top of page
  • Writer's pictureWFTV

WFTV Awards 2023: A Conversation with Meera Syal CBE

At the WFTV Awards 2023, Meera Syal CBE FRSL was awarded with our most prestigious honour: The EON Productions Lifetime Achievement Award.


Meera Syal is an exceptionally talented actor, writer and comedian, who through forging a decades long career has broken down barriers and elevated the voices of British South Asians.

 

Syal’s parents immigrated to the UK from New Delhi, settling in a village in the West Midlands. Syal was always drawn to acting and nurtured a love of language but didn’t consider either as viable careers: “I didn’t see anybody like me out there. All my contemporaries were being funnelled in sensible immigrant subjects like medicine and law…but luckily my parents were pretty liberal.” Studying English and Drama at university opened up a new world of creative expression, and she co-wrote and performed in a one-woman show that went to the Edinburgh Festival, landing her acting work at the Royal Court Theatre.


Meera Syal CBE accepts the EON Productions Lifetime Achievement Award at the WFTV Awards 2023

 

From co-creating and starring in beloved BBC sketch show Goodness Gracious Me, to playing the wickedly funny granny in The Kumars at No.42, to writing the screenplay for Gurinder Chadha’s debut feature film Bhaji on the Beach, Syal affectionately explores the nuances of British South Asian identity. “I only started writing because the roles available to me as a South Asian woman was so pitiful,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘I can't make a living playing somebody standing behind Edwina Mountbatten waving, or another victim of an arranged marriage because that just isn’t my life experience.’” One of Syal’s most impactful projects was her semi-autobiographical 1996 novel Anita and Me, which she adapted into a screenplay in 2002. The novel is now a set text on the GCSE curriculum, inspiring a new generation, and her unconventional memoir will be published in 2025.


Syal herself was hugely inspired by the beloved late comedian, actress and writer Victoria Wood CBE. She recalls seeing Wood on television and her work feeling like a breath of fresh air: "She's northern, she's working class, she's not a size 10. And most of all, she's telling the truth, this observation that was very female, I thought she was a true feminist actually...she was so freakishly funny, and captured women's lives and women's friendships in such a profound way." Wood's somewhat unlikely stardom gave Syal hope that there could be a place for her in comedy. "I thought, well, I'm as unexpected. And unrepresented as she she is, and she's doing it. So maybe I can."

 

Meera Syal CBE and Sir Lenny Henry at the WFTV Awards 2023

A fierce advocate for amplifying unheard voices, Syal has certainly witnessed some positive changes in the industry, like significantly more women in leading creative roles. She recognises, however, that more work must be done: “Everyone’s under pressure to deliver and to do the safe thing. And when people are going safe then generally they're not talking about stories that feature minority women…And you go well, who's actually got the ovaries and the money to take those risks?”. She has worked with relatively few women creatives herself, and Sally Wainwright and Nicola Shindler are high on her wish-list.

 

But Syal certainly hasn’t moved away from acting, appearing on stage as Romeo and Juliet’s Nurse for Kenneth Branagh, in series such as Broadchurch, The Split and The Devil’s Hour, and Hollywood projects like Paddington 2, Yesterday and The Wheel of Time. In 2015 she was awarded a CBE and in May 2023 she accepted a BAFTA Fellowship. How does all this recognition feel? “I just go, wow, how lucky am I to have made a living from the thing I never thought I'd ever get the chance to do? And that's the kind of thing you tell yourself when you've got a 5am call and had to dress in the dark and put your pants on the wrong way around.”



You can watch the highlights of the WFTV Awards 2023 here.




69 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page