Meera Syal FRSL (born Feroza Syal; 27 June 1961) is an English comedian, writer, playwright, singer, journalist, producer and actress. She rose to prominence as one of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me and portraying Sanjeev's grandmother, Ummi, in The Kumars at No. 42. She became one of the UK's best-known Asian personalities.
Syal at the 7th Asian Awards in 2017
27 June 1961
|Education||Queen Mary's High School|
|Alma mater||University of Manchester|
|Occupation||Actress, singer, writer, playwright, comedian, producer, journalist,|
(m. 1989; div. 2002)
She was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1997 New Year Honours and in 2003 was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to drama and literature.
Meera Syal was born in Wolverhampton and grew up in Essington, Staffordshire, a mining village a few miles to the north. Her Punjab-born parents, Surinder Syal (father) and Surinder Uppal (mother), came to the United Kingdom from New Delhi. Her father was Khatri, and her mother was Jat. When she was young, the family moved to Bloxwich, north of Walsall.
This landscape, and the family's status as the only Asian family in a small Midlands mining village of Essington, was later to form the backdrop to her novel (later filmed) Anita and Me, which Syal described in a 2003 BBC interview as semi-autobiographical. She attended Queen Mary's High School in nearby Walsall and then studied English and Drama at Manchester University, graduating with a Double First.
Acting and writing careerEdit
During her studies, Syal joined the Stephen Joseph Studio, acting and latterly writing stage plays. On graduation, she had secured a place to study for an MA in drama and psychotherapy at the University of Leeds, and then to study for a PGCE to teach. However, she had also co-written the one-woman play One of Us with Jackie Shapiro, in which Syal performed all fifteen parts, about a West Midlands-born ethnic Indian girl who ran away from home to become an actress. First performed at the Stephen Joseph Studio, she then performed it at the National Student Drama Festival where it won a prize to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival, where it also won a prize. As a result, a director from the Royal Court Theatre contacted Syal, and asked her to perform in a play at the Royal Court on a three-year contract.
Syal wrote the screenplay for the 1993 film Bhaji on the Beach, directed by Gurinder Chadha, of Bend It Like Beckham fame. She was on the team that wrote and performed in the BBC comedy sketch show Goodness Gracious Me (1996–2001), originally on radio and then on television. She was a scriptwriter on A.R. Rahman and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bombay Dreams and she played the grandmother Sushila in the International Emmy-award-winning series The Kumars at No. 42, which ran for seven series.
In October 2008, she starred in the BBC Two sitcom Beautiful People. This role, as Aunty Hayley, continued in 2009. Syal starred in the eleventh series of Holby City as consultant Tara Sodi. In 2009, she guest starred in Minder and starred in the film Mad, Sad & Bad. In 2010, she played Shirley Valentine in a one-woman show at the Menier Chocolate Factory, later transferring to Trafalgar Studios. In the same year she played Nasreen Chaudhry in two episodes of Doctor Who alongside Matt Smith.
Other notable appearancesEdit
Syal is an occasional singer, having achieved a number one record with Gareth Gates and her co-stars from The Kumars at No. 42 with "Spirit in the Sky", the Comic Relief single. She earlier (1988) provided vocals for a bhangra version of "Then He Kissed Me", composed by Biddu and with the Pakistani pop star Nazia Hassan, as part of the short-lived girl band Saffron. In June 2003 she appeared as a guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs programme with a selection of music by Nitin Sawhney, Madan Bala Sindhu, Joni Mitchell, Pizzicato Five, Sukhwinder Singh, Louis Armstrong and others. The luxury she chose to ease her life as a castaway was a piano.
Having studied English at university and penned two novels and a variety of scripts and screenplays, Syal was chosen as one of the guests on "The Cultural Exchange" slot of Front Row on 30 April 2013, when she nominated To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee as a piece of art work which she loved.
From 1986–87 Syal presented Sunday East, a BBC programme.
Awards and recognitionEdit
Syal won the National Student Drama Award for performing in One of Us which was written by Jacqueline Shapiro while at university. She won the Betty Trask Award for her first book Anita and Me and the Media Personality of the Year award at the Commission for Racial Equality's annual Race in the Media awards in 2000. She was given the Nazia Hassan Foundation award in 2003.
In 2011–12, Syal was appointed visiting professor of contemporary theatre at St Catherine's College, Oxford. She has an honorary degree from SOAS, University of London and from University of Roehampton.
Syal married journalist Shekhar Bhatia in 1989; they had a daughter together before divorcing in 2002. In January 2005, Syal married her frequent collaborator, Sanjeev Bhaskar, who plays her grandson in The Kumars at No. 42; the marriage ceremony took place in Lichfield registry office, Staffordshire. They have a son, born 2005.
In 2004, Syal took part in one episode of the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are?, which investigated her family history. Syal discovered that both her grandfathers had campaigned against British rule and presence in India: one as a communist journalist, the other as a Punjab protester who was imprisoned and tortured in the Golden Temple.
- One of Us (1983)
- The Oppressed Minorities Big Fun Show (1992)
- Goodness Gracious Me (1999)
- Bombay Dreams (2002)
- Goodness Gracious Me (1996–98)
- Masala FM (1996)
- Tandoori Nights (1985)
- Black Silk (1985)
- The Real McCoy (1991)
- My Sister Wife (1994)
- Goodness Gracious Me (1998)
- Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee (2005)
- Uncle Santa (UK Little Crackers TV series) (2010)
- Anita and Me (1996)
- Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee (1999), published in German under the title Sari, Jeans und Chilischoten in 2003
- The House of Hidden Mothers (2015)
- The One of Us (1983)
- Serious Money (1987)
- Peer Gynt (1990)
- The Oppressed Minorities Big Fun Show (1992)
- The Vagina Monologues (2001)
- Bombay Dreams (2004)
- Rafta, Rafta... (2007)
- Shirley Valentine (2010)
- The Killing of Sister George (2011)
- Much Ado About Nothing (2012) as Beatrice
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2014) as Zehrunisa
- Romeo and Juliet (2016) as Nurse
- Annie (2017) as Miss Hannigan
- Noises Off (2019) as Dotty Otley
- True Believers (1990)
- The World As We Know It (1999)
- Double Income, No Kids Yet (2001)
- A Small Town Murder (2008-2020)
- Bindi Business (2017)
Film and TVEdit
- Majdhar (1983)
- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 (1985)
- A Little Princess (1986)
- Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987)
- The Real McCoy (1991)
- Gummed Labels (1992)
- Taggart (1992)
- Sean's Show (1993)
- The Brain Drain (1993)
- Absolutely Fabulous (1994)
- New Best Friend (1994)
- Flight (1995)
- Degrees of Error (1995)
- Band of Gold (1995)
- It's Not Unusual (1995)
- Drop The Dead Donkey (1996)
- A Nice Arrangement (1996)
- Beautiful Thing (1996)
- Marsala FM (1996)
- Crossing The Floor (1996)
- Ruby (1997)
- Sixth Happiness (1997)
- The Book Quiz (1998)
- No Crying He Makes (1998)
- Keeping Mum (1998)
- Legal Affairs (1998)
- The World As We Know It (1999)
- The Strangerers (2000)
- Forgive and Forget (2000)
- Anita and Me (2002)
- Bad Girls (2004) Season 6 Episode 4
- Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee (2005)
- Murder Investigation Team (2005)
- The Amazing Mrs Pritchard (2006)
- Jekyll (2007)
- Kingdom (2007)
- Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007)
- When Were We Funniest? (2008)
- Beautiful People (2008–09)
- Holby City (2009)
- Desert Flower (2009)
- Minder (2009)
- Horrible Histories(2009)
- Doctor Who: "The Hungry Earth" (2010) and "Cold Blood" (2010)
- Tinga Tinga Tales (2010) Voice of Owl
- The Jury (2011)
- Hunted 2 Episodes (2012)
- Bollywood Carmen Live (2013)
- Absolutely Anything (2015)
- The Brink (2015)
- Broadchurch (2015)
- Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)
- Doctor Strange (2016)
- Riviera (2017)
- Paddington 2 (2017)
- The Split (2018)
- To Provide All People (2018)
- Patrick (2018)
- The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)
- Nativity Rocks! (2018)
- Yesterday (2019)
- Dragon Rider (TBA)
- Kate & Koji (2020)
Her book Anita and Me has found its way onto school and university English syllabuses both in Britain and abroad. Scholarly literature on it includes:
- Rocío G. Davis, "India in Britain: Myths of Childhood in Meera Syal's Anita and Me", in Fernando Galván & Mercedes Bengoechea (ed.), On Writing (and) Race in Contemporary Britain, Universidad de Alcalá 1999, 139–46.
- Ana Maria Sanchez-Arce "Invisible Cities: Being and Creativity in Meera Syal's Anita and Me and Ben Okri's Astonishing the Gods", in Philip Laplace and Éric Tabuteau (eds), Cities on the Margin/ On the Margin of Cities: Representations of Urban Space in Contemporary British and Irish Fiction, Besançon: Presses Universitaires Franc-Comtoises, 2003: 113–30.
- Graeme Dunphy, "Meena's Mockingbird: From Harper Lee to Meera Syal", in Neophilologus 88, 2004, 637–59.
- "Meera Syal". Front Row. 30 April 2013. BBC Radio 4. Archived from the original on 19 October 2019. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
- "University of Roehampton – Honorary Degrees". Roehampton.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 28 June 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "The 50 funniest people in Britain (part two) | Stage | The Observer". The Guardian. Theguardian.com. 7 December 2003. Archived from the original on 2 May 2019. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "No. 61092". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2014. p. N10.
- 2015 New Year Honours List Archived 2 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine
- Meera Syal Archived 3 February 2020 at the Wayback Machine, Who Do You Think You Are?, BBC
- "Films – interview – Meera Syal". BBC. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- Roz Laws (10 January 2011). "Walsall comedian Meera Syal opens up her teenage diaries". Birmingham Mail. Archived from the original on 17 December 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- Jonathan Owen (6 May 2012). "Meera Syal: 'I didn't want to reach 50 and be full of regrets' – Profiles – People". The Independent. Archived from the original on 9 January 2014. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- Interview with Meera Syal, The Two Shot Podcast, 28 May 2018
- Inverne, James (17 June 2002). "Welcome to Bollywood". TIME. Archived from the original on 24 August 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "BBC Radio 4 My Teenage Diary, 11 January 2011". Bbc.co.uk. 29 April 2012. Archived from the original on 12 July 2012. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- Rushton, Katherine (6 May 2008). "New BBC sitcom for Meera Syal | News | Broadcast". Broadcastnow.co.uk. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "Meera Syal to join Holby City as a moody doc – 3am & Mirror Online". Mirror.co.uk. 13 March 2009. Archived from the original on 9 May 2014. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- jno. "Series 11". Minder.org. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- Philip French (August 2009). "Mad, Sad & Bad | Film review". The Observer. theguardian.com. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- Kate Kellaway (10 July 2010). "Meera Syal: Interview". The Observer. theguardian.com. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "Doctor Who The Hungry Earth Interview Meera Syal". Sfx.co.uk. 17 May 2010. Archived from the original on 21 May 2010. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "Press Office – The Amazing Mrs Pritchard Meera Syal". BBC. Archived from the original on 16 October 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "Desert Island Discs – Castaway : Meera Syal". BBC. 1 June 2003. Archived from the original on 17 May 2009. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "BBC Radio 4 – Front Row's Cultural Exchange – Meera Syal". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- British Council. "Meera Syal | British Council Literature". Literature.britishcouncil.org. Archived from the original on 8 July 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- Chris Jones (14 March 2003). "In Depth | Newsmakers | Meera, Meera off the wall". BBC News. Archived from the original on 7 March 2006. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "Asians in Media magazine | Meera Syal and others awarded at Nazia Hassan foundation launch". Asiansinmedia.org. 16 October 2003. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "Ms Meera Syal MBE – Honorary Doctorate of SOAS, University of London". Soas.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 14 September 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "Meera Syal says CBE is a 'huge honour'". The Northern Echo. 6 May 2015. Archived from the original on 1 January 2019. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
- "Meera Syal to be made a CBE at Buckingham Palace today". ITV. 6 May 2015. Archived from the original on 20 July 2015. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
- Natasha Onwuemezi, "Rankin, McDermid and Levy named new RSL fellows" Archived 26 March 2019 at the Wayback Machine, The Bookseller, 7 June 2017.
- "Current RSL Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 6 February 2019. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
- "Entertainment | Family wedding for Kumars stars". BBC News. 25 January 2005. Archived from the original on 9 June 2020. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "Who Do You Think You Are? with Meera Syal". Who Do You Think You Are?. 7 December 2004. BBC. BBC Two. Archived from the original on 18 August 2020. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
- Nick McGrath (8 October 2010). "Meera Syal: My family values | Life and style". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "Voices of support". Bahá'í World News Service. Archived from the original on 7 December 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
- "Radio Times Hunted Cast List". Radiotimes.com. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.