Brit TV stars find a past in Mumbai

Updated: May 03, 2020, 09:08 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

The Thomas Brothers accompany their musician father to trace his Anglo Indian ancestry for a three-part series for UK television

The Thomas Brothers wanted to experience an Indian festival, so they headed to Jejuri on an auspicious day when turmeric is sprayed in the air as part of the celebrations. "It was phenomenal to be at the top of this amazing temple while having the chance to reflect on the whole trip, covered head to toe in turmeric, alongside thousands of others," says Ryan Thomas (extreme left)
The Thomas Brothers wanted to experience an Indian festival, so they headed to Jejuri on an auspicious day when turmeric is sprayed in the air as part of the celebrations. "It was phenomenal to be at the top of this amazing temple while having the chance to reflect on the whole trip, covered head to toe in turmeric, alongside thousands of others," says Ryan Thomas (extreme left)

The Jonas Brothers might rock the charts in the US, but across the Atlantic, ask a TV-mad tween to name her idol, and chances are, she will pick one of the Thomas Brothers. Manchester-born Ryan, Scott and Adam are reality television stars. But their life had a Bollywood-like dramatic element surrounding the hazy link their father had with India. Dougie James, 72, lead vocalist for a famous 1960s band called Dougie James and the Soul Train was big on the circuit and had even toured with Michael Jackson. Dougie's father, Nolan, a young journalist in Bombay, decided to leave India post-Independence, like many Anglo Indians, to start a life in the UK. He anchored himself in Manchester.

Ryan, Adam and Scott with their father, Dougie James near Gol Deval Market
Ryan, Adam and Scott with their father, Dougie James near Gol Deval Market

Absolutely India: Mancs in Mumbai is a just-released ITV documentary that attempts to trace the family's bloodlines across continents and unearth the brothers' 'quarter-Indian side', as the publicity poster suggests. "When we were in early talks to do something as brothers, this idea leaped out at us. Apart from focusing on us as family, it allowed us to explore the secrets about our Indian roots, meet relatives we never knew existed," says Adam, 35, over email. The former Coronation Street star adds that the brothers were excited to take their father back to his father's birthplace. "We knew nothing beyond the fact that there was an India connect," admits Ryan, 31, who has acted in Love Island. His twin, Scott, appeared on the television show Emmerdale. He says, "We didn't see our dad for a while when growing up, and during this trip, we finally got to deal with that." He is referring to the period after their parents divorced when Dougie left home briefly, revealing that they experienced unscripted emotional bonding once the camera rolled. "This was huge for my dad because he loved his father, but knew nothing about his early years."

The crew from both countries along with the Thomas Brothers, Dougie and Amit Vachharajani (standing, fourth from right) at CSMT
The crew from both countries along with the Thomas Brothers, Dougie and Amit Vachharajani (standing, fourth from right) at CSMT

Prep began in early June for the three-week shoot schedule over September-October. Locations like Haines Road (Bapurao Jagtap Marg) in Byculla, where Nolan lived as a youngster, St Mary's Anglican Church in Parel, and St Peter's School in Mazagaon were identified, along with digging up a clutch of other leads. But, as luck would have it, the Maharashtra state election dates were announced, and Amit Vachharajani, producer, Backpack Films, was faced with the task of securing permissions to shoot. "The code of conduct had come into place; filming wasn't easy with a 20-member crew. Since the show had to also capture them soaking in diverse experiences, we shot in places like Crawford Market, Gol Deval, Dawa Bazaar, Lohar Chawl and Dharavi. Logistically, it was a nightmare to negotiate the chaos with our heavy equipment," he recalls. But Ryan picks those parts as his favourite moments: "It was intense and inspiring to learn that some of these people work, sleep and live here. We also visited a drama school for lesser privileged kids [run by Bapurao Lad] in Dharavi. That was a humbling experience." For Scott and Adam, it was their time at Gorai's Vipassana Pagoda that stood out. "Once we were inside, it was magical. We were lucky to meet one of the teachers who gave us a meditation class," Adam recollects.

At St Mary’s Anglican Church, Parel pics/multistory media/itv studios; amit v
At St Mary’s Anglican Church, Parel Pics/Multistory Media/ITV Studios; Amit V

Their research took them to Malad, where they were to meet their paternal cousins—singer Keisha B and her family. "Later, when we all dropped by for her gig at an Andheri club, Dougie joined her on stage," recalls Vachharajani. The family discovered that Nolan was related to Blossom Lillywhite's family, president of the Mumbai branch of the All India Anglo Indian Association. "It was surreal for all of us. Now, we are on a group family chat and keep in touch," says Adam, to which Ryan adds, "The similarities were amazing—they all are incredibly social, have the Thomas sense of humour and the distinctive Thomas nose!"

Adam Thomas is filmed getting his ears cleaned from a kaan-saaf wallah near Crawford Market
Adam Thomas is filmed getting his ears cleaned from a kaan-saaf wallah near Crawford Market

From derring-do tasting sessions over fire paan in the gullies near old Diamond Market, to champi and kaan-safai routines, and devouring plates of sev puri, the brothers went all out to soak in the Mumbai experience. Scott even got a 'fire haircut', made popular by a Ghatkopar hairstylist. However, a tight schedule meant that the boys and Dougie couldn't stay for more than three weeks. "They wanted to spend time off camera," shares Vachharajani. But Adam is hopeful of a big reunion with the new-found family.

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