Ready to chuckle your way across India with everyone’s favorite clumsy uncle? Then welcome aboard for another global escapade with James May. If you’ve ever caught May sending up the pretensions of globetrotting hosts on Top Gear or The Grand Tour, you know he’s the antithesis of the obnoxious travel show personality. Gangly, modest, and self-effacing rather than slick, May has carved out a niche as the approachable Brit next door who’d love nothing more than to amble the planet with you.
In this third installment of Amazon Prime’s Our Man In… series, May trades motor oil for masala on a journey through the mesmerizing mosaic of cultures that is India. From the churning swarm of humanity that is Mumbai to tranquil Darjeeling tea plantations, he gamely tosses himself into the chaotic flow of life on the subcontinent.
Along the way, he’ll master weaving, test his tolerance for spice, narrowly avoid being trampled by cows, and doubtless end up covered in rainbow dye during Holi celebrations. If nothing else, it promises to be a vivid demonstration of the unflappability that has earned May a global cult following. So grab some samosas and settle in to see if our rumpled hero can keep his humor—and his wits—intact across the length and breadth of shining India.
Chaos, Color, and Lots of Chai: Hopping Across India with May
From the churning chaos of Mumbai to the tranquil tea plantations of Darjeeling, James May’s journey across the vivid tapestry of India packs the signature moments you’d expect into a quick-fire three episodes.
We first touch down with May in Mumbai, where he plunges headfirst into the relentless energy and entrepreneurial scrappiness of the maximum city. After dodging traffic in an auto rickshaw to take in a local comedy show, May wanders the iconic slum of Dharavi, marveling at cottage industries recycling plastics or cranking out thousands of clay cups daily. In between plying samosas from street vendors, he also visits Bollywood poster artists keeping classic hand-painted movie advertising alive.
Escaping the nonstop propulsion of Mumbai, May next lands amid the otherworldly forts and palaces of Udaipur in Rajasthan. Here, he tries his hapless hand at flying a massive, intricately decorated combat kite. Later, he wanders through the riot of color and crowds of Holi celebrations, narrowly avoiding being trampled by loose cows along the way. Of course, the sequence culminates in May being gleefully doused in rainbow clouds of dye.
The itinerary ticks off a host of quintessential Indian sights and experiences from there. We get a passing glimpse of the ethereal Taj Mahal and ride along in a classic luxury railcar. May tries his hand at traditional clay pottery and sips tea at a Darjeeling plantation with majestic Himalayan views. True to form, he also has plenty of quirky misadventures, overspicing his food, losing his way in endless alleys, and nearly being run over by the chaotic traffic.
While the truncated run of only three episodes dictates a highlights reel approach, we still get a satisfying sampler platter of sites and cultures. The kaleidoscopic meander gives viewers a vivid glimpse into the endlessly colliding contrasts that comprise the Indian experience. From teeming slums to tranquil temples, frenetic urban pace to timeless village life, the dizzying landscapes May traverses leave an indelible portrait of the diverse country. Viewers might wish for more depth, but the careening tour undoubtedly sparks the travel bug and leaves intriguing impressions calling for further investigation.
An Antidote to the Typical Travel Host
If Anthony Bourdain was the Elvis of travel hosts, then James May just might be traveling fandom’s Ringo Starr – the lovable everyman foil to Bourdain’s brooding persona. May represents the anti-host, a gangly, grey-haired Brit who seems bemused to find cameras following him rather than the type to carefully curate some air of globe-trotting intrigue. But it’s exactly this self-effacing ordinariness that has earned May a passionate cult following across countless shows over the years.
While May jokes often about his ineptitude amid chaos, what shines through on his Indian journey is his genuine curiosity to understand how people live. As he wanders the ever-colliding extremes that comprise the country, he meets the unfolding spectacle with humor and humility rather than an attempt to present himself as some all-knowing guide. A running gag of the series is May emphasizing his identity as just an average British bloke happily out of his element but ready to give anything a whirl.
This self-deprecation combined with wonder and willingness to try anything fuels much of the series’ entertainment. When a fortune teller solemnly informs May he’ll soon become a father again, he responds with bellowing laughter given his age and family status. And he gamely allows himself to become a human rainbow plastered with dyes during Holi or makes an utter mess trying to recreate Indian dishes from his youth back home.
But while much of the joy comes from May’s fish-out-of-water floundering, what resonates is his respect and genuine interest in the people and cultures he encounters. He emphasizes India’s diversity and utterly rejects any lingering British colonial exoticization. Instead of merely using locals as props, he engages warmly with them and actively participates as an eager student of their customs and lives rather than a detached outside commentator.
So if you crave a little self-awareness and humility with your travel programming, May is the antidote to the typical smooth-talking host parachuting in as cultural ambassador. He’s much more your witty uncle trying earnestly to grasp the marvel around him, failings and all. And it’s this humble, heart-on-sleeve ordinariness combined with jovial wonder that represents travel television at its most embraceable. Tune in to chuckle at May’s mishaps, but stay for the infectious joy and curiosity that lies at the wide-eyed heart of his global adventures.
Sights and Sounds That Transport You
While James May serves as an affable guide across his Indian journeys, the cinematography proves the real star in bringing the intense sights, sounds, and kaleidoscopic chaos of the country to vivid life. Shooting took place across two months, allowing the crew to thoroughly capture regionally specific festivals and details often glossed over in travelogues attempting to cover massive ground. The result is visuals that communicate subtle cultural nuances while spotlighting sweeps of majestic landscapes.
Early episodes bring Mumbai’s restless energy to quivering life with shots careening through swarming streets by auto rickshaw. The camerawork plunges us into the current of humanity flowing through the Dharavi slums, accentuating the industriousness that thrives in the city’s packed warrens. Shots linger on Islamic architecture and everyday street scenes like a man receiving an old-fashioned straight-razor shave reflect the city’s melting-pot character.
In Rajasthan, we get regal aerial views of fort complexes and palaces stark against arid plains. The crew traveled to remote villages to fully highlight the intensity of Holi celebrations absent from more tourist-centric destinations. Viewers are right amidst bold spurts of dye between revelers, emphasizing the holiday’s unrestrained joy.
Throughout, the cinematography beautifully spotlights the collision between new and old, with oxen carts lazily crisscrossing with auto rickshaws against crumbling relics of the British Raj. The visuals highlight sacred rituals in Varanasi even as hundreds scrum at the waterside behind cremation pyres. Sweeping mountain vistas border Darjeeling’s orderly tea estates, emphasizing the country’s extraordinary diversity.
By thoughtfully framing celebrated sites like the Taj Mahal amidst candid cultural vignettes, the filming allows viewers to connect with locales on a deeper level. Miniature moments like children flying kites from a railway overpass or crowds gathering around a television in a tiny store humanize the landscapes. The result is a vibrant, intimate feel for the country rather than mere postcard pretty shots.
An Entertaining Gateway to Understanding India
While beautiful cinematography and James May’s affable presence make Our Man in India engaging viewing, what sets it apart from a litany of India travelogues is how it distills insight into history and culture amidst the entertaining spectacle. Instead of breezing through a highlight reel of destinations, May thoughtfully engages with everyday Indians to foster connection across divides of nationality and class. The result not only spotlights must-see sights but provides contextual understanding that enhances appreciation of their deeper significance.
A core theme emphasized is finding unity amidst the gloriously chaotic diversity that comprises India. Early on, May interacts with Mumbai comedians using humor to bridge social gaps in the country’s most populous city. By spotlighting creative enterprise thriving inside Dharavi rather than just depicting squalor, the series underscores the industriousness binding Mumbaikars across economic strata.
In showcasing Holi festivities beyond expected tourist locales, viewers gain insight into traditions of agrarian communities oft-overlooked by travel shows. Alongside marveling at the rainbow clouds of dye, we learn of the festival’s roots in bids for bountiful harvests and mythic tales of good conquering evil. Even everyday encounters like May struggling to create an Indian fusion version of shepherd’s pie back in his UK hometown provide a window into the two-way cultural exchange stemming from colonialism.
But while the show highlights heritage sites like fortresses and maharaja palaces, the focus remains on humanizing such monuments by engaging with everyday locals to emphasize continuity between past and present. In the process, we gain insight into the lives of auto rickshaw drivers, fortune tellers, students, and chai wallahs. The emphasis is on stories of individual Indians from all walks rather than reducing people to props in some exotic tableau.
The compressed run means the cultural survey remains largely surface level, but combined with May’s genuine curiosity for customs and courteous avoidance of stereotypes, viewers still come away with kernels of understanding they can build upon. Our Man in India succeeds in its core mission – depicting a country where antiquity still pulses through contemporary realities, framing an accessible entry point for people eager to move beyond sensationalized visions of India.
An Antidote to Typical Travelogues
In an increasingly crowded field of celebrity-fronted travel shows, James May’s signature humility and humor help his India journey stand apart. Where other hosts glide through locales as urbane cultural attachés, May leans into looking perpetually bewildered yet utterly game for anything. And his deferential curiosity provides a refreshing contrast to personalities prone to exoticizing.
Early sequences find May riffing on the well-trodden path of his predecessors, joking about requisite shots of cows, slums, the Taj Mahal and more. But where other British hosts have sparked controversy in India by reinforcing colonial tropes, May sidesteps sensitivities by emphasizing his identity as a visitor embracing hospitality. He avoids framing interactions through a Western lens, instead highlighting common ground.
With self-effacing wit reminiscent of Michael Palin, May combines an everyman relatability that echoes Anthony Bourdain’s appeal. He’s no intrepid globe-trotter, just an amiable passenger delighted by the ride. But rather than a detached observer, he jumps into learning traditional crafts and participating in local customs. This willingness to surrender his Englishness to experience life as an Indian does forges genuine connections beyond a procession of tourist set pieces.
While the brevity of three episodes dictates a surface-level survey approach, May still captures travel television’s power to engender cross-cultural empathy and curiosity for destinations beyond guidebook headlines. Viewers ride shotgun on an entertaining crash course unveiling India’s gloriously chaotic diversity guided by perhaps the most embraceable host on television. May succeeds in framing the subcontinent as the utterly singular, yet universally human, melting pot at the heart of Our Man in India.
An Accessible Odyssey Leaving You Craving More
After breezing through chaotic Mumbai streets, marveling at royal relics, and dodging eruptions of rainbow dye across ecstatic crowds, you may find yourself wishing James May’s Indian escapade stretched beyond a scant three episodes. Yet the limited run still delivers a delightful sampler sure to spark deeper fascination with the gloriously diverse subcontinent.
Few hosts can match May’s singular talent for blending humor, cultural insight, and contagious curiosity in easily digestible doses. While the highlights reel structure necessarily glosses over some regions and context, he still achieves an infectious spirit of cross-cultural fellowship. Viewers ride shotgun on a crash course unveiling landscapes and customs spanning eras and social strata.
Consider Our Man in India a spirited introductory course or affectionate gateway for viewers intimidated by India’s sprawling complexity yet still eager for an accessible peek behind tour guide tropes. May succeeds in framing an embraceable portrait of the kinetic creativity thriving amidst seeming chaos and spotlighting the welcoming hospitality binding India’s collide-a-scope of colliding contrasts.
So whether you’re an armchair traveler or seasoned Jetsetter, pull up a seat alongside the riders of May’s rickety auto as he cheerfully careens across India with humility and wit as his guide. You’re guaranteed to complete the journey feeling you’ve captured at least a snapshot of life beyond stereotypes and with fresh inspiration to someday experience the vibrant place firsthand just as our forever-curious host did.
With May himself joking he requires months more to do justice to shining India, perhaps this breezy overview plants seeds for future filmmakers to pick up his mantle. But for now, this whistle-stop tour presents a delightful appetizer sure to spark seeking out similar cultural explorations or maybe even embarking on your own passage to India. Wherever the journey leads, time spent wandering in James May’s affable company promises engaging escapes full of heart, humor, and contagious joie de vivre.
James May: Our Man in India
While limited to only three episodes, James May succeeds admirably at his signature brand of quirky yet thoughtful armchair tourism with Our Man in India. His genuine curiosity and humility in embracing India's glorious chaos reveals deeper insights alongside stunning visuals. The series makes for a delightful appetizer sure to spark viewers' hunger to continue exploring the endlessly diverse subcontinent and its welcoming spirit.
- Affable and engaging host
- Thoughtful cultural insights
- Stunning visuals and cinematography
- Humor and humanity
- Very brief at only 3 episodes
- Can only hit highlights of such a diverse country
- Events sometimes feel staged