Paul Merton in India

Paul Merton’s fascinating tour of India comes to an end. In the final episode, Paul meets the children who live in Mumbai’s central station; discovers the joys of ‘Mollywood’ cinema; endures past-life regression therapy; and meets an exceptionally dedicated record breaker.

Paul is in Chennai, India’s fourth-largest city, for a relaxing stroll on the beach. But the peace is shattered by a group of gambolling movie stuntmen who are keen to show off their skills. “We are not bothered about death,” says one man. Nearby, a group of locals practise fake laughter as a form of exercise, explaining to Paul their philosophy that “laughter is the best medicine”.

Leaving eclectic Chennai behind, Paul travels to cosmopolitan Mumbai, the country’s commercial and cultural capital. At the bustling central station, he is introduced to some of the children who sleep on the platforms next to the trains. These enterprising kids eke out a living by collecting discarded plastic bottles and taking them to be recycled. Many of these young runaways were attracted to Mumbai for its reputation as the ‘city of dreams’. “Some of them want to become a film hero in Bollywood,” explains Paul’s guide.

A ten-hour drive from Mumbai is the town of Malegaon, home to a film industry all of its own. The ultra-low budget movies of ‘Mollywood’ spoof some of India’s better-known films. Paul learns that the resourceful locals are about to shoot their parody of James Bond – complete with a toy helicopter and a villain named ‘Mr Burpy’, played by the local print shop owner. Each film has a budget of around £250, but distributors will pay up to £600 to show them. “Relatively speaking, these Malegaon filmmakers are among the most successful in the world,” Paul says.

Back in Mumbai, Paul is surprised to learn of the existence of a local PG Wodehouse fan club. He cannot resist the opportunity to meet some fellow Wodehouse fanatics, and is intrigued to find out how this quintessentially English humour translates in India. “After all the stress of the day, you want to be with like-minded people, and be able to laugh and jest with them,” explains one fan. For Paul, this propensity for laughter seems to be a recurring theme in India. “The one thing I’ve noticed everywhere is people are very ready to laugh,” he reflects.

However, Paul’s next stop is altogether more serious. He is invited to a past-life regression centre, where he is to undergo hypnosis to try and determine the origins of his vertigo. Past-life regression was invented in California but has enjoyed some success in India, where belief in reincarnation is widespread. One of the centre’s clients, Sunil, is a former sceptic who now sings its praises. “It’s a life-enriching process,” he says. “It’s changed the way I live my life.” Keeping an open mind, Paul lies down on the hypnotist’s couch and prepares to explore his past lives.

After returning from his spiritual journey, Paul has one last person to visit in Mumbai. He meets a man who once set a world record by having 18 concrete blocks smashed on his groin with a sledgehammer. The man’s other records include the highest number of kicks to the groin in one session – 43, to be exact. Paul is invited to test the man’s eye-watering endurance by kicking him repeatedly in the crotch. Once he gets into the swing of things, the bemused comic finds it surprisingly hard to stop. “My worry is that I’ve got a taste for it now,” he says.

Paul Merton embarks on a fascinating tour of India in this brand-new five-part series for Five. Beginning in Delhi, Paul enjoys a course in etiquette before taking a ride on a stationary plane and finding out about the city’s street monkeys. Elsewhere in India, he visits a temple devoted to rats and participates in a huge religious ceremony.

Having conquered China, comedian Paul Merton now sets his sights on India, an astonishingly diverse country of one billion people. Paul intends to beat his own path around this enormous subcontinent, shunning the traditional tourist spots in favour of unexpected sights and surprising detours. “This is my India,” he says.

Confronted by the noise, traffic and swarms of people as he arrives in Delhi, a jet-lagged Paul cannot fail to be dazzled by his surroundings. “This country is overwhelming – a dizzying mix of sight, sound and colour,” he says. Over the course of his eight-week trip, Paul hopes to discover the heart of India: “It’s a country of contradictions. On the one hand, you have a nuclear superpower; on the other hand, they worship snakes!”

Paul’s first stop is a finishing school where he learns the finer points of Indian etiquette, including essential tips such as always eating with the right hand and burping to show one’s enjoyment of a meal. Afterwards, he meets his guide, Ruchira, a journalist with expert knowledge of India. Ruchira has a good inkling of what Paul might like to see, and takes him to visit a somewhat unusual airport.

The airport in question boasts only one, battered old plane – but Paul is relieved to discover this aircraft is not supposed to fly. In fact, it remains stationary on the ground while locals queue up to go on board. The flight attendants go through the motions of preparing for take-off, much to the delight of the ‘passengers’, for whom this experience is the closest they will come to flying.

This bizarre flight simulator is the brainchild of the plane’s captain, Mr Gupta – a former engineer who re-assembled the craft in his backyard for the benefit of the locals. “Basically, we’re fulfilling their life dream,” he says. Paul, who is wary of air travel at the best of times, thinks this is definitely the best way to fly – even when the captain ‘ditches’ the plane in some imaginary water and the passengers have to jump out on the slides.

Later, Ruchira takes Paul to meet the Monkey Squad, a group tasked with clearing Delhi’s streets of their infamous primates. “Like everything else in India, there’s a unique solution,” she says. In this case, the monkeys are chased away by larger monkeys and their human handlers. Paul is especially pleased to hear these hard-working simians are considered government employees. “So they’re civil servants!” he declares.

Leaving the capital behind, Paul heads to the town of Bikaner in Rajasthan and visits a temple where rats are revered as sacred beings and allowed to run around the building. Paul overcomes his natural aversion to the scavenging rodents and even feeds them by hand, declaring them to be “not so bad” on closer inspection.

Paul’s first week ends with a trip to a massive religious festival in the remote town of Junagadh. The Shivratri celebrations are dedicated to the god Shiva and attract more than a million people. Paul meets a group of naked holy men who shun the wearing of clothes, and feels privileged to be initiated into their sect. Ruchira reveals that this particular group is famous for performing unusual arts. “One of the arts they have practised is that they can do anything with their penises!” she says. An intrigued Paul cannot help but seek a demonstration of their eye-watering abilities.

Following the success of his China travelogue, Paul Merton, Britain’s most unlikely explorer, will journey right to the heart of a country where anything can happen, in his new five-part, hour-long series Paul Merton in India. Paul brings his own unique perspective to this vast and diverse country where we see him hanging out with a gang of Eunuchs; dining with convicted criminals in a high security prison; learning to ‘rock’ on stage Indian style, and getting swamped by thousands of naked holy men at a remote hilltop festival. Facing angry elephants, delinquent monkeys, spitting cobras and holy rats along the way, Paul heads off to find the ‘alternative’ India.

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