With the conflagration at the Rovers Return set to wreak havoc, we caught up with the woman in the thick of the action – actress Shobna Gulati, who will bow out as Sunita Alahan in the coming weeks:
Sunita’s life is endangered in the forthcoming fire at the Rovers. It seems to me that she’s had the most terrible luck while living on the Street…
Yes, Sunita has had a bad time. I think only Gail has had a worse time, actually. But there’s a pattern to it all, if you think about it. There was a brain tumour – Sunita’s on the point of death and Dev falls in love with her. There was the explosion at the shop with Mad Maya and Dev falls back in love with Sunita just when she’s on the point of death. Then we had the tram crash and Dev realises he loves Sunita while she’s lying underneath the rubble. And now we have the fire at the Rovers, but does Dev love Sunita or not? That’s the question.
Tell us about the fire, then. What was it like filming those scenes?
I was scared. There’s no CGI – this is fire! When you watch it, you’ll see that I am terrified. At one point in the filming it was so hot that my jacket started to steam!
There were masks available but I didn’t wear one because it messes with the continuity – you end up having to get refixed, which means the whole thing takes twice as long. Plus the make-up they put in your hair for blood is made of sugar. It’s like when you get chewing gum stuck in your hair and it’s very painful if you try to pull a mask over that, so you don’t bother. But it means you can smell burning hair and smoke for days afterwards.
When I finished the fire scenes, I just sat in the car and I cried. I was thinking how horrific it must be to actually be in an accident or a disaster like that. It must be horrific. Just filming it felt hot beyond belief.
Do you think this storyline is a good send-off for Sunita?
It’s an amazing send off. I’m very pleased. I could have had the stunt lady but as this is the last time viewers are going to really see me I thought it would be best for them to see my face and not the back of a stunt lady’s head. So I did what I could.
Before I knew what it was all going to really look like, one of the production team drew up a film storyboard and they had this image of Sunita that looked like Lara Croft! There was a picture of her lying on her side and she was all curvy, so I thought, ‘I want it to be like that!’ I know – how vain!
Normally, Sunita wears a baggy top, but in this storyline she’s in a mini skirt because she has to dress up and go out beforehand. It’s the most inappropriate thing to be crawling about in though – tights on a floor like that.
With whom would you have liked to work with more during your years on Corrie?
I don’t mean this disparagingly, but I’d have liked to have worked with the oldies a bit more. Malcolm Hebden, Barbara Knox and Eileen Derbyshire. We had the odd scene now and again and there was always something quietly lovely about them. So I’d have liked to have been involved in their world somehow.
Will it be nice having a lower profile for a time?
Well, I might get some private life back, but I don’t think Corrie ever leaves you. There’s always a lot of blurring between fact and fiction – when I was on Twitter the first time around, I was having some very offensive trolling in the period when Karl and Sunita were having the affair.
Now I have a Tweet administrator who takes the troll stuff off, so I don’t see what they write. For me, it’s not water off a duck’s back. I’m an actor, I’m very sensitive. And I will always continue to be sensitive because I don’t want to be hard. I’ve tried to be harder but it’s not me.
What are your personal Sunita highlights?
I liked falling in love with Dev in the corner shop. I thought that was cute. Equally, I enjoyed Keith Duffy and having two boys fight over Sunita. That was nice. I didn’t enjoy the ‘Mad Maya’ storyline too much because I spent a lot of time bound and gagged and chained to a cooker. Also, I had to wear the least sexy nightie that anyone’s ever worn. Not even Emily Bishop has a nightie like that.
Have you taken any mementos from the set?
Ha! Well, I’ve stolen a lot of stuff over the years! I took Sunita’s candlesticks and I took a little drawer cabinet that used to be in her flat. That statue that Mad Maya was going to hit me over the head with – I had that as well. I haven’t taken anything from the Rovers though because it was on fire!
The Coronation Street episodes featuring the fire at the Rovers Return air on Monday 18 March on ITV