By Hemisha Morarji.
Asian mums are often painted as “here’s your chai, here’s your samosa, hi hi hi.”
The author and actress is dressed smartly yet casually in a black blazer and skinnies combo, with matching gold conserves and top when we sit for a chat in the Cineworld bar. Having made audiences laugh with her larger-than-life alter-egos, most notably Granny Kumar and Smita Smitten ‘Showbiz Kitten’, Meera is surprisingly laid back in person; and while we sip over bottles of water, the Wolverhampton-born comedian discusses Rafta Rafta, her screen chemistry with co-star Hitesh Patel and her upcoming third novel…
Tell us about your character Lopa?
Lopa is the mother of a noisy Punjabi in Bolton. She’s married to a dominating, lovable man and she adores her eldest son, who’s just got married. However, the father and son don’t get on at all and she’s caught in the middle of it. The son has brought his new bride home and Lopa can tell early on that the marriage is in trouble. So it’s about the pressures of living in a joint family system. And also Lopa’s quite interesting because on the surface she’s a traditional Asian mum who puts her kids first, but she’s holding this deep dark secret, which you don’t find out about until the end of film and it suddenly explains why the son and father never got on.
You played Lopa in the theatre version of the film. What attracted you to the script when you were offered the part in 2007?
It was just very brilliantly written. Asian mums are often written in a very boring, conventional cliqued way and here you had a woman who was really funny and strong, but had also had a life, a past and dreams that have been shattered. She’s just had a full rich inner life, which you don’t see. Asian mums are often painted as “here’s your chai, here’s your samosa, hi hi hi.” But no, Lopa is amazing and you really feel for her.
How is the film similar or different to the play?
It’s very similar. The same events are there, but what Ayub has done in the screenplay has opened it out a lot more. There are new scenes that weren’t in the theatre play and also, it’s a visual medium so you make much more use of location. I think Nigel, the director, has been very respectful of the spirit and heart of the play.
You star alongside Harish Patel, who played your husband in the theatre version, as well as this film version. How did you achieve the chemistry that critics have been raving about?
Really helps when you’ve done a play for together for nine months, so we felt married by then! (laughs). He’s very easy to work with; he’s a natural gifted comedy performer and when you work with someone so generous and you have time and space in the rehearsal room, you create something wonderful. And also we had a great director, who allowed us a lot of time to improvise and really get comedy chemistry going.
Is there any rivalry between you?
No because Harish is the big comedy character and for me, having done Granny Kumar, whose was a big comedy character, it was nicer to do the subtle comedy. And I was also interested in Lopa’ sadness and secrets, not just her funny parts.
British Asian films such as Bend It Like Beckham, Slumdog Millionaire and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel have proven to be enormous hits among mainstream audiences. Do you think All in Good Time will have the same success?
I really hope so. It’s very funny, truthful and it has a real cross-over appeal because Asians will watch it and go “God I know what that’s like” and I think English audiences will go “God, I know what that’s like” because it’s a family, as well as the father and son relationship.
You’re well known for playing your husband’s grandmother in The Kumars at No. 42. Do you have any plans to collaborate with Sanjeev Baskar in the future again?
Yeah I’m sure we will work together in the future. We have a son, it’s very hard to work at the same time and that is the reason why we haven’t done much together. We love working with each other but we have to be practical when we have a kid and take it in turns. So maybe when our son is a bit older and we can leave him a bit, then maybe.
You’ve written the novels ‘Anita and Me’ and ‘Life Isn’t All Haha Hehe’. You’re currently working on your third novel. Can you give us any hints about what it’ll be about?
I’m very superstitious about things like this (giving away plot). All I can tell you is that the two main characters are women – one from India and the other from England – and they’re linked in a very odd and mysterious way.
So what will audiences love about All in Good Time?
I think it’ll really make them laugh. It’s really touching and it’s an honest truthful look at family life.