Indian Summers, Episode 1, Authenticity, You are Doing It Wrong
Indian Summers, currently airing on Masterpiece Theater is more sudsy than substantial. The show is set in the waning days of the British Empire in the town of Simla, the summer capital of British India. Its more Downton Abbey than Wolf Hall, with the Indians playing the part of the downstairs crew. If like Downton, this show turns out to be a love letter to the days of yore, extolling the virtues of the Empire, when the benevolent British brought civilization to the heathens and the coolies knew their place, I am going to barf.
The show’s acquaintance with reality is passing at best, in just the first episode we saw banana trees in Simla. Even more egregious; someone who is barely thirty and looks like he is just out of college is supposedly under serious consideration for being India’s next Viceroy. All he needs is a wife. Not bloody likely, as a Brit might say. Being the Viceroy of India was a plum assignment and usually went to someone with either a distinguished military and/or diplomatic career and the right pedigree. Linlithgow who became the Viceroy in 1935 was in his late 40s when appointed and had served in the army as a Colonel during the First World War. Even the train that takes the sahibs up the hills was all wrong. The train to Simla is a narrow gauge train, and looks nothing like the spacious broad gauge train in the show.
Much of the action takes place at the Royal Simla club, where no dogs or Indians are allowed. Nothing much happens except an attempted assassination that goes awry, we are also introduced to the cast of characters. There is Ralph Whelan, the above mentioned private secretary in running for the Viceroy and his pretty sister, Missionary Dougie and his catty wife, a rich American and his sister (Mathers) who is trying to snag a husband and Cynthia Coffin, an army widow and the scheming hostess of the Royal Simla Club, who is a cross between Downton’s O’Brien and the Dowager Countess, round out the main British characters. Aafrin Dalal, a Parsi clerk who takes the bullet meant for Whelan, his family, including a freedom fighting sister and worry wart parents, Dalal’s crazy Hindu love interest, Sita, and Dougie’s pretty assistant Leena round out the non-servant contingent of the Indian cast.
Dalals are supposed to be Parsis, problem is that neither of the younger Dalals makes for a convincing Parsi, nor are the Mathers believable as Americans. In fact most of the younger cast simply seem to be twenty first century Brits playing dress-up. BTW Dalal being a member of the Indian Civil Service or ICS seems far fetched too. Before he got himself shot, Afrin Dalal was treated like an errant school boy by Whelan. The Indian Civil Service practically ran India during the British days just like its successor, the Indian Administrative Service does right now. Selection process was and is extremely competitive. There were about a thousand ICS officers at the time of Indian Independence and only about a third were Indian. ICS officers and their current counterparts, IAS officers also get perks such as government paid accommodation and domestic help. I very much doubt that an ICS officer, even an Indian one would be treated like a peon.The pooja that the would be assassin performs was very Indiana Jones and the Temple Doom like, complete with an idol of Kali. No monkey brains were eaten though.
The part about British only clubs where no Indians are allowed as guests or members, was spot on. There were many such clubs where the colonial masters liked to retreat far from the riff raff they had to rule. Some of these exclusive clubs exist even to this date, as if frozen in time. Although, instead of expat British you will find rich and famous Indians there instead. The British disdain for Indian life and dignity is pretty much on the money too, as their genocide by starvation policies attest.
What intrigued me was Ralph Whelan’s divided loyalties, his Indian ways when he thinks no one is watching, he likes to eat with his fingers sitting cross-legged on the floor. He mentioned to his sister that the only way they could get him to leave India was by killing him. Apart from Ralph Whelan all the other characters seemed like cardboard cut outs. I will probably give the show one more chance and watch the next episode, what about you?
Simla (now known as Shimla) in winter
Grade : B-