Dropping on ITV’s streaming service is a vampire comedy drama series with a Muslim doctor at the centre of the fun…
FUNNY, original and just a little zany, writer Kaamil Shah’s ‘Count Abdulla’ is a very welcome addition to itvX comedy line-up.
All six parts of this new series dropped on the channel today (June 15).
It’s well worth your time, if you are looking for something culturally aware and you like your comedy – a little dark and gory.
“How can a Muslim vampire exist, if (drinking) blood isn’t Halal?” Shah chuckled, speaking to www.asianculturevulture.com, explaining what first sparked him into writing ‘Count Abdulla’.
A film school scriptwriting graduate, he developed the idea into a pilot episode initially and then got the green light from ITV Comedy head Nana Hughes for a series of six (30 minutes each).
“I’ve always been a huge horror fan and watched pretty much every horror film going and then mixing it with comedy,” Shah elaborated.
The comedy is very fresh – and different to anything you might have seen before.
Set in northwest London, it also has a very realistic multi-ethnic, and multi-faith set of characters and looks like the urban Britain many of us might recognise.
It starts with the central character, mid-20s Muslim medical Dr Abdulla (Arian Nik) running into the slightly unhinged Kathy (Jaime Winstone) on a frosty night – and experiencing something of a funny turn – after she gets her fangs into him.
The delicious irony of the girlfriendless Abs, as he is known to his mates, now being set upon by an older, racy, (white) woman is just one of the many intelligent, funny nuances ‘Count Abdulla’ has. Abs then actually claims her as his girlfriend…and it’s a little racy as Kathy works nights, if you know what we mean.
Abdulla is a likeable character and his two doctor chums – Chris (Demmy Lapido) and Amrita (Manpreet Bambra) – form a trio who are trying to negotiate their medical careers alongside their dating life, and ‘finding the one’.
This is familiar territory for a comedy series featuring young mid-20s characters. Shah gives it a further edge with one of the more traditional faith characters saying more or less, ‘Muslims cannot have girlfriends or boyfriends, there are only fiancées’ – and obviously pre-marital coupling is forbidden.
Shah explained: “We wanted to push boundaries, and we wanted to be risky with the comedy. I am a devout Muslim and committed to that.
“We didn’t want to do anything that was disrespectful or overstep any boundaries. We want to be clear that we are respecting the community, while still poking fun at it.”
There is a lot on identity (though subtly) and how Abs negotiates and navigates the challenges of being Muslim, while also being one of the cool smart young thangs on the block.
Living in his single-mother’s (Nina Wadia) home, he is constantly reminded of his duty as a Muslim, while Amrita and Demmy are keen to emphasise what London social life has to offer.
For Shah, this is all quite personal and the comedy comes from his own lived experience. He doesn’t disagree when we suggest Abs is based on himself – well, certainly the good bits, obviously.
“It was a way of talking about my own dating failures and basically at the start, Ab’s struggling to get a girlfriend and that was my life until quite recently and I definitely wanted to dig into a bit of those feelings.”
So, he sees Abs’ life from both sides and the conflicting pressures.
“I didn’t want to just pretend there’s not days when somebody might struggle with their faith. And Abs definitely struggles.
“I wanted to pay respect to that – and people are going to have completely different ways into their faith.”
He writes well about the young doctors, because he knows quite a few.
“They’re based on my real-life friends, and they help me with the medical stuff.”
One of the intriguing subplots is whether Abs and Amrita will get together – Abs adores her, but she is hooked up with a white South African guy at the beginning – and she isn’t Muslim.
Shah doesn’t venture too far into that with us – and simply smiled – but it’s clear that he is exploring such subjects, as mixed faith dating/marriage – his own background is something of a testament to that.
“I’m half Pakistani and half Kenyan Gujarati – it’s at the root of what I do, because my Dad is from a Jain heritage and my mum is from a Muslim background.
“I grew up in Kingston (Surrey) southwest London but my mum and dad are from Hounslow (west London),” he explained.
The show is set in north London (Harrow) and has a veritable cast of quirky characters – Shah’s own favourite is Shafi (Sia Alipour) – who has a self-righteousness that’s hard to gauge – sometimes.
“He’s like all my cousins just put together in one guy,” Shah laughed.
It’s great to see a show that feels and looks like the London or Britain that we know – and love.
“There’s a lot of cultural mixing going on. I think just how’s it felt like to me – it is a very British Asian culture thing and comes from the kind of areas people grow up in.”
The Muslim vampire idea was a hard sell, Shah conceded. “It was quite a tough process – I took it to Fudge Park Productions (created by Iain Morris and Damon Beasley, the writers behind the Channel 4 hit ‘The Inbetweeners’) and it worked for them but sending it out to broadcasters, we pretty much got a no from everyone.” Until Hughes at ITV who read it and got it. The series is directed by Asim Abbasi, who made the successful Karachi-set comedy series ‘Churails’ for Indian streaming channel Zee5.
Shah is now working on another comedy show which mixes music and dating and is inspired by his love of Bollywood. But let’s hope it doesn’t get in the way of Series 2 for ‘Count Abdulla’. More please…
Count Abdulla streaming now on itvX – see here