Once again, the Downeast Streeters Non Profit group hosted an evening with a Coronation Street actor. This year's guest was Shobna Gulati who plays Sunita Parekh Alahan, the gentle shop girl who married her boss, Dev Alahan in 2005. She has been to Canada before but never to the east coast so was looking forward to seeing a bit of our part of the world and really liked it, in spite of the bitter cold weather we had. She smiled broadly and waved at the crowd of over 600 that gathered to see her and hear her stories about our favourite show, Coronation Street. Like all the other actors that have visited, she was surprised and thrilled that Corrie is so well loved here and flattered at the standing ovation she was given when she entered.
She was eager to meet as many of the fans as she could and was full of warmth, enthusiasm and a little saucy spice too! She comes across as very friendly and open with a flirty edge, a "live wire", "good fun" , as one of the organizing committee described her. She got stuck in right away answering questions submitted by fans and later on took it upon herself to have an impromptu walkabout into the crowd to shake hands, sign autographs and pose for pictures. In addition, she signed items, postcards and posed for take-home Polaroid shots for 100 people who had purchased tickets for the opportunity and she did it tirelessly, standing on her feet almost all evening.
Shobna's mother was born near Manchester but grew up in India where she met Shobna's father. Her mother returned to England at 19 to join her husband and Shobna and her brother Raj grew up in Oldham which is in the Greater Manchester area. Wikipedia says that Shobna was born in 1966, making her just 40 this year but she looks far younger. She's a single mom of a 12 year old boy and has done a variety of tv and stage work before Coronation Street.
Down to the good stuff...
The first question on most people's minds was "Do you mind kissing Dev"? Dev, played by Jimmi Harkishin, is of course Sunita's most recent love interest. Others in the past included the characters of Duggie Ferguson, Ciaran McCarthy and Danny Baldwin in a brief fling. She joked that she didn't mind kissing Dev as long as Jimmi had brushed his teeth but it sure seemed like she enjoyed kissing Ciaran (Keith Duffy) more and said the best bedroom scene she had was with him (mind you, she hasn't actually had any bedroom scenes with her on screen husband)! She has, however, told all her romantic costars that if their tongue finds its way into her mouth, she'll bite it off! No danger there, I don't think. Everyone is always professional on set.
Well mostly. They do have a lot of fun, and all the cast really get on well together. They really are like a family, all the cast and crew. They all look after each other too, and often will go out in groups together. That can sometimes be a case of "safety in numbers" because the fans in the UK are often "in your face". She's been chased around a supermarket in the past! That was another thing that surprised her about Canadian fans. They're very respectful of the celebrities.
She was asked lots of questions about her co-actors and some of her answers were surprising, and sometimes revealing. In her opinion, one of the most attractive actors is Alan Halsall who plays Tyrone. She says he's got the most beautiful eyes and it doesn't hurt that he worships her! He's also dating Lucy Jo Hudson, who played Katy Harris. Simon Gregson, who plays Steve McDonald, is an amazing actor. He never learns his lines, just reads them when he comes in and is able to remember them! Her best friends are Kate Ford (Tracy), with whom she shares a dressing room, Helen Worth (Gail), Suzie Blake (Bev) and Sally Lindsay (Shelley). When asked if she could be any other character, who would she be, she answered Tracy Barlow! She'd love to wear the clothes Tracy wears and get to kiss the men Tracy gets to kiss and Tracy gets great one-liners!
Sally Lindsay, who plays Shelley, used to be a stand up comedian (I can picture that, can't you?) and she nicknamed Chris Gascoyne "Polly Pocket" because he's quite short so his general nickname turned into "Pocket". She does watch The Street to catch up on everyone else's storyline, and in fact grew up watching it. Her mother is such a dedicated fan that nobody can talk or ring her on the phone when Corrie is on! Shobna also finds it easier to learn her lines if she's in a proper storyline because you get immersed in the whole storyline, the motivation, the dialogue is all about moving the plot forward. When she and many others have to learn lines that are just throwaway things in the pub or shop, she finds it harder to remember them. She also noted that Bill Roache, the veteran Ken, still gets stomach butterflies when the director says "Action"!
They have a long day, sometimes 12 hours a day 6 days a week and most scenes are shot in 20 minutes or less in as few takes as possible. During last year's storyline where she and Dev were tied up by Mad Maya they worked for three weeks 12 hour days 6 days a week, often splitting the shift to work nights. There were four corner shop sets used and she and Jimmi did their own stunts. The fire was real. She was tied up, immobile, in one small set that was built over a set of the corner shop that was at one point on fire! They did of course have fire and bomb squad people on set to ensure their safety. Because she was cuffed and tied, she had to be carried everywhere.
And how did she get on with Sasha Behar who played Mad Maya Sharma? Ooooh. Shobna sort of looked sideways and a sly grin slipped over her face. Her off screen relationship? Well, let's just say we have a *history*. Hmmmm...
We know at present that Sunita is pregnant. Another spoiler reveals that she has twins! The babies first used for her children were a set of 2 girl twins, one of which would stand in for the boy and later on, there were a set of triplets used. Another interesting fact is that a real Hindu priest was used for the wedding and he said real prayers. Shobna figures in the eyes of God, she and Jimmi are married! I think being married using your character names probably negates that! On the same subject, I asked her what the red dot means, the one that is sometimes painted on the forehead. Now they also use jeweled bindis that stick on as well. The red dot signifies that they are a blessed Hindu but more and more, a lot of people use the bindis as a fashion accessory. She's worked hard to make Sunita as real as she can, as an Asian woman who makes her own choices. She also thinks that Corrie is so popular because even though the characters are stereotypes, they have issues that most people can identify with. It really is the Dickens of our time, real people with real issues, an ordinary street that sometimes has extraordinary events.
Other incidentals include: the goods on the shop shelves are real though before the recent fire, they were all very old. Now they've gone out and bought new but it won't be long before they won't be able to snack on the goodies as they age. They don't use real alcohol in the pub. Her real life son played the boy that rode on the horse with Dev on the wedding day episodes. Most of the actors are very different from their characters, including the hated Charlie Stubbs! Tony Warren is still involved with the overall story planning and the individual episodes are written by individual writers though they adhere to the general storyline planning.
Shobna herself loves to shop for clothes, shoes, handbags, jewelery, games for her son, cookbooks and utensils. She doesn't wear a thong. "Big Knickers. BIG." She'd love to have a storyline with the hunky Nathan character and quite approves of "jiggery pokery!" She makes spending time with her son a priority but she loves being an actor and wouldn't be anything else. She seems to manage to juggle it all quite successfully. At this time in the UK, (spoiler!) Shobna has left Coronation Street and has recently joined the cast for season 10 of Where the Heart Is. She wouldn't reveal her exit storyline but said it is time for her to do other things. There are many other characters she needs to play!
Near the end of the public speaking portion of the evening, the committee presented her with a beautiful desk clock, made from Nova Scotia Crystal. Several other fans brought gifts for Shobna as well. One talented woman painted the corner shop on a hand sized rock and did a fabulous job! Raffle prizes included a piece of wardrobe, a tshirt, worn by former character Katy Harris and the grand prize was a breakfast for two with Shobna for the next morning. Along with that, there will be a script signed by the whole cast that will be shipped and delivered to the lucky winner as well!
Shobna also brought along a lovely outfit that she wore on the show for her hen party and offered it for an auction, the proceeds to go to any local charity. This raised $500 for the United Way! She, like most of the cast, believe in supporting charities and is a supporter of several Oxfam campaigns, Make Poverty History and Stop Arms and is also involved with Plan UK, a humanitarian organization helping children.
A thoroughly enjoyable evening once again, and once again, the organizing committee pulled a blinder and made it all work for us. Thank you, committee and thank you Shobna!
My Coronation Street page with links to the write ups for previous star visits.