Set in the Himalayan foothills of Simla but filmed in the jungles of Penang, Malaysia, Indian Summers depicts the decline of the British Empire. Series writer Paul Rutman focuses on the ordinary people – the civil servants, missionaries and businessmen – who struggled to recreate England in an exotic land.
“Every day we were at the house, there was an invasion of monkeys that would come flying through the trees. It was unreal,” explains Henry Lloyd-Hughes, who plays the private secretary to the Viceroy of India, Ralph Whelan.
The cast and crew got to spend weeks in the jungles of Penang. To get to the secluded filming location, they had to drive to a funicular railway, take railway cars hundreds of feet up a mountain and get a golf buggy down a small mountain road until they reached a cliff with a stunning view for miles around.
“Everything there looks technicolor,” says Lloyd-Hughes, “the jungle is so green, there are butterflies in the background of every shot and monkeys are at several of the locations… There were pretty crazy goings on!” A slapstick comedy moment during filming included a wild monkey terrorising the horse he was sitting on.
“There’s a key scene, in episode four, in the botanical gardens at the bottom of the hill. We were trying to do a close up of my face, but the horse kept on rocking back and forwards and getting increasingly skittish,” explains Lloyd-Hughes. “I wondered what was going on; I looked up and there was a monkey on a telegraph poll flicking leaves at this horse and making crazy monkey noises. It was making the horse go bonkers.” A member of the crew tried to rescue the scene by scaring the monkey off with a broomstick, “but the broomstick terrified the horse even more,” laughs Hughes. “It dissolved into this chaos. A lot of things like that happened on a daily basis.”
Meanwhile, Olivia Grant, who plays Madeline Mathers in the series, was stung by a scorpion during dinner. “For pudding we had an exotic fruit platter – the fruit that you get out there is really amazing – she reached over to pick a lychee and she got stung by a scorpion that had hidden in the fruit.”
As well as contending with nature, the production team had to construct a city, building backstreets and a market alongside an old museum. Other scenes were filmed at Unesco sites and renovated original buildings, which double for the colonialists’ grand properties in the series.
“My character’s house was an old government building,” says Lloyd-Hughes. Before the Indian Summers team arrived, it had been reclaimed by the jungle. “It was completely overgrown. The team spent months digging this house out of the jungle and created a whole new landscaped garden for us.”
Here Henry Lloyd-Hughes’s top tips for travellers to Penang…
“The most common way to eat food is outside. They have these hawker markets, which are amazing. Penang is one of the world’s food destinations. You can get the best combinations of foods from around Asia. You have nyonya cuisine, which is a combination of Chinese and Malaysian, you have Malaysian and Indian food. You have to go to at least one or two hawker markets, it’s where you see the culture, it’s where you see grandma having dinner with her grandson, and young people, it’s where it all comes together.”
Go trekking in the jungle
“Guy Williams (who plays Roundtree, the regional policeman) grew up in Kenya, he’s a lovely man and a real adventurer. Half of the extra-curricular adventures we wouldn’t have gotten into if it wasn’t for him. We went on a really incredible trek through the national park on the other coast of the island. We hiked through really thick jungle. Right in the middle of this two-three hour walk there was a monsoon; it was like getting sprayed down by a fire hose. It was kind of scary and kind of brilliant. We saw a couple of big snakes and a monitor lizard. All these exotic things are just right there. It was great, and a great way of bonding.”
Invest in a tailor-made suit
“The tailors in Penang are fantastic. There are several very famous fabric houses where you can go and make clothes. The fabric choices are amazing; you can get linens and silks. I had so many suits and shirts made. By meeting tailors and looking at fabric you are interacting with the place you’re in too.”
Indulge cafe culture
“There’s an amazing cafe culture in Penang. There’s one called China house, which is a cool hangout spot where people can while away an afternoon or go there for dinner. It’s a really happening place.”
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