Emmerdale’s Paige Sandhu on Meena’s revenge and why nothing will stop soap’s sassiest serial killer
The star speaks exclusively to Johnathon Hughes about her evil alter ego's comeuppance.
Soap serial killers come and go, but there’s never been one quite like Emmerdale's Meena Jutla. The nasty nurse has devastated the close-knit community with her spree of slays (three and counting, with at least one more off screen), but a delicious dose of dark humour and dangerous glamour has added a gloriously gothic edge to the proceedings. Crucially, Paige Sandhu’s disturbing performance, ensuring Meena commits every kill with a sinister smile, has made the character utterly compelling and fans have lapped it up.
This week her reign of terror reaches a creepy climax as spurned Meena kidnaps newly-weds Billy Fletcher and Dawn Taylor on their wedding day, and prepares to execute her final revenge on the couple she blames for breaking her heart. Talk about a woman scorned…
“Billy dumped Meena for Dawn, and Meena can’t let them get away with it,” explains Sandhu, speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com. “It feels like a slight on her. And they’re getting married on Valentine’s Day, of all days!” Mad Meena escaped the village weeks ago when her crimes were exposed, so why has she returned and risked getting caught? “If it’s a choice between staying on the run and getting away with everything, or coming back to spoil Billy and Dawn living happily ever after but possibly going to prison, then Meena will choose revenge – that’s who she is!”
We’ve already seen the barmy bad girl stage elaborate hostage scenarios to scare her victims: Manpreet Sharma was tied to a bed with a gag stuffed in her mouth, then locked in a barn with Vinny Dingle while Meena cranked up the ignition on a van and flooded the air with deadly exhaust fumes. We’re almost afraid to ask, but what does she have in store for the abducted bride and groom?
“She takes them to a remote viaduct and hands Billy a gun, telling him to choose whether him or Dawn should live. Meena wants to cause the maximum amount of suffering possible, to simply kill them both outright is not satisfying as it’s over too quickly. She wants to drag out the torment and punish them for the hurt she believes they caused her by their actions.
“Making Billy choose is just awful, one of them having to watch the other die is the worst thing. For Meena, it heightens the fun and pleasure she derives from watching people go through intense emotions. It’s exhilarating. Manipulating, hurting and killing is thrilling for her, she’s got a real taste for it now and at this point is incapable of stopping.”
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Sandhu admits there are shades of Killing Eve’s homicidal heroine Villanelle in her alter ego, and channelling Jodie Comer’s iconic creation was always Emmerdale’s intention with the character. “Villanelle was the inspiration for Meena but I didn’t know that when I auditioned,” continues Sandhu, who made her first appearance as the estranged kid sister of local GP Manpreet in September 2020. “I didn’t even realise she was going to kill anybody! In the audition scene she was funny, outrageous and blunt, quite selfish and sassy like a sarcastic teenager. I loved that about her.
“I got the part and they told me she was a serial killer and cited the Killing Eve reference, and it all began to make sense. I’d already started building the character so then I could draw on the likes of Villanelle, Bellatrix Lestrange, Hannibal Lector, Joe Goldberg from You. It was a very organic process in terms of how the character and story evolved.”
Meena initially dated David Metcalfe but her possessive behaviour and jealous rage when he left her for Victoria Barton set alarm bells ringing and gave off definite bunny boiler vibes. Elements of a dark backstory were carefully drip-fed, and it emerged Meena had bumped off her best mate a few years ago when they fell out and made it look like suicide. As others got closer to the truth, Meena – without a shred of remorse – gleefully despatched them to hide her terrifying true colours, and loved every minute of it.
“Our writers have been so great with her sassy one-liners,” grins Sandhu. The unpredictability of plot and protagonist has made for some memorable moments over the past 18 months, with one distressing scene standing out as a low point for Meena, but a high point for the actress.
- Emmerdale Meena's revenge week: your day-by-day guide to all the drama
“When Manpreet was bound and gagged in the bedroom, there was a scene where Meena kisses her on the mouth to freak her out. The kiss wasn’t scripted but when I was reading the scene at home I just felt it was the kind of weird thing Meena would do in that moment.
“I messaged Rebecca (Sarker, aka Manpreet) to ask what she thought and if she’d be OK with it, and she loved the idea. On the day we spoke to the director and we were worried it might be too much, especially for the 7pm timeslot. In the end we went for it and it worked!
“In the scene Meena is telling Manpreet all about her killings, Manpreet is crying and shaking with fear, Rebecca was amazing, and Meena is laughing wildly then gives her this kiss out of nowhere. It wasn’t incestuous, it was Meena getting the power back from her victim and wanting to disgust them. Just the kind of weird, strange and funny behaviour you’d expect! I loved that scene.”
Conversely, Sandhu admits pushing for increasingly daring ways for Meena to make mayhem led to a particularly shocking twist that was the only time she felt concerned the storyline had gone too far. “I mean every time I read a script I’m thinking: ‘She does what?!” she laughs. “But the one point I felt a little uncomfortable with was when she took a drunk Liam to her bedroom with the intention of getting pregnant as she was lying about having Billy’s baby. I must admit I didn’t love that one, but I have to say I’ve enjoyed it all and embraced the fun of it.”
Sandhu remains tight-lipped on speculation around Meena’s fate beyond this big week, though teases that, as much as we’re all enjoying her guilt-free malevolence, the charismatic killing machine’s luck is definitely running out. “Usually everything slots into place when Meena makes a plan, but this time is different as things go wrong which could potentially mean trouble for her.”
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What we can definitely expect is more menacing musical interludes – Meena’s party piece is psyching herself up by singing along to perky pop songs when nobody’s looking, including Britney Spears’ Toxic after chucking teenager Leanna Cavanagh off a bridge, and Man I Feel Like a Woman by Shania Twain as she lured Vinny to the barn of doom. Get ready for the return of the psychopath singalong…
“Belting out Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boi in front of the mirror was my favourite one,” she smiles. “It’s a great song and was so much fun to film, and I got to dance around in the bedroom. There’s a song called Teenagers by My Chemical Romance that I think sums Meena up, I made a note of it as part of my prep work to get into character. It’s scary, dramatic, sassy and very her. I don’t get to sing it on screen, but there is more singing coming up this week!
“As for whether she finally gets her comeuppance, I feel like it’s the most satisfying thing for all involved that we see the people Meena has hurt have their say, and a chance to go up against her. It would be a shame if we never got to see that. Personally I don’t want her to get taken down because I love her!”
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