Blogtor Who takes a look at the career of Leena Dhingra, who’ll be playing Nani Umbreen in Demons of the Punjab

Jodie Whittaker isn’t the only Doctor in this week’s episode, Demons of the Punjab. For Leena Dhingra, who guest stars as Yaz’s Nani Umbreen, has a PhD of her own. Since earning her doctorate in Creative Writing in 2001, Dhingra has been a constant presence on British screens.

Her career has specialized in playing stern Asian matriarchs. Her first major break, in fact, was as the formidable Mrs. Shah in breakout British Asian comedy drama East is East.  The role saw her deeply traditional mother trying to broker an arranged marriages for her daughters. However, she quickly became increasingly scandalized by the antics of the sons of the biracial Khan family

A four year stint on Coronation Street as Meena Parekh quickly followed. Appropriately enough, Meena was introduced as the judgemental mother of Shobna Gulati’s Sunita. She arrived in Weatherfield to correct her wayward daughter’s ways, but wound up making multiple appearances. This means Demons of the Punjab is the second time Leena Dhingra and Gulati have played mother and daughter. She also spent 2007 as a recurring character on rival soap EastEnders. There she played the no less fearsome Manju Patel. As Billy Mitchell’s landlady she illegally evicts him, along with his young family, onto the street.

Outside of soap operas, Dhingra has been a regular presence in both drama and comedy

Parallel to this, she made guest appearances in the usual run of British TV. She made three appearances on The Bill as various characters; most memorably as a dictatorial mother-in-law who attempts to obstruct the investigation into her son’s abuse of his wife. While Casualty, Silent Witness, and Prime Suspect were among the other popular shows she guested on.

But Leena Dhingra has also played on the lighter side of such roles. Whether as the archetypical meddlesome Auntie, or an interfering mother of the more harmlessly funny rather than abusive sort. In this vein she’s appeared in comedies as diverse as Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee , Citizen Khan, and Stella.

She’s even appeared in Doctor Who itself before. As pictured above, she joined David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Felicity Jones and Felicity Kendall in 2008’s The Unicorn and the Wasp. There she played Miss Chandrakala, Lady Eddison’s housekeeper and confidant and the only other who knows the house’s greatest secret. In Demons of the Punjab, she shares the role of Umbreen with Amita Suman. The younger actor playing the character during the days of Partition while Dhingra plays Yaz’s Nani as she knows her. As such, Dhingra is set to play a small but pivotal role in both the episode and the development of Yaz’s character.


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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