On September 28, PBS posts some of the most stunning photos and reports some of the most interesting news of last evening’s super moon. PBS.org provides many enriching artistic and educational gifts for the country and the world for children, adults, and/or families with shows and series such as: “Masterpiece,” “American Experience,” “American Masters,” “Sesame Street,” “Arthur,” “Curious George,” “Great Performances,” “National Parks,” “Pioneers of Television,” “Live from Lincoln Center” and much more. Their programming is available on television, DVDs, and streaming.
An intriguing nine-part historical drama series that started last evening on PBS for the fall is “Indian Summers.” It begins with a viewer discretion advisory, which warns that this series may not be suitable for all audiences. The content of this historical, tragic, dramatic series is clearly for adults and like many Masterpiece dramatic series, it has spectacular cinematography and beautiful costuming. On September 28, Variety asks if this series in the new Downton Abbey?
The opening scene of Episode One begins with a suffering Indian boy viewing the long winding trek of Indians carrying British belongings on long poles to a grand lodging, Simla, which is a little English area from which the British govern during the summer months. The first episode shows a dusty club in shambles with a sign on the front “No Dogs or Indians.” A British woman with a lower class, Cockney dialect in a multi-faceted performance embodies both the upstairs and the downstairs of this world as she directs Indians to freshen up the club for the summer season.
“Indian Summers” takes place in the summer of 1932, when India struggles towards Independence, but the British cling to power. The series is set against the sweeping grandeur of the Himalayas and tea plantations of Northern India, during the decline of the British Empire and the birth of modern India. The story is told from both sides of this period of history in multi-dimensional, multi-faceted intrigues. corruption, abuses of power in the British and Indian multi-classed cultures. Further, it follows the collision of power, politics, and personal relationships as the British rule declines and the Indian self-rule emerges.
PBS has provided information on the historical background on which the series is based. Paul Rutman, who has written the series, gives insights about this period. He says that the series covers five summers that lead up to India’s independence in 1947. In 1932, India was run by the Viceroy, who had the status of a king. The historic Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, was oppressive. Paul Rutman says that the summer of 1932 has been described as “the era of masked balls and black terror.”
Rutman has further explained that every summer, the capital would move from Delhi to Simla and that entire administration would be run from this one tiny village in the Himalayas. Rutman has shared that for six months every year, thousands of “coolies,” would carry everything that included furnishings and pianos up the giant hill, 2000 meters up. Rutman shares that on the order of Lord Willingdon, Gandhi was imprisoned in 1932 but was still very powerful, as the head of the Nationalists, known as the Congress.
During the period, according to Rutman, the English at Simla clung to old manners and music “…to keep this little England going in an environment that is completely inappropriate…” Rutman has explained who the Parsees are in this story. They were a small but interesting community who spoke English and did well under the British. They had mixed feelings about the British. Among them were prominent pro-independence figures. However, they were also fearful of what would happen to them once the British left. Rutman has told how the expatriate British who lived in India were not necessarily rich but in India they could live like the British upper-class with eight to fifteen servants. (A guide book by Flora Annie Steel has explained how and why British women, “memsahibs,” needed 15 servants.)
PBS historical dramas and documentaries can create in viewers an interest in studying history, especially from primary sources. Many of us these days learn about history from films more than textbooks or other forms of print. However, historical fiction films can pique viewers’ interest in further study of history, especially from primary (first-hand) sources. Thankfully, primary sources (journals, photos, archival film footage and more) are easily available online today from educational, museum, and archival sites. Historical films can spur study from scholarly and primary sources “to see if it were so.” (The Bible)