Blogtor Who takes a look at the career of Shane Zaza, who’ll be playing Prem in Demons of the Punjab

Born into a Mauritian-British family in Burlington, Shane Zaza has come a long way since appearing as “Youth on Bus” in The Da Vinci Code. He spend much of the 00s training in the same apprenticeship as many young British actors. This saw him popping up on television regularly in shows such as Casualty, The Bill and Doctors. Like many actors before him returning as a different patient, criminal or victim of the week every couple of years.

This decade has seen him take longer running roles. He appeared throughout the highly acclaimed Happy Valley as PC Shafiq Shah, while TNT’s drama about the life of a young William Shakespeare, Will, saw Zaza as Will’s fellow actor Autolycus. Earlier this year Press moved Zaza more to the foreground. Mike Bartlett’s drama about in-fighting and skullduggery among journalists cast him as Raz Kane. As News Editor, Kane battled to keep his departments in line amid the chaos created by Ben Chaplin’s maverick hack.

Shane Zaza (left) as Abdul In Behind the Beautiful Forvers at the National Theatre (x) National Theatre
Shane Zaza (left) as Abdul In Behind the Beautiful Forvers at the National Theatre (x) National Theatre

On stage, Zaza has brought outstanding performances to powerful productions

However, it’s on the stage that Zaza has been a near constant and in demand presence. Early in his career he specialized as teenagers and young men. He took on the role of Sajid in the New Vic’s stage adaptation of East is East, Ayub Khan-Din’s powerful story of divisions in a British-Pakistani family in Salford. Similarly, he took the lead as Billy Casper in an adaptation of Kes, Ken Loach’s traumatic story of youth in despair. A highlight must be seen as playing Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet at the Globe Theatre itself. Other recent lead theatre roles have been as Henry V at the Unicorn Theatre and as Victor Frankenstein at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

One project especially close to Zaza’s heart was the National Theatre’s production of Behind the Beautiful Forevers. In the adaptation of Katherine Boo’s bestselling novel, his was the central role of the gentle and introverted Abdul.  A second generation garbage picker, Abdul sorts through the enormous landfill site beside Mumbai Airport for salvageable items to sell. But drama is piled upon adversity when he is falsely accused of burning one of his neighbours alive. Another prestigious role was as “Two” in Debbie Tucker-Green’s typically intelligent and scarring meditation on revenge and justice, hang, alongside Broadchurch’s Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Three) and The Satan Pit’s Claire Rushbrook (One).

Demons of the Punjab is Vinay Patel’s first Doctor Who script. Pushing boundries, it explores the Khan family history and the traumas of the British Partition of India. Being from the powerful and skillful writer of Murdered by my Father and An Adventure, it is sure to require performances of no less power and skill. With Shane Zaza leading the guest cast in the major role of Prem, we seem certain to get them.


Doctor Who Series 11 - Ep 6 - Demons in the Punjab - Graham (BRADLEY WALSH), Yaz (MANDIP GILL) - (c) BBC Studios
Doctor Who Series 11 – Ep 6 – Demons in the Punjab – Graham (BRADLEY WALSH), Yaz (MANDIP GILL) – (c) BBC Studios

The Doctor Who adventure continues…

Doctor Who continues this Sunday at 7pm GMT on BBC One and at 8pm EST on BBC America with Demons of the Punjab by Vinay Patel. Series 11 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), and Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair).

Demons of the Punjab guest stars Shane Zaza (Prem), Amita Suman and Hamza Jeetooa (Manesh). Written by Vinay Patel. Directed by Jamie Childs.

“What’s the point of having a mate with a time machine, if you can’t nip back and see your gran when she was younger?”

India, 1947. The Doctor and her friends arrive in the Punjab as the country is being torn apart. While Yaz attempts to discover her grandmother’s hidden history, the Doctor discovers demons haunting the land. Who are they and what do they want?



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