by REENA KUMAR
ACTRESS and former Strictly Come Dancing star Sunetra Sarker has spoken about her new role in upcoming Channel 4 drama, Ackley Bridge.
The Liverpool-born actress plays single mum and dinner lady Kaneez Paracha in the first 8pm Channel 4 drama since Brookside, which she also starred in.
It focuses on a multicultural Yorkshire comprehensive school, set in a small mill town that is home to largely separate white and Asian populations.
As two formerly isolated schools are merged into a new academy, the tensions and prejudices of both communities are brought to the surface.
“Often we depict Asian women who are of good sound mind, lovely women, or the other extreme is quite militant”
The six-part drama created by Ayub Khan Din (East is East), Kevin Erlis and Malcolm Campbell (Shameless), relied heavily on street casting local residents and many of the schoolchildren had never received formal training before they started filming.
Speaking at a panel discussion with members of the cast and crew at Channel 4 headquarters in London, Sarkar said she was fascinated to play a character like Kaneez Paracha and she believed the Asian community would be drawn to an Asian woman who had “personality, substance and humour” because we “just don’t see that enough on television”.
“Often we depict Asian women who are of good sound mind, lovely women, or the other extreme is quite militant and this was such a fine balance of a true woman who lives in Yorkshire, she’s integrated herself, she speaks with a weird accent that is neither this nor that,” said the actress.
“It was also so healing for me to play a dinner lady after playing a doctor for so long.”
Sarkar played doctor Zoe Hanna in Casualty between 2007 and 2016. She told the audience of journalists that she was excited to play a character who was a great mother but also a flawed woman.
“She’s the mother of a daughter who’s got issues which are really going to push certain buttons.”
Adil Ray, the creator and star of BBC 1’s sitcom Citizen Khan, plays Sadiq Nawaz, a successful businessman and the academy’s sponsor.
He said: “If you’re looking for a diverse project right now, it’s really important that you don’t shy away from Muslim stories… at the same time you could take each of the Asian characters and storylines and imagine they are not Asian and they would be really interesting human stories to tell.”
Speaking about his character, Ray said: “There’s a subtle thing about Sadiq that’s relevant to British Asian men of that generation– that they have been brought up in an Asian community but it’s not all they have got to give.
“They are very British as well and they want to integrate and often that does start affecting their marriages and personal lives too.”
The drama delves into gritty issues, tackling drug addiction and the taboo subject of sexuality in the Asian community.
Following Monday night’s terrorist attack in Manchester Arena where 22 people including an eight-year-old child were killed, the first episode of the drama was being re-edited.
Ackley Bridge hits the screens next month.