Secrets from the Set of DI Ray: Behind the scenes on the ITV police thriller

We hear from the cast and creators of ITV’s new police drama DI Ray about the making of the series in Birmingham and the significance of having an Asian detective in 2022.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 29 April 2022 - 4.35pm
ITV Parminder Nagra as DI Ray in an action sequence

"We've got a British Indian number one on the call sheet. That makes me really emotional. I didn't have that growing up. My daughter will now."

Actress Maya Sondhi, best known for starring as Maneet Bindra in Line of Duty, turned to writing because she wasn’t feeling “creatively fulfilled” on screen and had her own stories to tell.

After working on the writing teams for EastEnders and Ackley Bridge, Bindra has got her first drama series coming to ITV this Bank Holiday weekend – DI Ray.

A four-day TV event, DI Ray is the sort of propulsive police thriller we all expect in a post-Line of Duty world, but one which puts its own authentic and unique spin on the genre.

With Parminder Nagra (Bend It Like Beckham) taking on the lead role and Sondhi's old Line of Duty boss Jed Mercurio helping plot the twists and turns, the series has all the ingredients to become must-watch telly.

'I have to be careful to avoid spoilers'

Parminder Nagra as DI Ray ITV
Parminder Nagra as DI Ray

Maya Sondhi admits that she's a nightmare for giving away major clues about TV shows. "I've ruined so many TV shows for my friends," she reveals.

So rather than dwelling on the murder and police procedural at the centre of DI Ray, what’s more interesting to hear from Sondhi about is how she deals with the topic of everyday racism in the workplace.

DI Ray is full of the micro-aggressions and lazy treatment that members of the Asian community face continually – such as being handed a name badge of another Asian colleague on your first day – and it's Sondhi’s lightness of touch with the subject that makes it so impactful.

"It's casual racism, the everyday stuff that I got used to. I normalised it. And it's only when you stop and think that you realise that it's not OK," said the writer.

"I'd been living with it so long and so many people have, but as I get older that had started to make me angry."

It was also her own sense of confusion over identity that inspired the character of DI Ray.

Ian Puleston-Davies and Parminder Nagra in DI Ray ITV
Ian Puleston-Davies and Parminder Nagra in DI Ray

"I've personally felt guilt and shame… I'd grown up not fitting in. Being born in 1983, I'd grown up and not seen someone like me on the telly. There was no representation. I'd wanted to be white to fit in. And then I felt guilty because I wasn't fitting in with the Indians either," she explained.

"My parents stopped speaking Indian Punjabi to me and I can't speak it now, so that's another feeling of guilt I have. The whole sense of guilt and identity is something that I wanted to explore. But how do you sell that to a commissioner, it's not much of a hook. That's how Jed comes in…"

'Mr Twist and Turn… Mr Jed Herring'

If you’re trying to get a break in TV, there are few better people to have batting for you than Jed Mercurio. The Line of Duty creator has a string of hits under his belt and his talent at producing compelling, heart-pounding TV drama means TV channels will jump on his projects.

"He also owed me this because he killed me [in Line of Duty]," jokes Sondhi,

"She told me she wanted to die," replies Mercurio.

"I wanted to be dramatic!" she laughs.

Parminder Nagra as DI Ray ITV

But Mercurio didn't just get involved in DI Ray as a favour to a friend. It was the blend of the "identity crisis story and the heritage conflict story, alongside a police procedural" that really intrigued him.

"We want television to be an inclusive industry and growing up I had the idea that many people making TV programmes were just talking to other people like them," said Mercurio.

Talking about his Italian heritage, he adds: "Growing up in an immigrant household, we would hear racist jokes and remarks coming out of the TV and at times it just felt like the people involved in those programmes didn’t think anyone who wasn't white British would be watching and listening.

"It's really important we give a platform to all kinds of voices, not just the traditional ones."

Talking about what he brought to the series, Mercurio said that it was the police consultants who deserved the real credit.

"That's always really important with a police drama. You set it in a real world, so understanding how these things would actually happen gives you lots of choices as a writer.

"It was about getting the right set of choices so Maya could decide where she wanted to push the plot and what she wanted to happen to the characters, and then bringing it all back to DI Ray. She's the centre of the drama and everything has to come back to that character. 

Parminder Nagra as DI Ray ITV

"We're looking at the world through her eyes. The ambition of the show is to get the mass audience, who haven't had the experiences of Maya and Parminder and to be able to see the world through their eyes and live in their shoes for four hours.”

Jamie Bamber, who plays DI Ray’s partner and colleague DCI Martyn Hunter, added: "Thrillers are great and fun. Jed does the best thrillers on TV. But the magic pixie dust is that [DI Ray] has something to say about society.

"We're making lots of changes in society right now, and even those who consider themselves quite progressive – our kids are doing some things we find absurd. The pace of life is changing at different speeds and it’s great to convey that on a mainstream channel."

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'This woman is a powerhouse'

Parminder Nagra appears in nearly every scene of DI Ray and admits that the physical impact did take its toll, especially during the more action-packed chase sequences.

"I think in my head I was Superwoman, but in reality not so much!" said the Hollywood star.

Parminder Nagra and Maanuv Thiara in DI Ray ITV
Parminder Nagra and Maanuv Thiara in DI Ray

"It was like doing a HIIT workout for five hours. I remember running and running through Birmingham's Grand Central Station and wow, my thighs… I wasn't too happy by the end of it but in the moment I felt like Tom Cruise!

"I was bolting down platforms, and people were like, 'Who is this crazy woman?!' I'm in decent shape but it was knackering.

"It's fun when you start and you really go for it, but there’s one scene where I’m supposed to go up these stairs two at a time. My thighs were like, 'No, not again!' and I was getting slower with every take, I looked ridiculous. By the third time, the stuntwoman was advising me to hold on to the bannister!

"Luckily the costume lady gave me really comfy shoes. Gone are the days when I used to insist on doing my own stunts. Now I look for the stuntwoman and thank her profusely for making me look good. I don’t want to take her job away from her."

Bringing out the best in Birmingham

The majority of the DI Ray cast are either from Birmingham or the Midlands. The sense of place is important to the DI Ray story and Sondhi’s knowledge of the area brings an authenticity to the series.

Maanuv Thiara, who plays PS Tony Khatri in the show, said that he felt proud to see his home city get a moment to shine.

"I grew up all over the Midlands and I got to go back and stay with my dad. I think that was nicer for me than it was for him," he joked.

"And to see the amazing city of Birmingham is great. You see New York in Succession and London all the time on TV. Birmingham looks great in this show, because it is great. I was really empowered and loved that."

DI Ray is on ITV at 9pm from 2 May to 5 May. Catch up on the ITV Hub.