There is a moment in the third episode of Indian Summers where the matron of the English Social Club welcomes everyone to a fair, an occasion meant to build peace and understanding between the local Indian Village and the Englishmen living at the Summer resort. After delivering the grand welcome, she has a group of native musicians quietly thrown out, and tells her Indian assistant, “Lock the doors, no one inside!”
This is typical of the way the elite treat the native Indians in Simla, a sleepy village in the foothills of the Himalayas, where the British come every year to escape the heat of the summer. The year is 1932, and colonial power in India is waning. Home rule is on the mind of everyone, but the British are not ready to admit defeat, and act as if their empire will endure forever.
Indian Summers stars Henry Lloyd Hughes as Ralph Whelan, the British Private Secretary in charge of the area, who must represent Colonial power in the face of protests. Nikesh Patel portrays Aafrin Dalal, a clerk in Whelan’s office, who represents every Indian who tried to make a life for himself in British service, while balancing the demands of his family and native culture.
We also meet Craig Parkinson as an Anglican Missionary struggling with the desires of the flesh, Jemima West as Whelan’s sister, Alice, who has returned to India to escape an unhappy marriage. Julie Walters stars as Cynthia Coffin, the doyenne of the local English social club, who makes sure she has a part in everyone’s secrets.
There’s lots of drama here: attempted assassinations, culture clashes, and at least two forbidden love affairs. The series examines British and Indian culture, and the ways they interacted with and changed one another.
Some have called Indian Summers the next Downton Abbey, and that’s hard to disagree with. Fans of Downton should love this. It has the same soapy quality with perhaps a little more depth in its portrayal of the clash of cultures. It’s a fascinating look at the twilight of an empire.
Indian Summers debuts on Masterpiece Classic Sunday, September 27th at 9:00 p.m. on KIXE Channel 9.