April 19 2015
Actor researched role thoroughly talking to one of Britain’s most famous Parsis and hints at shift change in Aafrin for series 2…
NIKESH PATEL’s fan base has been steadily growing as the conflicted Aafrin in Channel 4’s colonial blockbuster, “Indian Summers” as it draws to its final episode later today.
Part of the Raj administration, Aafrin – a Parsi, nevertheless feels the pull of the Indian independence movement and is secretly helping it, while seemingly loyal to his boss, Ralph (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), the secretary to the Viceroy.
Aafrin’s illicit romance with Alice (Jemima West) has also caused the sparks to fly on the other side of the TV screen – you only need to see the tweets.
An actor of growing repute, who www.asianculturevulture.com saw in the 2013 Howard Brenton colonial drama “Drawing the Line” and in the film, “Honour” in 2014, Patel seems destined for big things.
We caught up with him to talk all matters Aafrin…
www.asianculturevulture.com (ACV): Have you been surprised by the way Aafrin has developed? What do you most like about him and least?
Nikesh Patel (NP):I had a pretty in-depth discussion with Paul Rutman (creator and lead writer) before we started filming, so in terms of Aafrin’s development I was aware of what was in store over the arc of the series. That said, you only get specific details about plot once you’ve read the episodes, and there were plenty of things that emerged that took me by surprise – particularly in the later episodes, which came to the cast later on in the shoot. The whole plot with the stolen evidence later being used by Sergeant Singh to blackmail Aafrin into spying on the ICS was something I could never have seen coming.
I think the thing I like most about Aafrin is his passion. He’s been cast in the role of dutiful son and loyal civil servant, but there’s something about him which makes him restless and impulsive and three-dimensional. I’m not sure I can say what I like least about him. I think as an actor you have to love your characters for their strengths and their flaws.
ACV: The love affair with Alice is one of the most intriguing of on screen romances for a while, should we brace ourselves for more surprises/heartache. What would you say to the legion of people who so want Alice and Aafrin to be together and defy all convention?
NP:I would say that I am one of those people! Unfortunately, those conventions you mention are a huge obstacle, and the writers care about what makes a good story more than what makes the characters (and the viewers) happy. My underlying feeling about Alice and Aafrin’s relationship is that it’s this fragile, beautiful thing but, although they might have some fleeting moments of happiness together, it’s ultimately doomed. Who knows if I’m right?
ACV: What have been your personal reference points for the character of Aafrin? There’s definitely more to him than meets the eye. Do you have any personal experience of the Parsis (a minority faith in India, once much larger and originally from Iran/Persia) as a community?
NP: In a lot of ways, Aafrin’s journey in this series is about growing up. I think his big struggle is his desire to try and do the right thing in a world where “right” and “wrong” are increasingly difficult to distinguish.
By the end of the series I think he’s had to seriously question what the right thing is and whether he believes in it any more. In terms of playing the character, I really just tried to imagine myself in similar situations – caught between conflicting loyalties, unsure of the right course of action, trying to make the best decision in difficult circumstances.
I found a lot of that very relatable, although I’m happy to say that in my own life the stakes are a lot lower than they are for Aafrin. We worked with an accent coach before we started filming and there were lots of discussions with hair and make up departments in the build-up to filming, to get the right feel for the period.
Growing up, I had some knowledge of the Parsi community when I was at school through a couple of friends. It was through them that I learned a little about their customs, and the Zoroastrian faith. When I got the part in ‘Indian Summers’, I actually asked one of my old school friends if I could interview his father, who happens to be the well-known chef Cyrus Todiwala. It was hearing Cyrus talk about how his parents’ generation was involved in Indian life during the Empire, and how Parsis were involved in the transition from Empire to Independence that gave me further insights.
Lillette Dubey (on-screen mother, Roshanna Dalal) also put me in touch with a Parsi friend of hers from Bombay (Mumbai) who was a great source of information about the day-to-day details of growing up in a Parsi family. It’s a fascinating culture and all of us in the Dalal family felt a sense of responsibility to portray it as truthfully as we could. And it informs my character too. When I’m dressed as Aafrin, I always have the sudreh (vest*) and kusti (thread*) on under my suit. It’s not necessarily going to be seen, but it’s a physical reminder of who I am.
(ACV): The series has been very popular and you’re beginning to become a bit of a recognised face and winning lots of new admirers, how do you deal with this new level of fame?
NP: I don’t know if I’d classify it as a new level of fame, but since the show started a few people have come up and said that they’re fans, which is always nice to hear. I know there’s a vocal, active following on Twitter from week to week (I think we have you guys to thank for that – bird blushes).
When we finished filming last year I think we felt that we’d all – cast and crew – done justice to the vision Paul and the producers had for the show. But then there’s a big wait until it finally comes to the screen, during which time important decisions are being made in post-production that as an actor you have very little knowledge. In the end we all just had to have a faith that a big, ambitious show like this would find its audience. So there’s a definite sense of relief now, that people have responded so well! And it’s always great to hear that the show has inspired people to learn more about the period and the complexities of British India.
ACV: Can you give us any hint of how Aarfin will develop in Series 2 (assuming he makes it through). Will he continue to be an important presence and is he done with Sita completely?
NP: Series 2 picks up the story in 1935, and I can say that a lot has changed for Aafrin in those three years. I mentioned earlier how I thought the first series was about him growing up. I read the first scene of Series 2 and thought “yup, he’s a man now”. I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you though. Paul Rutman has spies everywhere and I really don’t want to get shot again!
*These have spiritual significance for Parsis and is an intimate reminder of their faith and its ideals.