| Dark Tale: Sacha Dhawan as Neville Landless
Solving The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Another week, another Dickens drama. There are very few Asian characters in British period dramas. So the casting of an Indian origin actor, Sacha Dhawan, 25, in a starring role in BBC TVs adaptation last week of the final Dickens novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, is something of a breakthrough.
Sacha plays Neville Landless, a young man newly arrived from Ceylon with his twin sister, Helena, in the English cathedral town of Cloisterham where this dark Dickens tale of murder and mystery is set.
I dont think its been done before, so to be part of that was really exciting, says Sacha, who was born in Bramhall, Greater Manchester, to Indian parents.
He attended Thomas Aquinas College, a Roman Catholic school in nearby Stockport, and trained at the Laine-Johnson School of Acting in Manchester. He has travelled all over the world, playing Akhtar in Alan Bennetts play, The History Boys, about a group of grammar school youths who apply to Oxbridge. He also appeared in the 2006 film version.
Sacha has a big role as Manmeet in NBCs Outsourced, an American comedy series set in a Mumbai call centre.
I spend half the year now in Los Angeles and half here (in the UK) and my family were very proud when I got the role in Drood, he adds. Its a bit of a TV first and a character with real substance who creates a lot of mystery.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood tells of an opium-addicted choirmaster, John Jasper, who plots to murder his nephew, Edwin Drood, because he lusts after the latters 17-year-old fiancée, Rosa Budd. When Edwin goes missing, Neville, who has been involved in a fight with him, is blamed for his presumed murder.
Dickens died on June 9, 1870, with the novel only half written and no clues as to how he intended to complete the story. For the purposes of the BBCs two-part adaptation, the novel has been completed by crime writer Gwyneth Hughes who admits: Its been one of the greatest challenges of my writing life and a labour of love.
The truth, as it emerges in her version, is that when Edwin Droods father was based in Ceylon, he fathered Neville and Helena by a local woman.
Drood director Diarmuid Lawrence says: Sacha and Amber were made to be cast in the only two Asian roles in the whole of Dickens. I cant believe how pleased they were when they got the parts.
| Rile point: (From left) James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond outside 10, Downing Street
Even before the Indian High Commission had complained to the BBC about Jeremy Clarksons tasteless Top Gear special in India, I made a point of watching the programme and was shocked to find I wasnt shocked.
According to the Daily Mail, Clarkson, who owns 30 per cent of his company, Bedder 6, earned £2.14 million from the company. This is over and above his estimated £1 million salary from the BBC.
There seems little point in complaining to the BBC, which is probably content to see Clarkson go on doing what he does best — rile foreign embassies. As the Mail points out, the corporations commercial arm BBC Worldwide agreed to enter a partnership with him... It owns just over 50 per cent of the company.
London really is the capital of Greater India. Here, we get to see the golden oldies of Hindi cinema on a big screen more often than in India.
|The show goes on: Raj Kapoor in Shree 420
After a tour of Canada and the US, eight Raj Kapoor films are to be shown by the BFI (British Film Institute) South Bank next month.
The films, newly restored 35mm prints, are Aag, Barsaat, Awara, Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai, Boot Polish, Shree 420, Mera Naam Joker and Bobby.
There will also be a lecture by Rachel Dwyer, professor of Indian culture and cinema at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and a four-day course entitled Super Tramp Hindustani-Style led by programmer Behroze Gandhy.
A useful addition would be a talk by Srichand Hinduja, who really knew Raj Kapoor as a personal friend, took him to Teheran for the premiere of Shree 420 and named his parent company in the UK, Sangam, after the 1964 movie.
Its a sobering thought that 50 years from now, the BFI will be showcasing the best of Hindi cinema with films such as Delhi Belly. Perhaps this inspired Jeremy Clarkson.
Amid all the fuss about memogate and whether the army will take over in Pakistan, the news that Debenhams will open a 27,000 sqft department store in Karachi hasnt got the attention it deserves.
|Power Women: Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (left) with Hina Rabbani Khar
This will be Pakistans first international department store. According to the British deputy high commissioner Francis Campbell, Debenhams will be joining other British brands in Pakistan such as Next, Mothercare, Early Learning Centre, Accessorize and Monsoon in targeting the countrys emerging urban and middle classes.
Britain will hope the army does not take over. It cant be unfriendly to the Burmese military while doing business with the Pakistani generals.
The UK wants to see Pakistan become more prosperous, says Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the chairman of the Conservative Party who has been visiting Pakistan with Lord Green, UK minister of state for trade and investment.
Baroness Warsi, who is of Pakistani origin herself and is the first Muslim to be a full member of the Cabinet, is a frequent visitor to Pakistan. She has had a number of meetings in Pakistan, including one with Hina Rabbani Khar.
This is not meant to be unkind but Pakistans fashion conscious foreign minister seems the ideal person to cut the inaugural ribbon at Debenhams. One hopes Debenhams takes care to stock Hermès Birkin bags.
Despite a long conversation with Swraj Paul over the weekend, I failed to convince his Lordship that there should be a movie about Indira Gandhi, now that The Iron Lady, with Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, has been well received by audiences.
Though moving, I found it to be as much about dementia, from which Lady Thatcher is suffering, as it is about how she changed British politics.
Swraj feels a film about Mrs Gandhi would stir up unnecessary controversy.
He relates an entertaining anecdote about Tory grandee Harold MacMillan returning from a trip to India, apparently impressed with Mrs Gandhis state of emergency.
Asked by Heathrow customs if he had Anything to declare?, Supermac mumbled gruffly in an upper-class way: Id like to declare an emergency.
British theatre director Iqbal Khan tells me he wants a top Bollywood actor for the role of Benedick as part of the cast of Much Ado About Nothing which he is to direct for the Royal Shakespeare Company this summer.
The play, which will be transposed to an Indian setting, has Meera Syal as Beatrice. After opening in Stratford-upon-Avon, the production hopes to move to Londons West End.
If SRK played his cards right, I would urge Iqbal to consider him for the role. Shah Rukh thought he was too big when first offered the part of the quizmaster in Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle. It went instead to Anil Kapoor. The rest, as Anil Kapoor gloats, is history.