Nikesh Patel is a young British- Indian actor who has done, stage, television and a few film projects. In the comedy Jadoo — a humorous look at a family
feud and two rival Indian restaurants, Patel
played the brother of the lead character
Shalini (British-Sri Lankan actress Amara
Karan). Jadoo premiered at the Berlin
International Film Festival and was later
featured at a few Indian festivals in the US.
But Indian Summers, the new Masterpiece series, has been a big break for the 29 year
old. In the show — set in the last decade of
the British rule in India — he plays Aafrin
Dalal, a Parsi clerk who gets picked by a
young British officer for a promotion. In the
process Dalal becomes a confidante of the
British officer, Ralph Whelan.
Indian Summers is the story of Whelan —
a British man born in India living a conflicted life. But it is also story of Dalal — an
Indian who despite his loyalty to the British
begins to realize that the colonial masters
are not altogether fair. In a lot of ways Dalal
has been fashioned after Jawaharlal Nehru,
a British-trained attorney, who upon returning to India began to understand that colonialism had to end.
Patel was recently in Los Angeles promoting Indian Summers for the American audience when he spoke to us.
I loved your role as Aafrin Dalal. How did
you land up with it? Did you audition for it?
Ah yes, very much. I was doing a play when
Did you go back then?
I first got the audition call for Indian Summ-
ers. (It) was about the conflict in Kashmir,
and I went to my first Indian Summers audi-
tion with a big militant beard on. When I
read the script, I said to myself — man, as
good as I would be in that audition, I knew
they would have to see me again, once I
shave the beard. I could tell it would be a
stretch for a casting director to look at me as
a Parsi clerk with the beard on.
Yes. I knew it went well, but I also knew
they were starting at this thing on my face.
They saw me again a month later. My agent
told me ‘They kind of want more youthful
energy from you.’ I knew I had to shave.
There was also a third meeting for the role,
as Anand Tucker was attached to direct the
first few episodes. So, that was more about
trying to figure out the dynamics of working
with him. He was fantastic.
Tell me about acting as Aafrin Dalal, a char-
acter that believes in the British and the fair-
ness of the system.
It’s a lovely journey. He’s quite an apolitical
character. He is young and has a position as
a very junior clerk within the ICS (Imperial
Civil Service during the British rule of
India), which as you know was a big organization, which was seen by many as a hallowed institution. And he’s earning money
for his family. I think certainly at the start of
the series he is quite happy with his lot.
There’s not much of satisfaction to be gained
from being a pen pusher, but he’s keeping
out of trouble. He certainly doesn’t want to
get drawn into the politics in the same way
as his younger sister is. That changes
because of the events. He is pulled into center of the events.
Did you ever ask why your character was a
Parsi? Was it to show the Parsis as a neutral
group in India?
I did. It was a very deliberate choice by
Paul Rutman, who was very interested in the
position the Parsis had in the society at that
time. They were very culturally open to the
West. Being Parsi means, being Indian, but
also being a cultural and religious minority.
He really liked that dynamic for the Dalal
It’s a culture I rubbed up against through a
school friend. I had an opportunity to interview some members of the community
before I played the part. Playing that role
came with a lot of responsibility.
So, you had to understand what Parsis are
Yes. A friend of mine, his father is the well-known TV Chef Cyrus Todiwala. I met Cyrus
and it was very helpful. He was very knowledgeable about the involvement of Parsis in
India and their involvement with the British.
A lot of that preparation is something you
immerse yourself in and actually when it
comes to playing the scenes, it’s not about
ramming that down, but you know it for
yourself. So, the bit of the costume, for
example the Sudreh and the Kusti — I made
that part of my costume even though 99
times out of 100 it was not seen.
You wore it all the time?
Yes, which becomes a challenge when you
are filming in 30º heat with 90 percent
humidity in Malaysia and pretending you
are in Shimla. But it was worthwhile.
And you had to wear suits most of the time.
Yes, which I am happy to say aren’t quite as
warm as they look… But the costume
department there gave me warmer and
warmer changes of costumes.
What is your background? Were you born
I was born and raised in England. My par-
This desire to become an actor, where did it
ents are from East Africa — my dad is from
Kenya and my mom from Tanzania. But
they settled in the UK before I was born. So,
London is their home now.
come from. Most Indians watch Bollywood
films. Is that what you were watching?
I have to be honest. I don’t watch a lot of
Bollywood films. My main impression of
Bollywood films growing up was that they
were very long. I remember I was taken to
see Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and at the intermission I remember asking, ‘Cool, are we
done now?’ Then I realized that you had go
pee and come back for two hours.
Come on! That was such a fun romantic
Actually, what’s more interesting for me
anyway is the independent stuff that is coming out from India.
And becoming an actor, what did your par-
ents say? What do they do?
Both my parents are pharmacists. Their
one career advice was, ‘Son, don’t become a
pharmacist.’ I took that and ran.
I went to university and got a degree in
English Literature. Acting was something I
dabbled in because it was fun. I didn’t act in
school, but university was a place to try those
kinds of things if you get the opportunity. I
did that. By my final year, it was pretty clear
I was spending more time learning lines
then reading my text books for my exams.
It was really friends of mine who put the
idea to my head that I should apply to a
Which school did you go to?
I went to Guildhall School of Music and
Drama in London. I studied there for three
years. I don’t come from a family where people are in the arts. I was very lucky that my
parents were very supportive.
You will obviously be in all five seasons?
You won’t be kicked out; you are the
Yes, that’s Paul’s plan. Unless I am kicked
off, he is planning to have me until the end.
Jawaharlal Nehru of the show.
That may not be Aafrin’s story, but Nehru’s
journey definitely influenced Paul while he
was writing the show. It will be interesting to
see how it goes.
Did you read about Nehru’s journey?
I read his autobiography before we started
filming. I also read Subhash Chandra Bose’s
But what did those books reveal to you in
terms of your character?
It’s obviously not a direct map. Nehru
came from a place of privilege and in terms
of his education. But the contradictions that
he wrestles with are very interesting — being
from that standing, and then working as
hard as he did for independence. The human
side is what I latched on to.
The minutia of the politics had me lost, but
the struggles were similar.
As a South Asian-origin actor in the UK,
has it become easier now? I have always
heard about the struggle in England and the
same is true in the US also.
I think there has been movement in the
right direction. But it’s slow.
Part of the reason to be excited to be cast in
this show — hopefully for the audience as
well — is that there were so many great opportunities for actors of Indian origin. Those
characters aren’t at the margin looking in. It
is a story about British in India, but I think
the most exciting thing is that it is as much
about the British as it is about Indians. n
ÂThe Indian characters arenÊt at the margin looking inÊ
Indian Summers is a story about the British in India, but actor Nikesh
Patel tells Aseem Chhabra/India Abroad that the most exciting thing
about it ‘is that it is as much about the British as it is about Indians.’
Nikesh Patel, center, as Aafrin Dalal.
BRITISH DRAMA, INDIAN HEART M16 THE MAGAZINE