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Fiery exit for desi girl from British soap

London, Jan. 29: Shobna Gulati, a well-known actress of Indian origin, is being written out from Coronation Street, a long-running TV soap, in a fire tragedy that reduces a pub to ashes.

A spokesman for Coronation Street, which began transmission on December 9, 1960, would not officially confirm Shobna’s fiery exit but a source revealed: “It’s going to be a very dramatic spring on Corrie (short for Coronation Street). The Rovers Return (pub) will be reduced to a shell.”

The soap on ITV revolves around the excessively complicated lives of the residents of Coronation Street in Weatherfield, a fictional town based on Salford in Greater Manchester. The action centres on the terraced Coronation Street which encompasses a cafe, convenience store, newsagents, textile factory and, most important, the Rovers Return pub where everyone bitches over pints of beer.

Shobna, now 46, who plays a barmaid called Sunita Ahalan (ée Parekh), is leaving the cast at her own request. She joined the cast as a shop assistant in 2001, left in 2005, partly so that she could devote more attention to bringing up her son, Akshay, as a single mother, and returned to Coronation Street in 2008.

Indian viewers will probably be transfixed by Coronation Street, though the tortuous twists and turns scriptwriters are expected to come up with on a weekly basis make Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, by way of comparison, the last word in subtlety.

However, British soap is not to be sneered at for they do try to tackle the big social issues of the day — drug addiction, marital infidelity, gay relationships and the like — and are followed by millions.

This is not just a British phenomenon but Shobna once observed that when people met her in the street, they treated her as Sunita.

Sunita has escaped an arranged marriage, been diagnosed with an aneurysm and a brain tumour, been falsely imprisoned, held hostage, fallen pregnant with twins, become a single parent after divorcing her husband, survived a tram crash and embarked on a full-blown affair.

Acting in a soap “can take over your life”, Shobna pointed out. “People began to treat me as Sunita. My son is now 15. All he’s ever known is people coming up to me in the street and talking to me as my screen character.”

In October, Shobna had let it be known that she wanted to leave Coronation Street. “I have loved playing Sunita but I really feel the time has come for me to focus on other aspects of my career. Comedy writing has long been a passion of mine and the commitment to a show like Corrie is huge and doesn’t really leave enough time to concentrate on other projects.”

Coronation Street’s producer Phil Collinson said working with Shobna had been a “pleasure”.

He confirmed: “It’s sad to lose such a well-loved and brilliantly played character but it provides an exciting storyline opportunity and the writing team are already looking forward to developing a brilliant exit story for her. Viewers can expect something very memorable.”

Shobna was born in Oldham on August 7, 1966, and has a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern politics from the University of Manchester. She is also a trained classical Indian dancer.

She married an architect, Anshu Srivastava, in a Hindu ceremony on November 10, 1990, but the couple divorced in May 1994. While living separately from her husband, she became pregnant with her son, Akshay.

Being on the cast of Coronation Street has meant Shobna has been very well paid (probably in excess of £100,000 a year) but she has also had to live the life of a soap star. Last year, for example, she had to pull on tight jeans and win a “Rear of the Year” competition.