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Drama just what doctor ordered...

Set in southern India, ITV's latest medical series, The Good Karma Hospital, has a stellar cast of small-screen royalty

By Gemma Dunn

If you're craving a winter warmer, a dose of ITV's new six-part medical drama, The Good Karma Hospital, might be all the help you need. Both warming and life-affirming, it's set to escort viewers to a vibrant coastal town in tropical southern India.

Brimming with character, colour and charisma, the show tells the story of junior doctor Ruby Walker (Amrita Acharia), who arrives in India looking for a job and a distraction from heartbreak. She anticipates the sunshine and picture-perfect beaches, she's even prepared for the tuk-tuks and the Delhi-belly, but what she doesn't expect are the realities of work, life and even love at an under-resourced and over-worked cottage hospital.

Run by a gloriously eccentric Englishwoman - Doctor Lydia Fonseca (Amanda Redman) - The Good Karma Hospital is the beating heart of the local community, held together by a hard-working, hand-picked team of British and Indian medics.

But, as Walker adjusts to life in India, she realises The Good Karma Hospital is more than just a rundown medical outpost - it's a home.

The audience first see Walker - a fledging paediatrician - at rock-bottom. She's split with her long-term partner and, heartbroken and disillusioned, makes a drastic decision and accepts a job abroad.

"The interesting thing about Ruby is her two worlds," notes 26-year-old Acharia, who was born in Nepal where her father actually worked in a hospital (he's now a professor in Norway).

"For me, being a person of different cultures, I've always known about where I'm from and my heritage. But Ruby has this heritage she's never really thought about, or been interested in, because it's never been part of her life. It's an interesting concept and quite a big draw to that character. It's about finding your roots and finding yourself, but in a very atypical way, which I think is the beauty of her story and the story of The Good Karma Hospital."

Hot-headed and strong-willed, Fonseca is a force to be reckoned with. But having lived in India for 30 years, and given her life to her job, the hospital represents more than just her professional passion.

It was this formidable nature that attracted Redman to the role.

"I thought she was wonderful; she just leapt off the page to me and I love the one-liners," quips the 59-year-old star, known from BBC One series New Tricks.

"When I was sent the scripts, I read them so quickly, because I was fascinated not only by this character, but also by the world in which she lives. She considers herself the head of The Good Karma Hospital - she's not, but she considers herself to be, and tells everybody else she is.

"She's passionate about her work, a wonderful doctor, but she's quite bullish, opinionated and very bossy. So not a lot of acting required, actually."

Dr Gabriel Varma (James Floyd) thrives on perfectionism, meaning he has a hard time grasping that everyone has faults.

Floyd - known for his role in My Brother The Devil - puts this abrasive nature down to the fact his character simply feels misunderstood.

"He's unusually young for someone in his position, and is unusually experienced in terms of life," explains the 31-year-old actor. "Gabriel has gone through quite a bit, and the audience learn about his past as the series goes on."

It's not your average medical drama, either, reasons Floyd: "For me, one of the most important things about this drama is the setting. Southern India is like a character and so is the hospital.

"A medical drama in this context is something the audience has never quite seen before, and as the series progresses, I think the uniqueness of the characters and the narrative will shine through."

Neil Morrissey might be best known for Men Behaving Badly, but he's only too pleased to be given the opportunity to "play both sides of the coin" and "shake off the shackles" by taking on characters like self-made businessman and beach bar-owner Greg McConnell.

The fact The Good Karma Hospital is set in India is simply a bonus.

"I always say that everything starts with a good script and (creator and writer) Dan Sefton has done a fantastic job on this," says the 54-year-old. "Coming to this guy, where everyone gathers - everyone who passes through Greg's life at some point or other - was a joy.

"He's a loveable rogue, he loves where he is, there's always a story behind everyone that has ended up there. You don't, as yet, know why, where, or how Greg has arrived in India."

For Downton Abbey alumna Phyllis Logan, fun-loving Maggie Smart - in India for her daughter's wedding, but doesn't want to leave - ticked lots of boxes.

"Maggie wasn't just a character who comes in for one episode and does a beginning, middle and end and then moves on. My story spanned the entire series," explains Logan.

"I think Maggie is a great character."

  • The Good Karma Hospital, ITV, tomorrow, 9pm

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