talks about their roles she says, “I COULD BE IN THAT, I COULD BE IN THAT! DO YOU WANT MY CV?” She’s a really funny character, it’s brought some really new things to the family and it’s very dynamic. But all the things that people loved about the programme are still there. We’re still a Punjabi family. We still give the guests ladoo, we still ask questions that only families would ask. We’re just bringing a different spring in the step with it.
5. How do you deal with improvising?
We never meet the guests before hand so when they walk in to the house it really is a complete surprise for all of them, and they don’t know what they’re going to be asked. We have a set of questions, but to be honest we never know how they are going to answer them and we have to go with the answers. Even though some of it is scripted, a lot of it is isn’t, we just stay in character.
6. How does the family feel about moving from Wembley to Hounslow?
Well you know the way Indians do, you make the best of it, chalo, that’s it, and life is like that. Dad has all these big plans. He plans to ride the recession, make some money and be back on top again. He’s got all these business schemes. Sanjeev’s desperate for this show to work on Sky because if this is a success maybe this could put the family back on top again. Ummi is just glad to get through the next day, everyday she wakes up she thinks it’s her last day so everyday is a bonus. We’ve still got an optimistic front like most people you always go through the bad times but you think things can only get better. And because we’ve got guests, we’re not going to let the guests know that even though the rents due, they don’t have to know, the show still goes on.
7. The show has been such a success, what has been the appeal?
People love it because it’s a family. Its not like going on other shows where it’s one bloke asking all the questions. For a start you’ve got two women in the room and women ask very different types of questions. But most importantly it’s a family. Other shows wouldn’t ask the guest how much money he earns which is kinda what the family does. Ummi is kinda cheekier and she gets a way with asking the guests questions that the usual chat show host wouldn’t. You see a different side to the guests but also because it’s a family home they get their ladoo and their tea and are given the real Indian hospitality. The guests relax and go with it and have a good time and enjoy the improvisation. One of the things different is that Ummi has joined this social group called the Silver Bats and we film with a real Punjabi ladies group in Southall and every week they do a quiz with the guests and that is proven to be the highlight. There are all kinds of nice new quirky things in it.
8. How do you intend to capture the intention of younger viewers?
I think the fact that it’s on Sky means we will get a new audience and plus we will get a much more international based audience. A lot has changed in the last 7 years so it will help with social media and once word gets out people will hear about it.
9. How close is this a representation of a typical British Asian family?
We try and keep it as authentic as possible like speaking Punjabi in it and the way it’s decorated. But you can’t say that it’s the average Indian family, that’s like saying Citizen Khan is like the average Muslim family. I mean, I don’t know what average is. It’s a comedy family but it’s not necessarily representative but it’s what a family can be. It has a very Punjabi feel to it.
10. Can you reveal any names that are set to appear on the show?
Yeah, we have Hugh Jackman, James Cordon, Daniel Radcliffe, Twiggy, Elisabeth McGoven, Ray Winstone, Emelia Fox. Its going to be fantastic, the calibre of guests we’ve managed to get on.
11. Is there a chance that Goodness Gracious Me will be returning?
There are discussions going on. The main problem is getting everyone free at the same time. Its not that there isn’t any interest, it’s just about finding a slot in the year where everyone is free. Hopefully, who knows, maybe next year we could all coordinate our diaries.
12. One of the most memorable moments was the musical video you did with Gareth Gates; are there any other musical endeavours we should look out for?
No that was a one off. Although we do have Ash King on the show who sings a song called “Auntie Ji”.