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Mr Khan knows best!
He’s brash, he’s proud and he’s got a point to prove – meet Citizen Khan.
The new BBC sitcom hits our TV screen this Bank holiday Monday.
‘Citizen Khan’ follows the trials and tribulations of big-hearted, loud-mouthed, tight-fisted, self-appointed community leader Mr Khan (Adil Ray) and his long suffering family – wife Mrs Khan (Shobu Kapoor) and daughters Shazia (Maya Sondhi) and Alia (Bhavna Limbachia).
While the Mr Khan character may be new to some viewers, to creator Adil Ray he’s a character he’s been inadvertently working on since childhood.
The loveable larger-than-life self-appointed community leader Mr Khan who now stars in his own BBC One sitcom Citizen Khan has been inspired by many people Adil has known over the years.
Adil explains “From a young child I remember being fascinated by adults. While my cousins played I’d sit with the grown- ups and watch and study adults. I’ve realised that some of Mr Khan’s characteristics must have been stored in my memory bank from watching adults around me.
“There are elements of my family in him, bits of my Dad and also bits of me in there too. I also think there’s a bit of him in all of us – because in the end all he wants is to be loved and respected.”
Adil first developed Mr Khan for the BBC2 comedy Bellamy’s People after being approached by Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson. Previously, Adil had been performing various Asian based characters on his radio show at the BBC Asian Network.
Since then Mr Khan has appeared in his own series for BBC Comedy Online, Adil’s own comedy pilot Sparkhill Sound for BBC Radio 4 and The Real Mr Khan -a documentary looking at the work of community leaders (BBC Radio 4).
Adil recalls how excited he was when he had to create a visual look for his radio character and came up with Mr Khan’s distinctive attire. “I was like a kid in a sweet shop, being able to decide which suit he should wear and the exact shade of beige for his shirt. I think there’s something very Asian and very British about his look because he always wants to look smart.”
For anyone who knows Adil the transformation is incredible and he spends over two hours in the make- up chair in order to be transformed into ‘early fifties’ Mr Khan.
This will be the first time aficionados will see Mr Khan step out of the mockumentary format and into a studio sitcom with his family around him. Adil talks us through the rest of the family – “Mrs Khan is a very strong woman. She wears the trousers. She should be the one wearing that suit! She’s probably inspired by my Mum a little bit; she always finds her way of ruling the roost.”
And what about Mr Khan’s two daughters? “Alia in her hijab is the rebellious younger daughter. In her Dad’s eyes she is almost the perfect daughter but little does he know what she gets up to when he’s not looking. Shazia, the eldest, is a very independent young woman who’s more likely to answer back to her dad which probably annoys him a little bit. He has to deal with three women in his life, which can be difficult for any man to deal with, but it’s even harder for someone like Mr Khan.”
For DJ and presenter Adil, who has had no acting training, one of the challenges of making Citizen Khan was shooting the series in traditional sitcom style in front of a studio audience.
“I was incredibly nervous, but over a six week period I learned so much, it was a fantastic journey for me. I’ve done live work as a presenter before but there’s something quite nice about doing it as a character, as it’s not you and you can actually let yourself go a bit and have lots of fun.”
Like many writers, Adil drew on his own personal experiences to create Citizen Khan. “Growing up in a Muslim family in the 1970’s and 80’s I rarely saw families like ours on TV. So I’m pleased to be able to put that right and share a bit of my culture with a wide audience. It was very important that the production team and I worked closely together to make this authentic. From the style of the Khan's carpet to the Muslim artefacts on the wall, it has to feel and look like a Pakistani Muslim home. "
Adil chose to set Citizen Khan in his own home-town of Birmingham “purely out of familiarity. I think Birmingham is a very rich and diverse city. It’s a real melting pot, so I think it’s an obvious place to be. Plus I think it’s about time we had Birmingham represented in TV comedy. You only ever see London or up North, so hang on what happened to the Britain in the middle?”
Adil has written Citizen Khan with Richard Pinto and Anil Gupta whose previous credits include Goodness Gracious Me and Meet the Kumars, both shows which Adil was an admirer of.
“I remember when Goodness Gracious Me first came on the radio; it just made me stand still in the room. I could not believe what I was hearing and I didn’t want to miss a second of it. I thought wow; this is so strong that we are laughing at ourselves. It was iconic and utterly utterly brilliant.”
Comedy fan Adil cites comedian Dave Allen as another influence. “I love the fact that he was an Irish Catholic, who was prepared to laugh at his own community, and boy did he laugh, it was great. The biggest most important thing you can do is laugh at yourself. You then negate anything anybody can ever do, it’s the ultimate weapon. If you can laugh at yourself it doesn’t matter what anybody says to you as you’re laughing already.”
So does Adil believe viewers will laugh along with the Khan family? “I certainly hope the British public will find a place for The Khans in their hearts. I think so many families will relate to them whether it’s relating to the Dad who’s not willing to put his hand in his pocket or the tensions when there are three women in the house.”
“One of the most frequent things people have said to me at the recordings are this could be an Irish family, or a Jewish family or an Italian family. And I think that in itself is a great place to be. It doesn’t matter what religion you are or what background, we all have the same problems, highs and lows, the same experiences and of course the same comedy mishaps!”
Citizen Khan starts on BBC1 on Monday 27 August at 10.20pm
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