Last updateFri, 13 Mar 2015 4pm

#Shimla: Channel 4 drama 'Indian Summers' could well be the new Downton

Channel 4's new drama series Indian Summers begins tonight.

The program is set in 1932 Shimla, the Hill Station set among the foothills of the Himalayas.  The picturesque town with its cool climate was the favourite destination for India's British rulers who wanted to escape the oppressive heat in cities like Delhi and Kolkata. 

It is a time of great upheaval for both India and Britain. 

The Indian independence movement was fast gaining traction whilst a general election in Germany began laying the groundwork for Hitler's eventual destruction of Europe.

As the political machinations continued in Delhi, London and Kolkata, the wonderful climate and sultry surrounds in Shimla lent themselves to creating even greater intrigues among the memsahibs, army officers and their Indian counterparts.

Channel 4 describes those intrigues as a "tangled web of passions, rivalries and clashes".

Some reviewers have already compared it to ITV's magnificent 'Downtown Abbey' and 'Indian Summers' appears to match that program at least in terms of scale and production values.

The 10-part series cost a staggering £14 million - a gargantuan amount for a British TV series.  The money has been well spent - despite Malaysia standing in for Shimla, the cinematography is quite superb with the rich colours perfectly capturing the vibrancy of India.

The program is part of Channel 4's effort to create programming that appeal to Britain's diverse population and there's nothing like a bit of shared history to get British Asian audiences hooked - take note 'Desi Rascals' producers.

Backing up the content is a stellar cast, including the iconic Julie Walters, Lilette Dubey and British Asian stars like Hasina Haque, Ash Nair, Indi Nadarajah and Nikesh Patel.

Walters plays Cynthia Coffin, owner of the Royal Shimla Club, the centre of the town's social life.  Cynthia, for all her East London charm, is a bit of a schemer.  The wider story centres around three sets of siblings - high-ranking expats Ralph and Alice Whelan (played by Henry Lloyd-Hughes and Jemima West); young Parsi Indians Aafrin and Sooni Dalal (played by Nikesh Patel and Aysha Kala); and American outsiders Madeleine and Eugene Mathers (played by Olivia Grant and Edward Hogg).

Whilst such memorable programs as 'The Jewel in the Crown' have previously shed light on the British colonial presence in India, Indian Summers focuses on the ordinary English and Indian bureaucrats that made the colonial machinery tick and, perhaps more importantly, the interaction between the colonizers and the natives.

The programme's creator Paul Rutman said: "Empire is still something that many on the right are quietly proud of, but a source of deep shame and self-castigation from the left.  With Indian Summers, I wanted to ride those contradictions. There's a generation that's dying out now for whom empire was a huge part of their lives, so I wanted to ask the question: what did we think we were doing out there?"

Ruttman and his team are already eyeing up another four seasons - stretching to the Partition in 1947 - if the program proves popular.

Catch the first episode on 15 February at 9 pm.




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