Interview with Sunetra Sarker who plays Kaneez Paracha in Ackley Bridge

So you play Kaneez in Ackley Bridge, tell me a little bit about her….. 

Yes I play Kaneez, she is the mother of Nas and also is the dinner lady at the school. It was a very interesting role to some of the other roles I’ve been involved with and really good fun.

It’s not exactly what you would call a glamorous role is it?

No, not at all. It is a character part and that was the attraction, to be able to put vanity aside. It’s nothing to do with being glamorous, it was far more interesting to play a real women that we haven’t seen on TV before. For me the appeal of playing Kaneez was that when I was reading the part I hadn’t read anything for television that was this bold and this brave about representing a woman who lives in a house like this. She has a voice and I feel like a lot of single parent Muslim women haven’t really been portrayed in this light so that was why I wanted to go for this role.

She is a force of nature isn’t she? 

She is feisty and she wears her heart on her sleeve but she is a woman of substance, she is very vocal and passionate about caring for her children and her family, she doesn’t really hold back on telling people what she thinks, but that is one of the appeals of her personality. She is a force of nature and I like that there is female representation like that, she is ballsy!

When you say it is a departure for you, do you mean she is not as anglicised as perhaps other roles you have played in the past?

Definitely. I am really proud to say I have played many roles are nothing to do with my ethnicity – to play women who are doctors and nurses and detectives, who haven’t had to bring their cultural identity into their everyday live. I am very lucky to be able to play those roles, however this is a departure in the sense that it is showing the woman that we have kept hidden from the public in a way. I don’t think there are many people in places like Cambridge who will have bumped into many women like Kaneez, so it is great that we are bringing them into their living rooms. This is why, for me, I wanted to be dressed in Pakistani clothes and to be speaking with a northern Pakistani accent and living a very working class life style on screen because that’s not something you tend to associate with me.

Did you model your performance on anyone?

I think I modelled my performance on a lot of people who I saw in Halifax at the time we were filming it. There was a lady who we met that invited me over for dinner and she was a really wonderful character, she was very colourful and she laughed at her own jokes, she listed to Kylie Minogue but yet she was really traditional in other ways. I think the personality was really important for me to get across, as these women are more than just a colour and shouldn’t be a put in a box. I think I just picked up on a lot of people who were in Yorkshire when I was working there and I studied the East is East film.

Was teaching Punjabi a difficult learning curve for you?

Very difficult, I don’t speak it. My brain was so busy trying to be this character as not only was I trying to be authentic, and think about the role but I was trying to learn Punjabi and use it in a convincing way. I gave it my best shot is all I can say!

What was it that drew you to the project in the first place?

I think it was because I believe it could be ground-breaking, if it was done in the right way. This is the kind of drama that we can show to an audience in 2017 and tell them what is really going on. It means opening eyes to a part of Britain that we maybe don’t give a lot of interest to. I was really drawn to the way that it shows us a mixture of British Muslims and white people coming together. There is a really lovely relationship we see, of Missy living next door to Kaneez, who lives in a very different dysfunctional home but what is nice is how they blend. I think this show and what it presented to me was something new.

Was it fun being reunited with Jo?

Of course that was one of the other huge bonuses of working on this job. Jo and I haven’t worked together for ten years so we were very, very excited. We were saying to each other “what will we do?” and “what should we do on our days off together?””… So then we were both very disappointed when we didn’t have many scenes together! But when we did get one or two together it was really lovely and we kept looking at each other and giggling! Of course, she hasn’t heard me talking like Kaneez, so it was a probably a blessing at times, as he would distract me from staying in character!

Obviously the nature of the programme being set in the school meant you had to work with a lot of kids and a lot of young actors, how was that for you?

They were great and they were so full of humour. It really kept my spirits up and meant I kept going in the right direction with Kaneez, as sometimes the kids would come up to me and say things like “You sound just like my auntie” or “that’s just what my mum would say” – they were really making me feel like I was on the right lines. What was also really nice was some of the white British kids who didn’t know those ways found it really interesting and were picking up on some of my phrases and using it themselves, which again just shows if it is done in the right way, integration can have some really fun elements too. It was ace to work with Amy and Poppy as a) they were such good actress but b) they were really up for learning. I really enjoyed working with them but I don’t think I even considered that side of it being so much fun!

The filming was in Halifax. How did you find that experience?

We didn’t have much time to explore Halifax because we were always so busy filming however I think shining the light on a town like Halifax is important and if and when people watch it hopefully we have made something that the people of Halifax are proud of and it will have a reflection that this is what is going on in somewhere like Halifax.

What do you think the locals made of the kerfuffle?

I think they were quite amused. I think they quite liked having a camera crew there up and down the streets. I think they are probably looking for something pretty good and funny so hopefully they are pleased with the outcome. I hope it is a programme that shows 50/50, good and bad on both sides and flawed characters and loveable characters. I’m hoping they are happy with the way we have used Halifax as a backdrop.

May 24, 2017 7:51am ET by Channel 4  

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