Meera Syal

Meera Syal
Born Feroza Syal
(1961-06-27) 27 June 1961
Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England, UK
Occupation Actress, singer, writer, playwright, Comedian, producer, journalist,
television presenter
Years active 1983–present
Spouse(s) Shekhar Bhatia (m. 1989–2002)
Sanjeev Bhaskar (m. 2005)
Meera Syal's voice
from the BBC programme Front Row, 30 April 2013[1]

Meera Syal CBE (born Feroza Syal; 27 June 1961) is an British comedian, writer, playwright, singer, journalist, producer and actress. She rose to prominence as one of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me and became one of the UK's best-known Indian personalities portraying Sanjeev's grandmother, Ummi, in The Kumars at No. 42.

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 fifty funniest acts in British comedy.[2][3] She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to drama and literature.[4][5]

Early life

Meera Syal's Punjab-born parents Surendra Syal (father) and Surrinder Uppal (mother) came to the UK from New Delhi. Her father was Khatri, and her mother was Jatt.[6] She was born in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, and grew up in Essington, a mining village a few miles to the north. When she was young, the family moved to Bloxwich. This landscape – and the family's status as the only Asian family in a small Midlands mining village – 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.[7] She attended Queen Mary's High School in nearby Walsall and then studied English and Drama at Manchester University, graduating with a Double First.[8][9]

Acting and writing career highlights

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 who wrote and performed in the BBC comedy sketch show Goodness Gracious Me (1996–2001), originally on radio and then on television.[9] She was a scriptwriter on A.R. Rahman and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bombay Dreams[10] She played the grandmother Sushila in the International Emmy-award winning series The Kumars at No. 42, which ran for seven series.[11]

In October 2008 she starred in the BBC2 sitcom Beautiful People. This role, as Aunty Hayley, continued in 2009.[12] Syal starred in the eleventh series of Holby City as consultant Tara Sodi.[13] In 2009, she guest starred in Minder and starred in the film Mad, Sad & Bad.[14][15] In 2010, she played Shirley Valentine in a one-woman show at the Menier Chocolate Factory, later transferring to Trafalgar Studios.[16] In the same year she played Nasreen Chroudhry in two episodes of Doctor Who alongside Matt Smith.[17]

Other notable appearances

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.[18] 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.[9] 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.[19]

She also appeared on BBC the real McCoy

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.[20]

Awards and recognition

Syal won the National Student Drama Award for performing in One of Us which was written by Jacqueline Shapiro while at university.[21] 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.[22] She was given the Nazia Hassan Foundation award in 2003.[23] She received from the Prince of Wales her CBE on 6 May 2015 at Buckingham palace.[24] In 2011–12, Meera Syal was appointed visiting professor of contemporary theatre at St Catherine's College, Oxford.[9] She has an honorary degree from SOAS, University of London and from University of Roehampton.[2][25]

As a journalist, she writes occasionally for The Guardian.[22]

Personal life

In 2004 she took part in one episode of the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are?, which investigated her family history,[26] 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 protestor who was imprisoned and tortured in the Golden Temple.[26]

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, Staffordshire.[27][28] Their son, named Shaan, was born at the Portland Hospital on 2 December 2005. Syal has a daughter, Chameli, from her previous marriage to journalist Shekhar Bhatia. Her brother is investigative journalist Rajeev Syal.[29][30]

In February 2009, Syal was one of a number of British entertainers who signed an open letter printed in The Times protesting against the persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran.[31]

In January 2011, Syal took part in the BBC Radio 4 programme My Teenage Diary, discussing growing up as the only British Asian girl in a small English town, feeling overweight and unattractive.[11]

Writing credits





what she played[32]


Selected filmography

Academic reception

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:


  1. "Meera Syal". Front Row. 30 April 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
  2. 1 2 "University of Roehampton – Honorary Degrees". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  3. "The 50 funniest people in Britain (part two) | Stage | The Observer". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  4. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 61092. p. N10. 31 December 2014.
  5. 2015 New Year Honours List Archived 2 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. Meera Syal, Who Do You Think You Are?, BBC
  7. "Films – interview – Meera Syal". BBC. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  8. Roz Laws (10 January 2011). "Walsall comedian Meera Syal opens up her teenage diaries". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Jonathan Owen (6 May 2012). "Meera Syal: 'I didn't want to reach 50 and be full of regrets' – Profiles – People". The Independent. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  10. Inverne, James (17 June 2002). "Welcome to Bollywood". TIME. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  11. 1 2 "BBC Radio 4 ''My Teenage Diary'', 11 January 2011". 29 April 2012. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  12. Rushton, Katherine (6 May 2008). "New BBC sitcom for Meera Syal | News | Broadcast". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  13. "Meera Syal to join Holby City as a moody doc – 3am & Mirror Online". 13 March 2009. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  14. jno. "Series 11". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  15. Philip French. "Mad, Sad & Bad | Film review | Film | The Observer". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  16. Kate Kellaway. "Meera Syal | Interview | Culture | The Observer". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  17. "Doctor Who The Hungry Earth Interview Meera Syal". 17 May 2010. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  18. "Press Office – The Amazing Mrs Pritchard Meera Syal". BBC. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  19. "Desert Island Discs – Castaway : Meera Syal". BBC. 1 June 2003. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  20. "BBC Radio 4 – Front Row's Cultural Exchange – Meera Syal". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  21. Chris Jones (14 March 2003). "In Depth | Newsmakers | Meera, Meera off the wall". BBC News. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  22. 1 2 British Council. "Meera Syal | British Council Literature". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  23. "Asians in Media magazine | Meera Syal and others awarded at Nazia Hassan foundation launch". 16 October 2003. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  25. "Ms Meera Syal MBE – Honorary Doctorate of SOAS, University of London". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  26. 1 2 "Who Do You Think You Are? with Meera Syal". Who Do You Think You Are?. 7 December 2004. BBC. BBC Two.
  27. "Entertainment | Family wedding for Kumars stars". BBC News. 25 January 2005. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  28. "Secret wedding for The Kumars – Showbiz – London Evening Standard". 25 January 2005. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  29. "Granny Kumar is having a baby at 44 | Mail Online". 14 August 2005. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  30. Nick McGrath. "Meera Syal: My family values | Life and style". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  31. "Voices of support – Bahá'í World News Service". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  32. ἃἇἭ
  33. "Radio Times Hunted Cast List". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
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