Meera Syal English comedian, writer, playwright, journalist, and actress. She is known for her work in British films, TV shows, and theatrical productions. In 2023, she was bestowed with the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) fellowship at the Royal Festival Hall.
Meera Syal was born as Feroza Syal on Tuesday, 27 June 1961 (age 62 years; as of 2023) in Wolverhampton and grew up in Essington, Staffordshire, a mining village in England. Later, her parents moved to Bloxwich, West Midlands, England. She did her schooling at Queen Mary’s High School, near Walsall. She pursued a BA with a Double First in English and Drama at Manchester University. She pursued an MA in Drama and Psychotherapy at the University of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. She later received the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). She holds an honorary degree from SOAS, University of London and the University of Roehampton.
Height (approx.): 5′ 7″
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
She belongs to a Punjabi Indian family.
Parents & Siblings
Her father, Surinder Syal, was an accountant, and her mother, Surinder Kaur, was a teacher. She has a younger brother named Rajeev Syal; he worked as an investigative journalist for ‘The Guardian.’
Husband & Children
Meera Syal got married to journalist Shekhar Bhatia in 1989, and divorced in 2002. The couple together has a daughter named Chameli Bhatia (also known as Milli Bhatia); she is an associate director of the Royal Court Theatre. In 2005, Syal got married to Sanjeev Bhaskar, a British actor and TV presenter. The couple together has a son named Shaan Bhaskar.
In 1983, Syal performed the one-woman play ‘One of Us’ in which she acted in all fifteen parts of the play. She performed the drama for the first time at the Stephen Joseph Studio. She later performed it at the National Student Drama Festival, where it was selected to be performed at the Edinburgh International Festival. Following this, Syal was asked to perform the play at the Royal Court on a three-year contract. In 1996, she played the character of a high school soccer coach named Miss Chauhan in the British film ‘Beautiful Thing.’
She has worked as a writer and actor with the BBC team for the BBC comedy sketch show ‘Goodness Gracious Me,’ which was originally aired on the radio channel BBC Radio 4 from 1996 to 1998, and was telecasted on the TV channel BBC Two from 1998 to 2001.
In 2001, she played the role of grandmother Sushila in the TV series ‘The Kumars at No. 42,’ which aired on the channel BBC Two. In 2021, she revived the role of Sushila in BBC Radio 4’s show ‘Gossip and Goddesses with Granny Kumar.’ In 2010, she played the role of Shirley Valentine in a one-woman show, performed at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and later performed at the Trafalgar Studios. Some prominent TV shows and films done by Meera Syal include ‘A Little Princess’ (1986), ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ (1994), ‘The Strangerers’ (2000), ‘Holby City’ (2009), ‘Doctor Strange’ (2016), and ‘Roar’ (2022).
Her debut novel, ‘Anita and Me,’ was published in 1996. It is a semi-autobiographical novel, based on her life in Essington. The novel was adapted into a film with the same name in 2002. She wrote the screenplay for the film and also played the role of Meena’s aunt Shaila in the film. In 2015, the novel was performed as a stage play at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and later performed at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. The novel is also used as a text for an English literature examination in various educational institutes in England.
In 1999, she wrote her second novel ‘Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee.’ It was also published in the German language under the title Sari, Jeans und Chilischoten in 2003. In 2005, the novel was adapted into a BBC TV mini-series with the same name. In 2015, she wrote her third novel titled ‘The House of Hidden Mothers.’
Play and Screenplay
In 1983, Meera Syal co-wrote the one-woman play ‘One of Us’ along with Jackie Shapiro. In 1993, she wrote the screenplay for the British comedy-drama film ‘Bhaji on the Beach,’ directed by Gurinder Chadha. Some other stage plays written by Syal include ‘The Oppressed Minorities Big Fun Show’ (1992), ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ (1999), and ‘Bombay Dreams’ (2002).
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- She won the Betty Trask Award for her debut novel ‘Anita and Me.’
- Syal was appointed MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1997 New Year Honours.
- In 2000, Syal won the Media Personality of the Year award at the Commission for Racial Equality’s annual ‘Race in the Media’ awards.
- In 2003, she received the Nazia Hassan Foundation Award.
- She was listed as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy by ‘The Observer’ in 2003.
- On May 2015, she received the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) at the New Year Honours for her contribution to drama and literature.
- In 2017, she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
- On 14 May 2023, she was honoured with the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) fellowship at the Royal Festival Hall.
- Her parents shifted to the United Kingdom from India, before she was born.
- At that time, her family was the only Asian family who lived in Essington, a mining village in the West Midlands of England.
- While pursuing her graduation, Meera Syal joined the Stephen Joseph Studio, where she started acting and writing stage plays.
- In 1988, Syal sang the song ‘Then He Kissed Me’ along with Rita Wolf and the Pakistani pop singer Nazia Hassan.
- Reportedly, her TV series ‘The Kumars at No. 42’ was one of the favourite TV series of Queen Elizabeth II.
- Apart from being an actor and writer, she is also a journalist. She occasionally writes for the British newspaper ‘The Guardian.’
- Apart from actor, she has also worked as a voice-over artist for two animated series. She became the voice for an owl in the British animated children’s television series ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’ (2010), and in the American animated musical-comedy television series ‘Phineas and Ferb,’ she was the voice for Baljeet’s mother.
- In 2011-12, she was appointed as a visiting professor of Drama for the contemporary theatre at St Catherine’s College, Oxford.
- Meera Syal belongs to a family having rebel roots, who supported the Indian Independence Movement. Her paternal grandfather, Tek Chand Syal, was a communist journalist, who was trapped by Pakistanis. Her maternal grandfather, Phuman Singh, participated in the Jaito Morcha in 1924 and was awarded a Freedom Fighters Pension in 1972 for his participation.
- In April 2022, ‘The Scotsman Magazine’ featured Meera Syal on its cover.