Blogtor Who takes a look at Shobna Gulati, one of the guest stars in this week’s episode of Doctor Who, Arachnids in the UK.
Following an early appearance in Boy George’s music video for ‘Bow Down Mister’, Shobna Gulati’s career has gone from strength to strength. With roles in some of the country’s biggest shows she is now one of the most recognisable faces on British television, and has also cultivated a career as an accomplished theatre actor. Here are just some of the career highlights that have helped to make Gulati a household name.
Gulati’s breakthrough role was in the award-winning BBC sitcom Dinnerladies, which ran from 1998-2000. Created by and starring the much-missed Victoria Wood, Dinnerladies was set in a factory canteen, following the lives, loves and tribulations of its workers and regular customers.
Gulati featured in Dinnerladies as the ditzy but sweet Anita. The canteen worker, although often confused, was loyal, kind-hearted and desperate for a family of her own – an aim she achieved with the birth of her baby in the second series.
Following the original show’s 16-episode run, Gulati reprised her role for a Dinnerladies live show, also starring original cast member Andrew Dunn as Tony. The stage show, based on original scripts from the TV version, premiered in London in 2009 before touring the UK later that year.
Another of Gulati’s most high-profile roles – as well as her longest-standing – is that of Sunita in Coronation Street. Gulati joined the ITV soap in 2001 as shop worker Sunita Parekh, seeking refuge in Weatherfield after escaping an arranged marriage.
Gulati appeared in Coronation Street for two stints – 2001-06 and 2009-13 – which saw Sunita go through some classic soap highs and lows. She became Sunita Alahan after marrying her boss Dev, but later divorced him during her break away from the Street. Other storylines saw her diagnosed with an aneurysm and a brain tumour, held hostage, give birth to twins, and embark on an affair with Karl Munro (John Michie).
Sunita’s exit came in 2013 when Karl, having left her for dead in a fire he’d started at the Rovers Return and framed her for, pulled out her breathing tube at the hospital before she could reveal the true culprit.
Further TV Highlights
Gulati has steadily made a name for herself in the soap world. As well as guest roles in Casualty and Doctors she is one of the few to have appeared both in Coronation Street and its cockney counterpart, EastEnders. In 2000 Gulati portrayed Ameena Badawi, Sonia Jackson’s social worker following the unexpected birth of her daughter, Chloe. Ten years later her Corrie character Sunita made an appearance in the crossover mini-episode East Street in aid of 2010’s Children In Need charity appeal, where she clashed with EastEnder’s Zainab Masood (Nina Wadia).
More recently, Gulati joined the cast of BBC Scotland’s River City as Farah Khurana, a former university friend of established character AJ (Sanjeev Kohli). Gulati made a series of appearances within the soap over late 2017/early 2018.
Outside of soaps Gulati is still a hugely familiar face on TV. She has featured in dramas Moving On, In The Club and Where The Heart Is, where she had a recurring role in its final series as nurse Nisha Clayton. Post-Dinnerladies her comedy appearances have included You, Me & Them as well as Hold The Sunset earlier this year as Desiree, the ex-lover/ex-stalker of John Cleese’s Phil.
Gulati is also a known television personality outside of acting, having taken part in shows such as Soapstar Superstar, Have I Got News For You, Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes and The Weakest Link. In 2013-14 Gulati made regular appearances as a panellist on ITV’s discussion show Loose Women.
Gulati In Film
In 2001 Gulati was one of two leads in the short film Shadowscan. Also starring Paul Bazely, Shadowscan featured tragic events taking place during the nightshift of two British-Asian doctors. The drama was praised for its difficult subject matter, earning itself a BAFTA for Best Short Film.
Other films for Gulati include 2011’s Junkhearts and last year’s Finding Fatimah, a romcom starring Danny Ashok as Shahid, a man struggling to find love in the British-Asian community following his divorce.
As well as appearing in films, Gulati has also made her one of her own. In 2008 she wrote and directed the one-minute short Akshay, later shortlisted in the Satyajit Ray Short Film Awards showcasing works dealing with the experiences of South Asians.
Gulati On Stage
Although Gulati is best known for TV, she is also a highly prolific theatre actor. Her extensive theatre credits showcase her versatility, including the musicals Grease and Mamma Mia, pantomimes Dick Whittington and Cinderella, and Shakespeare classics A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. Recent plays include Meera Syal’s Anita and Me, adapted from the book by Tanika Gupta, and the English boarding school comedy Daisy Pulls It Off.
In 2007 Gulati wrote and directed her own stage show, Masala Girls. The live sketch show featured an Asian all-female cast, and drew favourable comparisons with the popular British-Asian comedy show Goodness Gracious Me.
Gulati is currently appearing as Ray in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, a feel-good musical about a 16-year-old boy overcoming adversity to step into the spotlight. Gulati joined the production in May this year, following its 2017 transfer from Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre to the Apollo Theatre in London. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie features songs by The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells, and is written by Doctor Who‘s Tom MacRae (Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, The Girl Who Waited).
Gulati has recently wrapped filming on Adulting, a project reuniting her with her former River City colleague Adiza Shardow. The pilot, co-written and co-starring Shardow and Alain Terzoli, bills itself as an ‘honest look at two people struggling in adult life through a lens without a filter’, and features Gulati as hippy therapist Shyco.
Early next year, meanwhile, Gulati will step down from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie to take on the Duke of York in the Globe’s upcoming production of Shakespeare’s Richard II. Starring as Richard II will be Adjoa Andoh – best known to Doctor Who fans as Martha Jones’ mother Francine. Andoh, along with Lynette Linton, will also co-direct the pioneering theatre production, which features the first major Shakespeare company solely composed of women of colour on a major UK stage.
Booking is now open for Richard II, which runs from 22nd February-21st April 2019.
Arachnids In The UK
So far this series, Yaz hasn’t enjoyed quite as much time in the spotlight as the rest of the Doctor’s new friends.
However, that could all be set to change in Arachnids in the UK, with story details so far revealing that we will finally be introduced to Yaz’s family, including Shobna Gulati as her mother, Najia Khan.
We’ve heard a few details about Yaz’s family already. In The Ghost Monument, Yaz says she misses her family even though her dad drives her ‘bananas’ and her sister wants her to move out so she can claim her bedroom. However, Yaz’s mother is more of a mystery – what does the lack of mention by Yaz mean for the relationship between their characters, and how much does Najia know about Yaz’s adventures with the Doctor?
Doctor Who continues on Sunday 28th October with Arachnids in the UK, starring Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, Mandip Gill as Yaz, Tosin Cole as Ryan and Bradley Walsh as Graham. Arachnids in the UK is written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Sallie Aprahamian.