Page last updated at 07:55 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 08:55 UK

Meera Syal’s Sad return to Edinburgh

BY Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Edinburgh

Meera Syal, Leena Dhingra and Rubin Varla in Mad, Sad & Bad
Psychologist Avie Luthrie wrote and directed Syal's latest film

"I love these chairs," says actress and author Meera Syal.

"I'd quite like to take one home, but I don't think I could get it in my handbag."

Six feet in height, the regal item of furniture she refers to would indeed be difficult to smuggle out of her Edinburgh hotel room.

Small wonder, then, that the star of Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No 42 is sitting pretty.

Syal, who turns 48 on Saturday, is at the Edinburgh Film Festival with Mad, Sad and Bad, a comedy drama about a family of British Asians.

While here she will also give a talk on a varied career that spans numerous TV shows, two novels and the Bollywood musical Bombay Dreams.

"I think it'll be a general romp through the different bits," she says when asked which of her many career facets the latter event will focus on.

"They could always ask about my cooking," she adds. "I'm quite good at that."

BBC shows like The Real McCoy, Goodness Gracious Me and Beautiful People have allowed Syal to develop a series of colourful comic creations.

Mad, Sad and Bad sees her in more muted mode, though, as a lonely spinster with an alcoholic mother.


She is the 'sad' sibling in a family that also includes an arrogant psychiatrist - 'bad' - and an eccentric writer - 'mad'.

The three adjectives are terms used in psychology to define dysfunctional behaviour, of which there is much in this British-made film.

"I like playing disappointed women," Syal tells the BBC News website. "I feel much more at home playing women who are on the wrong side of successful.

The Kumars cast shot
Syal is perhaps best known as grandmother Sashil Kumar

"I can access that a lot more easily than someone who is described as 'glamorous and sophisticated'.

"When I read a script that has that, I think it's going to be such hard work. With this one, though, it was no make-up and just a bit of padding."

Unusually perhaps, the central characters' ethnicity has no bearing on the film's plot - an element the actress found refreshing.

"The fact that they're Asian is not commented on," she says. "It's a flawed, screwed-up family with the same hang-ups as everyone else.

"The only thing that is culturally specific is that they are all dealing with their mum," she continues.

"There's no question of putting her in a home. We look after our elders, even if she is an alcoholic, mean old thing."


Having performed many times on the Edinburgh Fringe, this is hardly Syal's first visit to the Scottish capital.

The opulent environs she now finds herself in, however, are somewhat removed from the ones she encountered in her early years in the business.

"I was thinking about that while driving up today," she nods.

Rubin Varla, Meera Syal and Nitin Gantra with Leena Dhingra (in coffin)
Rubin Varla, Meera Syal and Nitin Gantra with Leena Dhingra (in coffin)

"I was thinking of all the times I'd been up here on the bus or hitchhiking, or finding a drafty church hall where I would unroll my sleeping bag.

"The nice thing about Edinburgh is it's unchanging. You go round the corner, see the castle and all the memories come flooding back.

"Some of it comes back to you, though a lot of it doesn't - perhaps because you were inebriated."

Later this year Syal will be seen on BBC One playing a heart surgeon in Holby City, a role she found "exciting" to shoot.

"It's the nearest I'll ever get to fulfilling my parents' dreams," she laughs.

Goodness Gracious Me fans, though, should not anticipate a new series of the ground-breaking sketch show.

"I think time has moved on," she shrugs. "If we did do it again we'd have to think of a raft of new characters.

"It'd be easy to go back and utter a few catchphrases, but none of us want to do that."

Mad, Sad and Bad is out in the UK on 31 July.

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