The exuberance of bhangra dancing was given unexpected exposure to UK audiences when comedian Paul Merton joined in a dance competition in the Punjab – wearing colourful robes and a turban made from five metres of orange cloth!
Better known for his television appearances on BBC’s Have I Got News For You, and radio quizzes, Paul showcased bhangra in the second episode of his channel Five series, Merton in India.
In the town of Bathinda. he was invited to review a parade of Sikh police officers, who marched with military precision but without the finely-honed athleticism of an army unit, looking just a little ample round the waistband.
But if Paul had visited the force several months earlier, he would have found a conspicuously corpulent body of officers.
The way they had put on the pounds had become a matter of public comment and so a decision was made to turn them into weight watchers – and bhangra was to play a major part in the slimming down process.
The dance became a highly unorthodox but effective part of the men’s calorie-burning endeavours.
“Bhangra really takes it out of you,” Paul was assured by top officer Senior Superintendent Singh.
Next thing, the comedian found he had been recruited into the superintendent’s team, for a Bathinda police bhangra competition, his apprehensions allayed by the advice: “Dance with gay abandon”.
On stage with his teammates Paul did himself credit and enjoyed himself immensely, to the delight of spectators. “I danced joyously and moved my hands a lot”, he reported afterwards.
He was not part of the winning team, however, as they missed out on the first prize of a fridge.
Merton in India is running on Five on Wednesdays at 9pm (repeated on Mondays at 10pm) for five weeks in all.
India’s kaleidoscope of religions and regions, ethnicities, customs, sights, sounds and smells is providing the programme makers with a challenging selection of things for Paul to see and do.
In marked contrast to his appearances on Have I Got News For You, where he is seldom at a loss for words, the comedian is sometimes reduced to speechlessness by his encounters.
In episode two alone, he visited a Jaipur workshop that can make a £20 prosthetic limb and shoe for amputees in an hour, was humiliated at the crease by a group of blind cricketers, met the world’s smallest body builder - just 33ins tall – and joined a gang of eunuchs who visit shops to demand money, lacking any other support, and leave a curse on those who refused.
That was far from retail therapy, for Paul, who found it downright scary at times but he is also noting “lovely uplifting experiences” in what promises to be a fascinating and much discussed series.