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Special Feature: Seven memorable Asian characters in ‘EastEnders’

BBC One’s flagship drama ‘EastEnders’ is set for an influx of new South Asian characters, as a part of a number of changes being brought in by new producer, Kate Oates. The show, which has over its 34-year history highlighted many issues relating to British South Asians, will be moving to a new direction with the introduction of the recently introduced Panesar family.

What makes the Panesars unique in the show’s history, is the characters being from a Sikh family. The Panesar family – consisting of three brothers – Vinny, Kheerat and Jags, will be played by Jaz Deol, Amar Adatia and Shiv Jalota. Recently, Ash, played by Gurlaine Kaur, was introduced as Iqra Ahmed’s lover. Ash will be unveiled as the sister to the Panesar brothers. Meanwhile, Iqra coming out as a lesbian, is the first lesbian Muslim character to be shown in a daily soap.

With South Asian characters taking centre stage in ‘EastEnders’ currently, looks back at some iconic characters from the years gone by.

Actor: Shreela Ghosh
Character: Naima Jeffery
On screen: 1985 – 1987
Shreela Ghosh played one of the original cast members in ‘EastEnders’. As the first Asian character to be seen in ‘EastEnders’, Jeffery was forced to live in an arranged marriage with a husband she despised. Upon looking back at the storyline, it came across as stereotypical but it is worth noting that at the time, not many Asian issues were being highlighted on British television.

Actor: Dalip Tahil
Character: Dan Ferreira
On screen: 2003
Bollywood star Dalip Tahil was a huge name to join the show, who played the Ferreira family patriarch. His stint on the show was short-lived after he was forced to leave the country due to India visa issues. The Ferreira family was doomed from the outset, with viewers branding the characters as “unrealistic”.

Actor: Ameet Chana
Character: Adi Ferreira
On screen: 2003 – 2005
‘Bend It Like Beckham’ star, Ameet Chana joined ‘EastEnders’, as a part of the Ferreira family. Ameet’s character was overshadowed by the flak the Ferreira family received for being “boring” and not Asian enough.

Actor: Nina Wadia
Character: Zainab Masood
On screen: 2007 – 2013
Zainab Masood fast became a favourite amongst viewers for her abrupt approach. She played the mother to four children, including a gay Muslim son, Syed. Her chemistry with Nitin Ganatra, who played Masood Ahmed, was given much adulation by viewers.

Actor: Deepak Verma
Character: Sanjay Kapoor
On screen: 1993 – 1998
Sanjay Kapoor, is one of the most memorable Asian characters in the soap’s history. His relationship with on-screen wife, Gita Kapoor was loved by viewers. They were the first major Hindu characters to be introduced in the show. Kapoor was a troubled gambler, whose secret led to the breakdown of his marriage. One of his most memorable storylines was his affair with Gita’s sister, Meena McKenzie.

Actor: Shobhu Kapoor
Character: Gita Kapoor
On screen: 1993 – 1998
The fierce, Gita Kapoor was first seen in ‘EastEnders’ in September 1993, as the wife of Sanjay Kapoor. This was the first time that the show attempted to introduce non-Muslim Asian characters. One of the major storylines that Gita was involved in was her struggling to cope with motherhood, along with finding her husband, Sanjay cheating with her sister.

Actor: Nitin Ganatra
Character: Masood Ahmed
On screen: 2007 – 2019
One of the longest serving Asian characters in ‘EastEnders’, Masood Ahmed arrived on Albert Square in October 2007. He was joined on the show by his wife Zainab Masood and four children. During his tenure in the show, Ahmed was seen going through bankruptcy, his Muslim son’s homosexuality and his affair with Jane Beale.