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The Talk Show That Isn't

4 Oct, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

Sanjeev Kumar is a legend in his own mind — and the mind of his creator and alter-ego, comic talent Sanjeev Bhaskar, who drew on his own experiences to create the BBC show “The Kumars at No. 42.”

Fans will know what to expect when the best-of boxed set arrives on DVD Nov. 8, but the guests seldom do.

“The scenes at the beginning and in the middle are pretty tightly scripted,” Bhaskar said. “We don't rehearse the guests or script the guests. When the guests arrive at the front door, that is the first time they have seen it. They don't know where they are going to be taken, in the hall or the kitchen or the living room. They kind of discover that as they go along.”

For the uninitiated, the show is part scripted, part improv, with an ensemble cast playing the Kumar family, Indian immigrants living in north London. Adult son Sanjeev wants to be a chat-show host, so the family invests £300,000 to build him a studio in the backyard. The show is built around appearances by real-life celebrities. Bhaskar first got the idea two decades ago, when he brought a girlfriend home to meet his parents.

“I was very nervous about it. My dad says, ‘It's very nice to meet you. How much does your father earn?’

If that weren't enough, when he tried to discourage his parents from asking bold questions or disclosing personal history, his mother told the young lady, “He's never taken rejection very well.”

“When I started acting and writing I thought, ‘I may make some famous friends, and how am I going to introduce them to my parents and how are they going to react?’ he said. The Kumars are the screen representation of that: The faux family sits in the studio with every guest and asks wildly inappropriate questions as Sanjeev struggles to control each interview.

“I wanted a format in which you could find out something different about the guests,” Bhaskar said. “I think you find out a lot about the guests in their actions.”

Guests do have a variety of reactions, depending on their personalities. Some of these guests are Bhaskar's own longtime idols.

“In the past year, we had Tom Jones as a guest,” he said. “He was fairly quiet, but he's a legend and he handled it in a particular way. We had David Hasselhoff and George Hamilton, who was great. He fired things back, and he got every gag. We also have people like Minnie Driver. She was kind of nonplussed by it, but she went along, kind of laughed and giggled through it. I'm lucky enough to get a lot of people on who I have really admired. Elvis Costello, I really wanted to meet him. Richard E. Grant was on the first show.”

A great fan of DVD, he said watching his own collection helped dictate how he handled bonus materials on this first set, which includes commentary tracks, deleted scenes and an impromptu tour of the Kumar home.

“[When I listen to commentaries,] I want to know something more than just describing the scene,” he said.

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