Nikesh Patel on his new show Indian Summers
The British-Indian actor's new Raj-era TV drama might just dethrone Downton Abbey
Every summer, power-holders in the British Raj shifted base to the more merciful temperatures of Shimla. “A few hundred civil servants ran the vast subcontinent from there, while their families indulged in frivolity,” says Nikesh Patel, who stars alongside an impressive emsemble (Lillete Dubey and Roshan Seth included) in Indian Summers, a 10-part series which airs on Channel 4 this month. The 29-year-old actor plays Aafrin Dalal, a junior clerk in the Viceroy’s office who’s drawn into a complex web of personal and political conflicts (and catches the fancy of a senior civil servant’s sister) after an assassination attempt at the Royal Club of Shimla in 1932. “The Indians had just begun to realise that self-rule could be achieved in their lifetime,” says Patel, “But nobody knew the way forward; some intentions were earnest while others were murky and self-serving.”
The show, which chronicles the wane of the British Empire, has already earned comparisons to Downton Abbey for its many similarities — both ensemble period dramas with cinematic storytelling, respectable production values and a formidable female lead; Julie Walters (Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter series) plays the shrewd doyenne of the Royal Club and rivals Abbey’s Golden Globe-winning Maggie Smith. Patel’s only grouse with the show? Missing out on Shimla’s nippy air; the show was shot entirely in muggy Penang, Malaysia.
Till audiences decide the fate of a second season of Indian Summers, the theatre loyalist will essay three contrasting roles in Man: Three Plays By Tennesse Williams. “We actors like to think we can do everything, so it’s nice to stretch one’s muscles.”
Indian Summers premieres February 15
Photograph: Shambhala Wolfhaart