Hard hitting issues of segregation and immigration are tackled head on in the theatrical adaptation of Meera Syal’s book, Anita And Me.
Former EastEnders star Ameet Chana takes on the role of Shyam, father to main character Meena, in the coming-of-age tale soon to arrive in the form of Tanika Gupta’s stage adaptation at Theatre Royal Stratford East.
“It’s not scared of showing how it was in those early days of the 1970s and segregation,” said Ameet.
He said he felt a connection to the experiences shared in the cinematic version, which resonated with stories told by his parents, even if the overall take was a little soft.
The action centres on the Kumars, a Punjabi family living in the West Midlands mining village of Tollington, in the 1970s.
“The first half of the play in the village is where the locals don’t see the Kumars as anything different,” said Ameet.
“But it’s as soon as motorways kicked in and developments happened the bigger issues come into play – that’s when things start to get ugly.
“Racism was rife but it wasn’t racism that was offensive – a lot of it was ignorance and not knowing, not being aware of something new.
“The play deals with the issues and I think in 2015, people are totally aware of them and have come through them – it hits it on the nail.”
Ameet said as an actor, the role offered a “refreshing” opportunity to act a character based on a real person.
The book is semi-autobiographical, based on Syal’s experiences as a teenager.
As Meena’s father, Ameet said his role was key to the girl’s exploration of the wider issues of who she was and where she came from.
“He sees the flair and ability in Meena,” he said. “He loves the fact that Meena dances and sings and stuff, which was beautiful for that time.
“He wanted his child to follow their dreams – and you can see that’s where Meera got her flair from.”
And although the play is set amid the West Midlands, Ameet said the action would also resonate with a Stratford audience.
He believes this is because the areas faced a similar influx of immigration 40 years ago, particularly from parts of east Africa and Asia.
“The community going to Theatre Royal Stratford East are well versed because of what went on over the past 30 years and will resonate closely with it,” he said.
“So I think east London is going to be very warm and welcoming to us.
“And it’s a community that might never have gone to the theatre, had the theatre not made the amazing decision to put these plays on.”
Various times, October 29-November 21, From £7, Theatre Royal Stratford East.