Russell Peters wanted to play a detective in a new series that he saw as a kind of throwback to the crime shows they used to make in the ‘70s. Was I interested?
Of course! Russell is one of the funniest people on the planet. I found the challenge incredibly exciting, but also somewhat daunting. Short of having Russell write the series himself, how could we capture his comedic point of view and translate it into a television narrative?
My co-creator, Smita Bhide, and I set out to find the answer by flying from London to Toronto, where we spent a snowbound weekend interviewing Russell. We already knew his standup routines, of course, but we wanted to hear the not-always-funny stories about growing up in Toronto and the path his life had taken.
Smita and I studied the transcript of those meetings. From that was born the story of Doug D’Mello, the Toronto-born constable who was never considered good enough to be a real detective – not until he stumbled upon a case while visiting his father, Stanley, in Mumbai.
Doug’s story is not Russell’s at all, but Russell’s comedy was often about the tensions that come with growing up as a brown man in a majority-white world. He relieves those tensions by making us laugh at them, and reminding us that we’re all just people after all. We felt The Indian Detective conveyed that message, and we were enormously proud to stand behind it.
And of course, we still had a secret weapon – Russell himself, whose lightning quick mind would improvise comedy and clever one-liners that immeasurably improved the scripts under the guidance of the hugely talented director Sandy Johnson.
Aside from some location shooting in Mumbai, we filmed the series in and around Cape Town. We were blessed with an extraordinary cast, including the great Anupam Kher, Mishqah Parthiephal and Hamza Haq doing dual duty as twin brothers, and William Shatner as an evil Canadian real estate developer. Bill was my childhood hero, and getting the chance to work with him, however briefly, was literally a dream come true.
Two days before filming, we had a cast readthrough in a conference room at a hotel. As I looked around the table, I realized most of the actors and crew seated around the table were people of color. It was the first time that had happened in my career. In fact the entire shoot was the most integrated and racially diverse I’ve ever seen.
The show went on to become a ratings blockbuster in Canada and win a CSA nomination for best limited series. But nothing made me more proud than being part of such a talented and diverse company of storytellers.