Next of Kin examines the impact of terrorism on victims and perpetrators alikeby Catherine Woulfe
In contrast to most television shows, new British drama Next of Kin focuses on the fallout of terrorism, rather than the action.
Handsome Kareem is a medic doing charity work in Lahore, Pakistan. He’s capable and kind to a fault, stopping to help a sick child even as he rushes to catch a plane home to London.
Cut to his lovely sister Mona, and her charmed day as a doctor in London. She picks up a beribboned cake and heads for home. Then: sirens, smoke – a terrorist attack, just a few blocks away. Mona arrives home shaken. But there’s a welcome-home party to organise. The kids dance. Cooking oil hisses and spits. It’s positively sinister.
A policeman knocks at the door: Kareem’s been abducted. And where is his adult son, Danny? Things fall apart.
Navin Chowdhry told the Listener his casting as Kareem was a deliberate bit of misdirection: director Paul Rutman wanted “someone in there that you wouldn’t think would get knocked off in the first 10 minutes”.
Chowdhry took the oddly dead-end role because he liked that the show focuses on the impact terrorism has on the families of victims and perpetrators, rather than zooming in on the action. He was also taken with the “heartbreaking” father-son storyline that unfolds through the series.
“How, as a parent, you can get too involved in your life and your career and really lose sight of what’s happening around you, with your family.”
The cast is led by Archie Panjabi, riveting as Kalinda in The Good Wife and just as good here, as Mona. Shabana Azmi gives a quiet, devastating performance as Mona and Kareem’s mother.
“My first ever job, when I was 15 years old, we played mother and son,” says Chowdhry. “People have drawn comparisons to her as the Indian Meryl Streep and that’s certainly a well-earned comparison.”
Is it unusual for a British drama to have a generally Asian cast like this one? “Yes,” Chowdhry says, simply. While a lot more thought is being put into diverse casting, the colour of one’s skin is “still quite a big thing, sadly”.
Outside of acting, he says, he experienced “a hell of a lot of racism” growing up in Britain. Now, he’s noticing a return to resentment and discontent.
Which makes a show like this one all the more pertinent.
This article was first published in the August 11, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
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