Meera Syal MBE, the Brit-Asian woman that has achieved huge status in the world of British comedy, writing, television, stage and film
actors don't have much power but writers have the power to change things
DESIblitz zooms its SpotLight onto Meera Syal, MBE. An outstanding British Asian actress, writer, producer, comedian, playwright, singer and journalist. She is well known for her roles in the BBC comedy shows Goodness Gracious Me and Kumars at No. 42.
Meera Syal was born on 27 June, 1961, in Wolverhampton, in the West Midlands, UK. Her parents are both from Punjab. Her mother, Surinder Syal, a Sikh and her father, Surendra Syal, a Hindu, had a love marriage in 1958 in Delhi, and moved to England in 1960.
The family lived in Essington, a mining village near Wolverhampton. Meera grew up in this very rural white area, which was the basis of her book, Anita and Me, which she later wrote. Meera is very proud of her Indian roots and was aware of her racial difference from an early age.
Subsequently, Meera’s family moved to Walsall, in the West Midlands, where she attended Queen Mary’s High School, an all-girls grammar school. She achieved three A’s at A Level in English, French and Spanish and also, learnt the guitar to feed her interest in music.
Her parents wanted her to become a doctor but Meera wanted to pursue a creative career. They accepted her choice but her father advised her that whatever she did, she had to be ‘bloody good at it.’ She then studied English and Drama at Manchester University, where she achieved a double first in her degree.
At university, Meera did not act much but did write her first play called, One of Us, in 1983. The story about a young Asian girl that takes you on a journey of rebellious attitude and self discovery, where the girl leaves home and eventually re-unites with her family. Meera won the National Student Drama Award for the play. Meera’s first acting job was in London, at the Royal Court Theatre, for seven years.
In 1988, Meera became part of the girl band trio called Saffron, alongside pop singer, (the late) Nazia Hassan and actress, Rita Wolf. They performed a cover version of the The Crystals (1963) song called, ‘Then He Kissed Me,’ on BBC television in a pink Cadillac with music producer Biddu, who was responsible for the band and track.
In 1992, Meera wrote her first television script, a three-part BBC television series called My Sister Wife, on the subject of Pakistani marriage, and wrote her first screenplay for a Channel 4 television film, called Bhaji on the Beach, in 1998. Directed by Gurinder Chadha, the film is about a group of different aged women of Indian descent, who take a trip from Birmingham to the Blackpool seaside in England, discussing their lives.
Meera wrote her first book, Anita and Me, in 1996, which was inspired by her childhood. The novel became a film in 2002. It won the Betty Trask Award. The book is on school and university English syllabuses both in Britain and abroad. In 1999, Meera wrote her second popular novel called, Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee. A story about three childhood girlfriends Tania, Sunita and Chila, who are in their 30’s and at a crossroads in life. The book was adapted as a mini series for BBC television. Meera played the role of Sunita, a depressed housewife who turns to self-harm.
The BBC’s Goodness Gracious Me show made Meera Syal into a house-hold name. She co-wrote and starred in the show, which was first aired on BBC Radio 4 before becoming a hit television series. She was part of a team of Brit-Asian actors, including, Sanjeev Bhaskar (her husband), Kulvinder Ghir and Nina Wadia, who performed comedy sketches based on Asian lifestyle scenarios. The show hugely appealed to both mainstream and Asian audiences. It ran on BBC television in the UK from 1998 to 2001. It won ‘Best Comedy Series’ at the 1998 British Comedy Awards.
From 2001-2006, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera jointly appeared in the BBC comedy series Kumars at No. 42. Where Sanjeev plays a chat show host and Meera plays his grandmother inviting celebrities into their home. It won ‘Best New TV Comedy’ at the British Comedy Awards in 2002.
DESIblitz caught up with Meera Syal at The Drum, in Birmingham, UK, where she appeared in conversation with the delightful, Nikki Bedi, radio presenter from BBC Asian Network. Watch her exclusive video interview below, where we find out more about Meera as a person, her likes and dislikes, family life, career and much much more!
Meera has also been on many radio shows and dramas, including comedy programmes too. In addition, as a journalist she writes for the British newspaper, The Guardian.
As a writer Meera says that ‘actors don’t have much power but writers have the power to change things.’ Especially, to break the stereo typical roles for ethnic actors.
Meera has acted and appeared in many British television programmes, including, Minder (2009), Beautiful People (2008), Jekyll (2007), The Amazing Mrs Pritchard (2006), All About Me (2002), Keeping Mum (1998), Absolutely Fabulous (1994), The Real McCoy (1991) and many more.
Film credits include Girls’ Night( 1997), Beautiful Thing (1996) and Sammie and Rosie Get Laid (1987). Meera also appeared in the Bollywood film Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007). Theatre and stage roles include Rafta Rafta (2006), Goodness Gracious Me (1999) and Bombay Dreams (2002). Writing credits include, A Nice Arrangement (1994), Mumbai Calling (2008) and Tandoori Nights (1985).
In her personal life, Meera is married to Sanjeev Bhaskar, her co-star from Goodness Gracious Me and N0. 42 at the Kumars. They have a son called Shaan and Meera also has a teenage daughter, called Chameli, from her previous marriage to journalist Shekar Bhatia.
Check out the gallery of Meera Syal photos. Click on the [o] button for the ‘Full Screen’ view to get a bigger experience of the pictures. You can navigate through the pictures left and right too.
We at DESIblitz would like to wish this amazing Brit-Asian star all the success for the future and we certainly hope to see more of her on our screens!
Thanks to the The Drum, Birmingham. DESIblitz photos by Pedro Kwezi.
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