James May: Our Man in India will show us the vibrancy and wonder of the Indian sub-continent. Lucky James May has already explored Japan and Italy for his Our Man In… series and now, for his latest adventure on Prime Video, he’s setting off on a 3,000-mile coast-to-coast trip around India.
Joining up with local comedian Aditi Mittal, James will head from the Arabian Sea in the west of the vast country to the Bay of Bengal in the east, trying his hand at everything from creating pottery and playing cricket to making his debut in an India soap opera and travelling on a luxury steam train.
“I’ve been to India four or five times, but I still feel like one of those soft Westerners arriving for the first time,” says James. “It just feels like India is trying to beat you up. We are going to embrace the modern, the historic, the artistic, the creative, the cultural, the culinary and the natural and it’s going to be most excellent.”
James certainly keeps his promise. Here’s everything you need to know about the series James May: Our Man in India…
James May: Our Man in India release date
James May: Our Man in India launches worldwide on Prime Video on Friday January 5 2024.
Is there a trailer for James May: Our Man in India?
Yes you can get a taster of the adventures to be served up in James May: Our Man in India in the trailer below…
James May: Our Man in India — destinations and episode guide
in James May: Our Man in India, James will make a cross-country trip across the most populous, and possibly the noisiest and most colourful, country in the world. Starting in Mumbai, he’ll work his way from the west to the east of India’s coastline, ending his journey in the Bay of Bengal. Along the way he’ll take part in traditional ceremonies, embrace Indian cuisine, and meet those who call the country home, including stand-up comedian Aditi Mittal.
Here’s a brief episode guide for James May: Our Man in India...
James May explores Mumbai and wanders around Dharavi, which despite being a slum is also a thriving entrepreneurial hub and the setting for the film Slumdog Millionaire. He tries his hand at pottery and visits a legendary Bollywood cinema. James has his fortune told before heading off on a 500-mile trip to Udaipur in Rajasthan, where he flies kites and celebrates the religious festival Holi.
In Boraj, near Jaipur, James visits a duke, or Thakur, who shows him around some holy temples. Despite being scared of heights, he scales the Panna Meena ka Kund stepwell before heading to Delhi. He tries out the cuisine in the Chandri Chowk food market and then heads to the biggest manufacturer of cricket bats and balls. James then travels on the Maharajas’ Express train and finally ticks off a bucket list item, visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra. His journey ends in Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges.
James journeys to the foothills of the Himalayas, to Darjeeling where he learns all about tea. He takes a ride on a steam train and check out the former capital Kolkata. Then, he lands a role in an Indian soap opera. He visits the Sundarbans islands and helps out at a tiger conservation project. James meets the baby that made India the most populous country on the planet and ends his journey in the Bay of Bengal.
Exclusive interview: James May on his adventures in this series
You’ve said that as a foreigner India tries to beat you up. What do you mean?James Mays says: “It doesn’t actually do anything physically harmful to you. There’s a small risk of being run over by an auto rickshaw or something like that if you don’t cross the road carefully. But it’s more an overall sense that it’s just so intense. It’s also quite hot and it’s very busy, so it’s as if the day-to-day business of living is somehow more exhausting. I don’t think it is if you’re a local. To them it’s perfectly normal but it feels like that for us coming from the west, from quite a reserved, actually quite orderly society whereas India is a bit more free-flowing and a bit more, in a very nice way, a bit more tiring. You get used to it very quickly. A lot of people have told me, including Indians who live in Britain but go back there, that for the first two days you think ‘oh my god, I’m not sure I can actually cope with this’ especially if you start somewhere like Mumbai which is the busiest place in the world. It’s just incredible.”
What were the highlights of the trip for you?
James says: “I think the most memorable bits are the Varanasi experience (where James experienced a festival on the banks of the Ganges river) and then actually getting right out into tiger territory. I’d never been there and I didn’t actually know anything about it, so I had no idea that it would look like that or be that hot. It’s actually quite challenging and difficult to move around in because for years there’s been this threat of tiger attacks. It’s better now because they’ve got this new string fence, which is actually quite sophisticated, but there used to be a fairly gruesome toll of villagers lost to tigers. Tigers are man-eaters, they are not like sharks that occasionally bite someone when they’ve made a mistake. The rangers even have some film of it happening. The tigers will come out of the woods and they will think ‘right there we go, I’ll have him’. They will eat you, a bit like crocodiles do. So it was fantastic but we didn’t see a tiger. They are actually very rare. But I found that in that area there are small villages that are almost the archetype of the Indian villages you’d expect there to be. But they are there for real, it’s not a tourist attraction. They are these little villages linked by one path and their ponds and their wells and their lovely houses and their lovely scenery. It was very magical. When I was a kid, I had those picture books where there was always a picture of an African village and there was always a picture of an Indian village. This did look a bit like the pictures in the book, which would have been drawn well over half a century ago.”
You made your acting debut, portraying professor of theology, William Hastie. How did you find that?
James says: “It was nerve-wracking because we originally thought they would give us a very innocuous little cameo role in something like a soap but because they were very keen to show off Tollywood (The Bengali film industry), reasonably enough because it’s very successful, they gave me a serious part. Then it turned into a bit of a responsibility. Obviously you can’t muck about being the theologian William Hastie. I had to take it seriously but I’m not an actor and I’ve never really done anything like that. So it made quite good telly because I kept cocking it up but it was actually quite nerve-wracking. I can’t say I was completely relaxed. It was quite a responsibility. I thought I looked like Billy Connelly in it because my hair was quite long and I was looking a bit Billy Connellyish. A terrible insult to the great man.”
You’ve mentioned before that you make the odd faux-pas on your trips. What reaction did you get to those in India?
James says: “I don’t think I did anything really bad. There were no inappropriate jokes about the days of the Raj or anything like that. Aditi (the comedian James travels with) picks me up on a lot of stuff like that, that’s one of the reasons we put her in the show. I knew she’d continually have a pop at me about it because it’s something she feels quite strongly about, the legacy of colonialism and all these other topics that have been pretty hot in the last year or so. But I don’t think I actually offended anybody. There were times in Japan where unwittingly I might have seemed quite crass to the locals because Japanese protocol is so very precise and it’s quite difficult for us to grasp but I think the Indians are perhaps a little more forgiving so I don’t think I’m on a wanted poster or anything in India.”
Have your travels changed you?
James says: “Travel supposedly broadens the mind. I don’t think it automatically does, you have to do it in the right way. If you just go on holiday and basically just go around the world enjoying other people’s weather and food I don’t think that does necessarily expand your mind in any meaningful way. I don’t think you can go fully the other way either and pretend to integrate with another society and become Indian or Italian or Korean or wherever you are but you can visit a country in such a way that you remain totally open-minded about it and what it all means and you recognise that you are a guest – an uninvited guest strictly speaking, you’ve imposed yourself upon them. You have to not go to India and try and apply your European sensibilities to the Indian way of life because it’s very different. It’s very different but it’s not incomprehensible, it’s just different.”
What surprised you about India?
James says: “Well I’ve been to India quite a few times before, sometimes on holiday and we filmed there with Top Gear but that was quite a regulated experience. There is a reputation for India being chaotic and difficult to get things done but I think it’s a bit of a myth. People were extremely helpful and we had fantastic fixers and everything actually moves quite smoothly, everything from parking the car to our lunchtime biryani arriving and the people we wanted to meet being there and ready. It’s all very accommodating and it all worked very smoothly to the extent that we slightly over planned things the we did, imagining some of them would be thwarted by travel difficulties or the weather or organisational stuff. But actually it worked and we had to end up simply ditching stuff because we had too much material. Which is better than it being the other way around, trying to stretch stuff out. But also slightly sad in a way because I think no one is going to see me in that elephant sanctuary and I really loved being there.”
Did you enjoy the festival of Holi?
James says: “It’s great fun and it’s got a proper atmosphere to it. There’s a real buzz and people get really excited about it. The bit that amazed me about it is when we went to where those bonfires are and there were bonfires all around the town. You can see them being built in the day. I was watching them as I went around on the bicycle. Then, they set fire to them and they fill the bonfire with those crackers, and they are not like our little weedy bangers, they are proper explosives. I just don’t understand given they do it every year how they haven’t burnt the place down. You have bonfires right next to buildings with quite a lot of wood in them and so on and somehow they manage to not set it on fire. Then, somehow the next day they manage to tidy it all away even though the place is covered in water, paint and dead fireworks and bits of disco debris and street food. It’s an absolute riot and then it’s over and they sweep it up and everything is back to normal. It’s great.”
Did you get recognised in India?
James says: “We do have fans there, definitely. Top Gear was watched quite a bit in India and The Grand Tour is becoming very popular there too. I’m not going to pretend that I had crowds of people saying ‘oh my god, look it’s James May here with his crappy hair and his stupid ill-fitting shirt’ but one or two people did come up and say ‘I’ve seen you on TV’. A few people had been watching my cooking show and a few had seen the Our Man in Italy series as well, so I hope people will be watching. You only need to get a very small percentage of the Indian population to be a massive hit in a global sense because there are just so many people there. It’s the most populous country in the world. If you can just get one per cent of them, that’s a fantastic achievement.”
All about James May
James May presented Top Gear alongside Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond from 2003 to 2021. He’s also fronted shows such as James May’s Top Toys, Oz and James’s Big Wine Adventure (with wine expert Oz Clarke), Toy Stories, James May: Oh Cook!, James May: The Reassembler and The Grand Tour.