BBC World’s new show looks at famous Asian personalities

MUMBAI: News channel BBC World's senior foreign correspondent Michael Peschardt is launching a new 13-part series on BBC World next month. Peschardt's People will give viewers a chance to take a look at the lives of some of the most famous and infamous people in the Asia-Pacific region.

He spends an average of three days with each of his guests, interviewing them about the people, places, and issues that really matter to them, in a relaxed and informal style, encouraging them to open up and talk sincerely and passionately about their lives. On 1 April, his guest is actor Sam Neill (The Piano). He travels to New Zealand to visit Neill's private country estate, who talks about his relationship with Steven Spielberg and the frustrations of dealing with Hollywood. Neill is married to a Japanese and talks openly about his multi-racial family living in a country, which he says, has sometimes been slow to embrace multiculturalism.

Attempting to explain the success of the New Zealand film industry which has recently produced the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, he says: "It is the isolation. We have had to do things for ourselves. There's never been a mentality in New Zealand that just because we are small, we can't do it. In fact, it's quite the reverse. We just get on and do things. It's in our nature."

On 15 April he visits classical violinist Vanessa Mae. She has brought glamour and youth appeal to classical music. She talks about the pressures of being a child prodigy on the violin. Michael spends the day with her on tour in London. She talks about the decision to wear provocative costumes on stage and of her loneliness, as well as about growing up as the child of a Thai father and Chinese mother. Born in Singapore and raised in London, she tells Peschardt about the racism she's encountered, and what it is like to fall between several different cultures.

She reveals the price she has also had to pay for her fame, telling Michael about the fears for her safety from one fan in particular who became a stalker. "There was one guy who was stalking me continually. Very recently he had had been hanging around a lot more, coming to the front door. And it really became too much. I thought he needed help and I needed help. We called in the police and he was put away for six months and banned from coming anywhere near me ever again."

Giving a desi touch to things, on 22 April is Bollywood actress Preity Zinta. She shot to fame as the model in the Liril advertisement. He takes a behind the scenes look at Preity's life as she takes him on a personal tour around India's most celebrated Bollywood film studio. She talks about the pressures of her fame, and says she really doesn't want to become more famous than she is now, ruling out any attempt to break into Hollywood. "Why would I want to go there, when everyone knows me already?" she says.

Zinta shows Peschardt some of the colour and action that she believes has made Bollywood such a success, and tells him how she thinks India can change the world. "There are half a billion young people in this country and that makes it possible for change to happen and very fast. Most older people in India believe that everything about Western influences is bad but young people see things differently, though they still want to hold on to their Indian culture and sense of family values."

On 6 May, Peschardt catches up with author Shobhaa De. She has succeeded in breaking down many of the sexual taboos in today's India. She takes Peschardt around Mumbai in her chauffer-driven vintage Mercedes explaining why she believes it is so important to bring sensuality and sexuality back into Indian literature.

"I wanted to show that women should have the same rights over their lives, bodies and sexuality. Remember, India first produced the Karma Sutra. So there has been a long tradition." However, as De shows Peschardt around her city centre apartment, it becomes clear she feels that many young Indians are going too far in embracing liberal sexual practices.

She has recently finished another best-selling book about the importance of marriage. "I have never advocated promiscuity. Marriage is important to me, and people must either show commitment to it, or not do it at all. Some people watch birds, I watch marriages," she says.

Another guest of Peschardt will be Dr Vijay Mallya. Peschardt meets Dr Mallya, the flamboyant entrepreneur and the tycoon behind Kingfisher Beer and Kingfisher Airlines. His firm, The UB Group, focusses on alcoholic drinks, life sciences, engineering, agriculture and chemicals, information technology and civil aviation.

A recognised orator and sportsman, he has won trophies on the professional car racing circuits, is a keen yachtsman and aviator and leads an extraordinarily frenetic life.

Michael meets him at his office at six o'clock in the evening, and watches as meetings continue through to half past two the following morning. Dr. Mallya reveals to Michael his plans to expand even further internationally. "We are looking at new acquisitions," he says, and is happy with comparisons between himself and British owner of the Virgin Empire Richard Branson. "I definitely want Kingfisher to fly internationally in the near future," he adds.

Dr. Mallya is a man who doesn't like to take no for an answer and expresses his frustrations with Indian bureaucracy and red tape, but he believes India's economic boom will certainly continue. He keeps a 24-hour check on his sprawling business empire from his bulletproof Mercedes which he uses as a mobile office, and takes Michael on a tour around the city of Mumbai. "I don't read books, and I don't watch movies," he says. "For me, work is fun. It's what I do. I've installed a 'can-do' attitude throughout my companies."

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