Doctors, Bollywood and a ‘beloved’ Mehbooba – Interview with Producer Nasreen Ahmed

 

As one of the fastest drama productions in television, BBC’s daytime TV show Doctors is now in its 19th series having entertained fans of the show since the year 2000. On June 7th, BBC Drama Village in Birmingham, opened their doors to the general public for the first time ever! One hundred fans of Doctors flocked in from all over the U.K. to meet the cast and tour the sets. I was invited by a colleague to exclusive access the day before the public event. I had the pleasure of learning about the hard work that goes into the show and this included a tour of the set. This was followed by interesting and insightful conversations with the cast, crew members, and other respective media colleagues and academics who were also present.

Of course, I had heard of the show before but never found an opportunity to watch an episode until very recently, mostly for one obvious reason, it airs during the daytime when I’m at work. Having an interest in TV production since studying screenwriting at University, I relished at the opportunity to learn all I could about the behind-the-scenes work that goes in to one of Britain’s most loved daytime TV soaps.

The launch night was a successful and well-informed evening with an inspirational presentation delivered by Joe Godwin, Director of BBC Midlands, followed by perceptive talks about the longevity and success of Doctors by Will Trotter, Head of Daytime Drama at the BBC Village, and Mike Hobson Executive Producer of the show. The BBC staff were welcoming and friendly as we were navigated around the sets, meeting people from the wardrobe department, to the stars of the show.

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Bollywood dancers as seen in BBC Doctors performing to Navin Kundra’s ‘Mehbooba’ in Dr Heston’s proposal to Ruhma Hanif

We were surprised to learn about the special episode featuring a Bollywood-inspired song and dance sequence, which aired on Friday 9th June on BBC Two. The excitement around this episode among the crew was evident in their smiles and body language. Joe Godwin, Will Trotter and Mike Hobson were excited that this will be a significant episode for the series; they knew it was good, and to be frank they were spot on!

As I tuned into my first ever episode of Doctors it was apparent to me that something a little bit momentous was about to happen: Ruhma (Bharti Patel) wanted to look perfect on her birthday for when she proposed to Dr Heston (Owen Brenman), or as Ruhma put it in own her words in the episode, this is ‘the best thing that’s ever happened to me’. Poor Ruhma looked so stressed about proposing to him that I almost hoped she did not have to. Luckily then, for the both of us, Dr Heston (who really entertains) comically takes over with a little help….

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Bharti Patel all glammed up in a lengha (a traditional Indian three piece dress) as Ruhma Hanif for the big proposal.

In true Bollywood style, the entire set and conservative ambiance of the restaurant transitions from a private lunch into a fantastical display of music and romance as Dr Heston bursts into song and dance. There is a prompt set alteration, a quick costume change for Dr Heston with assistance from British Asian singer and upcoming actor Navin Kundra (who also makes an appearance in the song). Producer of the episode, Nasreen Ahmed transports the viewers into the colourful realms of Bollywood in rather glorious fashion. The vision is clear and communicated well with a comical script to assist the actors. Bharti Patel, Owen Brenman, Elisabeth Dermot Walsh and Dido Miles look like their having good fun and it becomes a bit contagious for the viewer. The BBC Doctors team delivered a strong dose of musical elation to the audience, giving fans and newbies alike (namely me!) the antidote we needed to recover from this week’s general election.

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British Asian artist and upcoming actor Navin Kundra, singing ‘Mehbooba’ on BBC Doctors special episode aired Friday 9th June 2017

I met Navin at the event and we spoke as we toured the sets. He shared his excitement for the special episode and how he cared about the staging and delivery of his song ‘Mehbooba’ between the two characters. It was clear to me that a lot of hard work had gone in to the performance of this song for TV. Navin also worked on this rendition for Doctors alongside filming for his first Bollywood movie – a great rework of the original, very catchy, and the hard work has paid off.

From the direction to mise-en-scene, the dancers to the cast, Navin’s cameo to the hilarious ‘sisters in crime’ Elisabeth and Dido, everything about the proposal scene was nothing short of entertaining. The comical themes that run through the narrative throughout the proposal navigate the audience away from the romance becoming too clichéd between Ruhma and Heston. Praise must be given to the directors and producers of the show for moving away from the sometimes badly-put-together portrayals that one may find of Bollywood on British television. Bollywood has contributed significantly to world cinema and popular culture in its time, with much to offer to audiences around the world, but that is a topic for another blog… Doctors has done well to celebrate the culture that derives from Bollywood to a daytime TV audience. It uses elements of Bollywood to depict a well-executed proposal that makes you smile, laugh and gains your approval for it as good quality television.

In a brief interview with myself, Producer Nasreen Ahmed from BBC Doctors gives an insight into the reasons behind using Bollywood in this episode, the production work that went into it, and her experience of working with Navin Kundra.

Bollywood comes to BBC Doctors. How did this idea come about?  

A few months ago, Doctors storylined an episode in which two key characters decide to propose to each other. In the early process of scripting the episode, we discovered the TX date would coincide with BBC Music Day. So then we adapted our plans so that our couple could still propose to each other – but with a bit of help from Bollywood. Ruhma and Heston (played by Bharti Patel and Owen Brenman) are much loved characters and we wanted their big moment to be as memorable as possible for the audience. The initial feeling was that all this would be a perfect fit for ‘BBC Music Day’ but of course that has now moved due to the election. However, we are still very much being featured as part of Music Day.

We got to thinking of ways in which we might go about achieving this challenging production. Naturally, the first question was – where do we get the music from? So, we decided to approach an established British Asian Songwriter but the second question was who? It didn’t take long for us to decide we wanted to work with Navin Kundra. Navin is a talented singer/songwriter originally hailing from the Midlands and he is no stranger to working with the BBC – he has performed live on Strictly Come Dancing and has performed at many music events for the BBC Asian Network. He was also the first British Asian artist to be invited to perform for the Royal family at St James Palace and also has a Guinness World Record under his belt.

Bollywood is a very celebrated element of British South Asian culture. What was it like portraying this to an audience that extends beyond the South Asian community in the U.K?

I think Bollywood has mass appeal these days – it’s vibrant, it’s colourful – and who doesn’t like a bit of a song and dance. In today’s ever evolving international film market, Bollywood has become more mainstream than previously – many films are shot on location using English dialogue and some of the current stars of Bollywood aren’t even South Asian. Many people enjoy watching the movies with the aid of subtitles too so language is no barrier. We have gradually been building up the excitement on social media and the response in anticipation of this episode, has been incredible – some of our audience literally can’t wait to see how things unfold.

What has been your personal most enjoyable aspect of shooting the Bollywood element of the episode?

It has been amazing to work with so many people across the board in achieving this episode – the collaboration was a roaring success and the most enjoyable part was how people seamlessly communicated and worked together. We collaborated with Bollywood choreographers & dancers, obviously Navin, four members of our regular cast, over 40 supporting artists – and of course not forgetting our amazing crew and production teams. Costume and Makeup did a stunning job as did our Art Department who worked tirelessly towards giving the location that much needed authentic Bollywood look. The shoot day was long and tough but the enthusiasm from everyone never faltered – everyone played their part beautifully and the end result speaks for itself.

British Asian singer and artist Navin Kundra adapted a previously released song for the show. He also stars in the special episode. What was it like working with Navin? 

Navin came in for an initial meeting with us and his energy and enthusiasm for our project was boundless. We asked if he could take his original Hindi track called ‘Mehbooba’ (meaning ‘My Beloved) and adapt it exclusively for Doctors. It’s a great ‘peppy’ track and the perfect fit for an all singing all dancing Bollywood proposal scene.   We wanted a female vocalist to feature as well as some English verses for Owen and Bharti to be able to lip sync to. Navin embraced all this straight away despite being in the middle of a very heavy schedule shooting his very first Bollywood movie – within a week he was in the recording studio doing exactly what we wanted. By this point we had also invited Navin to feature in a cameo role in the episode – he was bowled over and said yes immediately – and he’s a very good actor!

The track was delivered and then the whole thing became even more exciting – three dance rehearsals later (with a tired Navin doing two-way five hour drives to be part of them), our Bollywood sequence was taking shape. At the first rehearsal, an enthused Navin stated that for him the Doctors project meant more than his role in the Bollywood movie – praise indeed!

The whole thing was filmed in one day on location and was one of the most amazing things we have ever done here. Navin looked every bit the dashing Bollywood superhero in his white suit as he joined our amazing cast in a glittery colourful setting to perform the routine. His enthusiasm was contagious and has never wavered.

 

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Link to the Bollywood episode available for 30 days on BBC iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08th75k/doctors-series-19-38-to-have-and-to-hold

Link to the free download of ‘Mehbooba’ as seen on BBC Doctors performed by Navin Kundra: http://smarturl.it/GetMehboobaFree

All images are courtesy of BBC Doctors.