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Any discussion of the Sharmas’ presence in Bridgerton season 2 has to include the context of what has come before in terms of representing South Asia in period dramas. The miniseries Jewel In The Crown, set during WWII in India aired on Masterpiece PBS in the 1980s is frequently considered one of the best UK period dramas of all time for production, writing, and acting value. However, the main story combines colonialist critique with outdated stereotypes, especially when viewed with current political discussions about the British Commonwealth.
More recently, Indian Summers, which aired on UK Channel 4 and on Masterpiece in 2015 for two seasons also highlighted the turbulent politics of 1930s India and rising calls for the end of British control. Despite being filmed in HD, the writers also fell into the trap of not telling that history completely from the point of view of the Indian characters. There are other series where India is a component of storytelling in Masterpieces’ back catalog such as The Moonstone (1972 and 1996) and Around The World In 80 Days which aired in January 2022.
Many British Indian characters in period dramas have plots where assimilation and racism dominate their storylines. The most prominent example of this is The Indian Doctor on Acorn TV starring Sanjeev Bhaskar as a doctor and the only man of color in a 1960’s Welsh mining town. Social inequity and cultural differences also feature in British Asian characters who are part of the medical/criminal case of the week on Call The Midwife, Grantchester, and Endeavour. Kate marrying Anthony at the end of the season is the main reason for her to stay in England, not finding a way to endure adversity. This is another way in which Bridgerton season 2 is changing the tone of characterization.
Bridgerton is actually not the first production to color-consciously cast a British Indian actor as a previously white character. Dev Patel was cast as both the title character in The Personal History of David Copperfield and The Green Knight films. On television, Sacha Dhawan plays Catherine the Great’s strategy partner Orlov in Hulu’s The Great. Although it’s often difficult to compare television and film, all three productions either are based on existing novels written by white authors with white characters and/or are alternate universe takes on established history.
The closest example to Bridgerton in terms of racebending the Regency is the short film Mr. Malcolm’s List, soon to be a full-length movie based on Susanne Allain’s romance novel of the same name in whichJulia (Gemma Chan) is snubbed by Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dirisu) and she invites her good friend Selina (Freida Pinto) to London to exact revenge on the failed date. Some may claim Mr. Malcolm’s List ripped Bridgerton off conceptually with diversifying Regency England, however, the short film was released in February 2019 to drum up investors for continued production. The short film doesn’t give viewers enough information to compare Selina to the Sharmas beyond costuming details but the feature-length production will likely have more discussion fodder.
Beecham House is the closest in time frame a UK period drama has come to addressing events in India during the Regency era. This miniseries written and produced by British Indian director Gurinder Chadha (best known for Bend It Like Beckham), paved the way for the Sharmas but does not get enough credit for doing so. Beecham House aired on ITV in the summer of 2019 and a few months later on Masterpiece PBS. The series was set much closer to Regency England in 1795 India. The show centers around John Beecham (Tom Bateman), a British East India Company staffer who quits because of corruption and violence. There are a lot more romance and political entanglement details, however. John Beecham’s India, where the agents of European powers and rival local leaders fight for control, is the closest so far to what would likely fit into Kate and Edwina’s memories. Chadha’s goal in making the series was to bring shared Anglo-Indian history to the small screen while avoiding the complete glorification of the Raj.
Source: Den of Geek