12 Top South Asian Characters in ‘EastEnders’

For over 35 years, ‘EastEnders’ has thrived with diversity. DESIblitz brings you a list of 12 of its best South Asian characters.

2 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders - f

"People finally felt like they were being represented."

Across several decades, EastEnders has admirably shown inclusivity and awareness in depicting a range of characters.

A lot of them include figures from the South Asian community including Indian and Pakistani people.

They are at the centre of informative, entertaining storylines.

They grab the attention of viewers just as any other mainstay on the show.

Actors playing them win appreciation, affection and awards for their portrayals. This depicts their popularity in a positive light.

Paying tribute to these wonderful characters, we delve into 12 of these entertaining figures.

Sanjay Kapoor (Deepak Verma)

12 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Sanjay KapoorSanjay made his first appearance in EastEnders on February 9, 1993. He was the first regular Indian character to be introduced to the show.

Deepak’s portrayal of Sanjay created a Cockney gambler. He was full of charm and had an eye for the ladies.

He arrived in Walford with his supportive wife Gita Kapoor (Shobu Kapoor).

Sanjay also befriended many locals including Nigel Bates (Paul Bradley), Richard Cole (Ian Reddington) and Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden).

However, his gambling addiction led to his money disappearing as quickly as the stock on his market stall. It also damaged his marriage to Gita.

Sanjay went on to have sex with Meena McKenzie (Sudha Bhuchar), slicing a deeper cut in his marriage.

In 2009, Deepak expressed his gratitude to the show, reflecting upon how his role strengthened his opportunities:

“It’s what gave me my break and what let me do the things I do now.”

All of Sanjay’s troubles enabled EastEnders to depict him as any other character.

Therefore, the show was able to avoid stereotyping in its early years. Sanjay’s addiction, infidelity, and demeanour made him a truly relatable Indian EastEnder.

Gita Kapoor (Shobu Kapoor)

12 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Gita KapoorAlong with Sanjay Kapoor (Deepak Verma), came his long-suffering wife Gita Kapoor. She arrived onscreen on February 18, 1993.

A heavily pregnant Gita struggles to deal with her husband’s hapless business decisions.

To make matters worse, his gambling addiction loses them money and drives them further apart.

As a result of his increasing debts, in a famous scene, Gita attacks Sanjay by chucking a bowl at him.

This displays her fearlessness and ‘no-nonsense’ attitude.

However, Gita also has a refreshing love for Sanjay. This is highlighted when she supports him when he discovers he has a low sperm count.

Gita is also supportive of long-standing characters like Pauline Fowler (Wendy Richard). She offers advice and calmness to her.

The contrast between Gita’s firmness and affection firmly places her among Albert Square’s most inspiring female characters.

Post her 1998 departure from EastEnders, Shobu has gained fame for playing Mrs Khan in Citizen Khan.

Zainab Masood (Nina Wadia)

12 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Zainab MasoodNina Wadia made her grand entrance as the formidable Zainab Masood on July 16, 2007.

During her five-and-a-half tenure, Zainab is known for her fiery temper, and her determination to do right by her family.

However, this does not always bear the juiciest fruits. Zainab often prioritises her reputation first.

This was apparent when she pressured her gay son Syed Masood (Marc Elliott) into marrying Amira Shah (Preeya Kalidas).

In Zainab’s latter years on EastEnders, the show explores a more vulnerable side to her. Zainab centres on a harrowing domestic violence storyline involving Dr Yusef Khan (Ace Bhatti).

What never changed, however, was the mass popularity Nina garnered for her role. She won multiple awards for the character.

Despite this, not all people shared the same warmth as the viewers did.

Deepak Verma, who played Sanjay Kapoor on the BBC soap, was critical of Zainab and her family in 2009.

He opined that the show was moving backwards in its portrayal of South Asian characters:

“We didn’t have accents. I just acted like a Hackney boy, like a Barrow boy. We did that 15 years ago.

“We need to move forwards, not backwards.”

An EastEnders spokesperson retaliated to Deepak’s comments. They clarified that the characters have become popular.

“It’s a shame Deepak feels that way, but that’s clearly his personal opinion. The Masood family have proved to be hugely popular with EastEnders viewers.”

A tough-talking businesswoman with a comedic edge, Zainab has cemented herself as one of EastEnders’ most beloved South Asian characters.

Tamwar Masood (Himesh Patel)

12 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Tamwar MasoodOne of Zainab’s sons, Tamwar Masood was brought to life by actor Himesh Patel. He made his first appearance in the show on October 1, 2007.

The quintessential geek, Tamwar sports glasses and a ruffled hairstyle. His dialogue delivery also proved to be uniquely famous among fans.

Tamwar was the ideal son, always working hard to please his parents and satisfy their wishes.

His friendship with Darren Miller (Charlie G. Hawkins) is also one of the most treasured in the show’s history.

As is often the way with EastEnders, drama did not escape Tamwar either.

In 2011, he married Afia Khan (Meryl Fernandes), the daughter of the Masood family nemesis Dr Yusef Khan (Ace Bhatti).

This culminates in Tamwar being badly burned in a fire.

After his marriage to Afia crumbles, Tamwar finds love again in Nancy Carter (Maddy Hill) in 2015.

The love for the character was emphasised when Tamwar was given his own mini-series on BBC iPlayer. It is called ‘Tamwar’s Tales.’

Himesh divulges into EastEnders as a training ground. He explains the drive to work hard:

“You’re not spoilt like you are on a film set. You drive yourself to work, pay for your own lunch and work hard.”

After he chose to leave EastEnders in 2016, Himesh appeared in acclaimed films. These have included Yesterday (2019), Tenet (2020) and Don’t Look Up (2021).

Masood Ahmed (Nitin Ganatra)

12 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Masood AhmedBefore making his Walford debut on October 16, 2007, Nitin Ganatra had appeared in several loved films.

These include Bride and Prejudice (2004), and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).

So, viewers were excited to see a familiar face in EastEnders. Masood Ahmed arrives as a postman with his family, before taking over the Argee Bhajee restaurant.

During his initial nine-year stint, Masood was a hugely popular South Asian character.

One of his most prominent storylines includes his tumultuous marriage to Zainab Masood (Nina Wadia).

He also embarks on feuds with Dr Yusef Khan (Ace Bhatti) and show stalwart Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt).

Nitin and Nina’s chemistry was awarded when they won the ‘Best On-Screen Partnership’ gong at the 2009 British Soap Awards.

When Nitin was asked to return to the soap in 2017, he was bowled over by how much fans miss Masood:

“When I was told Masood has still much to give to the show and is missed by the audience, it was hard to refuse.”

The thoughts of Nitin indicate the popularity of the character. This suggests that South Asian characters can also earn a place in the hearts of the audience.

Masood returned alongside members of his extended family. They included Arshad Ahmed (Madhav Sharma) and Mariam Ahmed (Indira Joshi).

Syed Masood (Marc Elliott)

12 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Syed MasoodTalented actor Marc Elliott brought Syed Masood to Walford on April 21, 2009. He is the eldest son of characters Masood Ahmed (Nitin Ganatra) and Zainab Masood (Nina Wadia).

Syed achieves notability by becoming the first Muslim gay man in the show. EastEnders gained praise for its depiction of Syed.

During his time on the soap, Syed struggles to reconcile his faith with his sexuality. He finds himself attracted to Christian Clarke (John Partridge).

Discussing the storyline, Marc expresses his thoughts on the show’s responsibility to voice ethnically diverse communities within London:

“I think EastEnders would be doing the programme a disservice if they didn’t give a voice to various communities.

“I think that’s really important because I think London is a very ethnically diverse multicultural place.”

The words of Marc aptly describe the importance of authenticity within EastEnders when portraying South Asian characters. This expands to people from all walks of life.

Syed and Christian’s romance was a hit with fans. So much so, that when Marc chose to depart the show in 2012, Christian left with Syed.

This highlights the bond of togetherness the two men share with each other.

Dr Yusef Khan (Ace Bhatti)

12 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Yusef KhanDr Yusef Khan is a stinge of badness within South Asian characters in EastEnders. He is portrayed by Ace Bhatti and made his first appearance on November 23, 2010.

Soon after his arrival, Yusef makes his enemies known, as the Masood family loathe him.

Throughout his 13 months on the BBC flagship show, Yusef systematically tries to destroy the Masoods.

When he eventually does succeed in marrying Zainab Masood (Nina Wadia), he embroils her in a domestic violence relationship.

In an EastEnders documentary special, which highlights cliffhangers, Nina explains Yusef’s impact on Zainab, despite her being a strong woman:

“What that did with Zainab, it showed that even a strong woman like that, manipulated by the right person, can actually end up, quite lonely, quite scared, quite vulnerable.”

This shows the tyranny Yusef exhibits towards Zainab, before perishing in a fire in 2011. His dastardly deeds make him one of the show’s most infamous baddies.

Iqra Ahmed (Priya Davdra)

12 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Iqra AhmedPlayed by the glamorous Priya Davdra, Iqra Ahmed landed on the Square on February 19, 2019. In tow with her, was her younger sister Habiba Ahmed (Rukku Nahar).

Iqra is beautiful, strong-willed, and courageous. She proves this when she helps expose cheating dentist Adam Bateman (Stephen Rahman-Hughes).

Iqra gained attention in EastEnders for being the show’s first Muslim lesbian. Her struggle to obtain acceptance suggests the hurdles such South Asian people may face.

Her kind nature is revealed when she supports and befriends a reticent Bobby Beale (Clay Milner Russell).

Priya discloses the positive feedback she received on her character, where people felt that missing representation had finally been recognised:

“I got the impression that many people finally felt like they were being represented, which was great to be able to do on a show like EastEnders, which has such a large following.”

It is great for South Asian communities to be appropriately represented on one of the UK’s most popular television shows.

Viewers were displeased when Iqra made an unannounced exit from EastEnders on January 3, 2022. She certainly made a mark on the show.

Ashneet ‘Ash’ Kaur Panesar (Gurlaine Kaur Garcha)

12 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Ash Kaur PanesarAshneet ‘Ash’ Kaur Panesar arrived as the bisexual partner of Iqra Ahmed (Priya Davdra) on August 29, 2019.

Outgoing, brash, and pretty, Ash symbolised pride in the South Asian LGBTQ+ community.

She shares an electric chemistry with Iqra throughout the course of their refreshing relationship.

EastEnders expanded Ash’s family in October 2019 when her gregarious Punjabi brothers joined the show.

Her mother arrived in 2020, while her father came in 2022.

This new familial entanglement allowed viewers to witness a more calculative, aggressive side to Ash, adding fresh layers to her.

She later embarks on a relationship with Peter Beale (Dayle Hudson). This showcases her in an interracial association with grace and dignity.

Combatting her mother’s homophobia, Ash makes for a determined South Asian character.

EastEnders fans were massively disheartened when Ash left the show for a new life in Canada on March 8, 2023.

This presents the character’s acceptance among viewers in a hugely gratifying manner.

Kheerat Panesar (Jaz Singh Deol)

12 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Kheerat PanesarKheerat Panesar arrives on October 4, 2019. He is the older brother of established character Ashneet ‘Ash’ Kaur Panesar (Gurlaine Kaur Garcha).

Noticeably, he is the first regular character in the show’s history to always adorn his head with a turban.

This underscores the soap’s commitment to accurately portraying South Asian characters.

Kheerat features in an episode where a teenager is about to rob his shop, the iconic ‘Minute Mart’. The youngster insults Kheerat by labelling his turban as a “dopey hat.”

Kheerat calmly defends his heritage by declaring:

“This is not a hat. This is a crown.”

Kheerat’s statement drew applause from the proud South Asian community.

Kheerat also throws himself into attempting to rescue Chantelle Atkins (Jessica Plummer) from her abusive husband Gray Atkins (Toby-Alexander Smith).

Unfortunately, Kheerat is unsuccessful at this. However, his actions show that he is a brave, authentic Punjabi.

Sukhwinder ‘Suki’ Panesar (Balvinder Sopal)

2 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Suki PanesarThe domineering mother of the Panesar children, Suki made her EastEnders debut on January 27, 2020.

At the start of her Walford journey, Suki embodies the strict matriarch, who commands respect and order in her brood.

To achieve her goals, Suki can resort to extreme lengths. She has pretended to have cancer and has sent her innocent son Jagvir ‘Jags’ Panesar (Amar Adatia) to prison.

Suki’s steely grit is underlined in her unapologetic nature. Balvinder speaks about this:

“She’s a no-nonsense, unapologetic character, and I quite like that about her.”

Viewers have also seen Suki become gentler in her love story with Eve Unwin (Heather Peace). Their relatable romance has earned the popular tag of ‘SukEve.’

Not only this, Suki features in an exciting ‘whodunit’ story alongside five other legendary EastEnders women during Christmas 2023.

This shows the faith both the show and its fans have in Suki.

Ravi Gulati (Aaron Thiara)

12 Top South Asian Characters in EastEnders.Ravi GulatiIntroduced as Phil Mitchell’s (Steve McFadden) fellow prisoner, Ravi burst onto the screen on July 4, 2022. He is played brilliantly by Wolverhampton-bred actor Aaron Thiara.

Ravi is a charismatic womaniser, and con artist, and is not afraid to get his hands dirty.

He takes centre stage in a storyline that involves him trying to charm Denise Fox (Diane Parish).

Simultaneously, he also tries to work his magic with Denise’s daughter Chelsea Fox (Zaarah Abrahams).

Upon his casting in 2022, Aaron expressed his gratitude for joining EastEnders and is appreciative of the opportunity:

“My heart is filled with immense gratitude to be joining such an iconic show, working alongside a stellar cast and a remarkable production team.

“This is a wondrous opportunity to approach as an actor.”

Viewers have wasted no time in taking Ravi Gulati into their hearts. This was evident when they voted for Aaron at the 2023 British Soap Awards. He won the ‘Villain of the Year’ accolade.

EastEnders has always had a rich array of diverse South Asian characters.

Fans quickly shower them with love and appreciation.

Furthermore, when they are placed at the heart of issue-led, interesting storylines, it increases their popularity to higher extents.

Portrayed by talented actors, within an iconic soap, these characters surely make for an entertaining cohort.

For that, they should be remembered and respected.

Manav is a creative writing graduate and a die-hard optimist. His passions include reading, writing and helping others. His motto is: “Never hang on to your sorrows. Always be positive."

Images courtesy of YouTube, BBC and EastEnders Wiki Fandom.

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