When Nikhil Sharma reappears on Emmerdale this week, he’s a very different man to the broken, bereaved figure who departed the Dales in 2013.
Having left with daughter Molly in the wake of wife Gennie’s murder, he returns a successful businessman with a worldwide chain of hotels to his name. It’s a change of fortunes that suits actor Rik Makarem, who is back on the ITV soap after a two-year absence.
“Nikhil’s now very smart and dapper. The costume designers were excited about reinventing him and I’m pretty chuffed with his wardrobe,” he laughs. “He maintains his clean-cut style, but they’ve given him a modern, cosmopolitan makeover. We’re used to seeing him in sharp suits, but now he has this extra flourish!”
But beneath the tailoring, is Nikhil still the same person? After all, he could be a little rigid in his thinking, maybe even borderline obsessive compulsive. And following Gennie’s death, those compulsions did end up threatening his wellbeing. So is he now more happy and healthy?
“When I left, I did feel that we’d fatigued the character,” Makarem admits. “He had the OCD and that rigidity and – when I looked to the future – I didn’t feel that enthusiastic. But when he returns, we get to acknowledge that there’s been a change off-screen. Being a single parent, for instance, has made him much more grounded. Having Molly has taught him to relax. So we’ve softened him a little bit.”
Nikhil’s comeback storyline will see him drafted in to help the family business, which is suffering thanks to Jai’s increased dependency on cocaine. But being back among the villagers will also bring Nikhil into the orbit of Debbie, the woman who he regards as being complicit in the death of his late wife.
“Yes, Nikhil does run into Debbie, this person who he sees as partially responsible for Gennie dying. Nikhil feels massively conflicted about it, and even more so when Ross ends up hitting him! He’s very shocked about that, but does he expect anything less from those around Debbie? No.”
Luckily for 33-year-old Makarem, it was a much happier experience behind the scenes as he began “phase two” of his time on Emmerdale.
In his years away, he’s mainly been concentrating on the theatre, with credits including a nationwide tour of Peter James’s thriller Dead Simple, alongside fellow soap alumni Tina Hobley and Jamie Lomas (“I became an actor to play different people. And in order to not get stale, you have to get out there and try different things,” he says).
But he readily admits that the Emmerdale studio in Leeds is still “wonderful” and a place to which he was happy to return.
“I received a very warm welcome back,” he says. “I’ve missed my Sharma family. I love Bhasker Patel [Rishi] to pieces, as well as Fiona Wade [Priya]. In fact, the whole crew.
“And one of the most attractive reasons for coming back is the chance to do more stuff with Matthew Wolfenden. Nikhil and David are best friends and we always manage to balance light and shade in our scenes. It was quite emotional seeing everyone again, actually. But definitely in a good way.”
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