James May: Our Man In India Review – A colourful, witty and hilarious travelogue Served on an Indian Platter

Season 1



Episode Guide

A Bit Like Glasgow


James May: Our Man In India is the third instalment of the British travel documentary where our host, James May, visits different countries covering a significant length, documenting the peculiarities and uniqueness of different cultures with heavy doses of wit, sarcasm and hilarious commentaries. Our Man in India is no different.

So, what are we waiting for, ready to review some fart jokes? Yes, you read that right. Let’s go!

You may be remiss for thinking it’s going to stereotype India in every way possible… but thankfully it doesn’t, and to our absolute delight, the show documents the country with a sense to dispel those stereotypes rather than exaggerate them. What is showcased is what appears on the camera, no more and no less. The honking for instance: “India’s 23rd official language – the horn.” is very funny. And the chaotic traffic. While we’re on the topic, let’s agree about the enormous amount of sugar and oil in one of the most delicious (and at the same time, diabetes-inducing) delicacies – Shahi Tukra.

As suggested by its name, Shahi Tukra or the ‘Royal Bite’ is a type of bread pudding that originated in the Mughal period. It is believed to be a dessert that the emperors often helped themselves to during the holy month of Ramadan. It was absolutely entertaining to watch James try the heavily fried bread, soaked in sugar syrup, topped with a heavy helping of rabri (sweetened condensed milk) in the narrow streets of the densely populated Jama Masjid area of Chandni Chowk in Delhi.

One of the most enjoyable and delightful aspects of the show is the humour. James’ impromptu fart jokes upon an impudent conch shell interruption while the tour guide educated him about the different Hindu gods in the holy city of Varanasi – “Sorry, I shouldn’t have had that biryani” have such good timing, that it’s almost illegal not to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Moreover, the show is dripping with irony and sarcasm – be it situational, verbal or more. Take for instance, in one of the scenes, away from the merciless hocking of the city of Mumbai (James’ absolute nightmare), we come across the serenity of the city of romance – Udaipur.

With its magnificent and glorious palaces and scenic lakes, we meet James commenting and gushing over the lovely day only to proclaim “It’s a disaster” in the next scene with their kite flying session interrupted by a heavy storm!

In another instance in Dharavi, considered the world’s largest slum, he is referred to as “John” by the owner of a cottage industry when James comments, ” John. That must be the local dialect for James.”

An absolute favourite sequence stems from James and the crew deciding to document one of the most lively festivals in India – Holi. And as every Indian is a little too aware, Holi can be not only colourful but also, let’s say…quite wild. After surviving the firecracker attack from the previous day where we see James exclaiming, “They’re all insane”, the next morning we meet James as he talks about “spirituality” and “mindfulness” concerning the festival of Holi.

You can’t help but scoff at that observation, and rightly so as in the next scene, everything is bathed in colour, a random man throws colour in James’ face while the crew escape to avoid their equipment being damaged by the frequent water balloon onslaught. C’mon guys, it’s a communal party, what were you expecting!

The tagline of the festival is quite literally “Bura na Mano, Holi hai” or “Please don’t mind, it’s Holi!” The host and the crew couldn’t be any better sports at the entire scene when James apologises to India – “we’re not doing much in this episode to dispel the notion that your country is a complete madhouse”.

Apart from the ingenious and generous helping of humour, the show documents some of the rare and hidden gems of the country. Dharavi, the slum, as one of the residents comments, is more than it seems – it’s a hope for a new life, a paradise and a land of dreams for the migrants.

It’s referred to in synonymity with the entire idea of the American dream by the locals. James also visits several thriving cottage industries that keep the place alive. At the same time, it highlights the perils of unplanned urbanisation, one of the challenges that India as a developing country with the aspirations of a 5 trillion economy is currently facing.

The show also highlights the diversity of the landscapes and cultures of India. While there are less developed places like Dharavi, simultaneously there exist dazzling palaces, scenic lakes and mountains, one of the largest mangrove forests in the world.

It also showcases the Indian culture and its hospitality with the motto of “Atithi Devo Bhav”, the Sanskrit phrase meaning that a guest is akin to a god, and the ideals enshrined in Upanishads like “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” meaning “The World is One Family” as James is encouraged by the locals to participate in pujas (prayer ceremonies) and traditional ceremonies involving royalties.

All in all, James May: Our Man in India is a fabulous concoction of colour, culture and humour; a wonderful celebration of the lengths and breaths of the cultural and colourful mammoth called India. Plus, James May might have some new fans after this one! See you in the next review, namaste.

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  • Verdict - 8.5/10

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