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'EastEnders' star Nitin Ganatra talks Masood family's Christmas plot

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Nitin Ganatra as Masood

© BBC

EastEnders' Masood Ahmed faces a race against time to save his family this week as Yusef Khan's evil scheming escalates.

When Zainab (Nina Wadia) makes a desperate attempt to get out of the planned move to Pakistan, Yusef (Ace Bhatti) fights back by taking Kamil away from her and refusing to reveal where he is until she is a more obedient wife.

Masood is horrified to discover that his son is no longer on the Square and initially suspects that Zainab is trying to stop him from seeing the youngster before the move. However, he soon discovers the ordeal that Zainab is suffering at Yusef's hands.

In the run-up to EastEnders' explosive Christmas episodes, Masood must figure out a way to beat the odds and save both Kamil and Zainab. Will he be successful?

Here, Nitin Ganatra - who plays Masood - chats to Digital Spy about the storyline.

How do you feel about playing such a big part in EastEnders' Christmas storyline this year?
"It's very exciting to get a big Christmas plot! I think EastEnders is the most exciting show to be a part of at Christmas. It's also flattering that our executive producer Bryan Kirkwood and the storyliners feel that these characters can carry Christmas episodes. I'm very, very happy."

Yusef ushers Zianab away from Masood and Jane
Masood seems to have taken a bit of a step back when it comes to Zainab recently. Why is that?
"Well, I think Masood has been pushed to the end of his rope where Zainab is concerned! There's only so much that a man can take. I think finally he just gave up and thought, 'Do what you want'. I think that's a very human thing. Like the best characters, Masood isn't perfect - and that's what makes him interesting.

"I think the storyliners would have done Masood a discredit if they'd just kept him as the nice guy. Not only would that be boring to play, it would be boring to write for. What's nice about Masood is that he can be quite funny, but he can also be quite dark. He's multifaceted and that means that he's not predictable. On the street, I'm being applauded for leaving Zainab and people are telling me, 'Let them make their own mess!'"

Jane and Masood are happy after spending the night together
With Zainab out of the picture, how strong are Masood's feelings for Jane?
"I think it's nice that we've seen Masood seek out his own happiness, and people on the street are also applauding me for going off with Jane! Jane is his best friend and he definitely has strong feelings for her. I think there's split opinions among the viewers, as some people really like Masood and Zainab together, and others really like Masood and Jane.

"I do think Masood really loves Jane and he cares about her. It also seems a lot more effortless with Jane - there's no real strain in their relationship. We've been building up to this for about two years now, so it's lovely to go back to it."

How is Masood feeling about Zainab's plans to take Kamil to Pakistan with her?
"I think, by this point, Masood has accepted being separated from Zainab - but what he can't accept is losing his family, especially Kamil. So that's what is troubling him the most at the moment - he knows that the family all moving away will break his heart."

Masood arrives wanting to spend time with Kamil
What happens when Masood discovers Yusef has taken Kamil away?
"Masood goes crazy over this! I've got kids myself, and I know I'd react the same way if I found out that some other guy had taken my child to somebody's house who the child doesn't even know. Masood is still the only person who can see Yusef for what he really is, so he goes into a blind panic over the situation.

"Masood calls in the police, and they make sure that Kamil is safe, but we're left to wonder if he will stay that way. The police say that they can't get involved in domestic disputes, so Masood says, 'Well, what about the father's rights? If a mother reported this, you'd see it as kidnap'. I thought that was a great line and really interesting - I think in that moment, Masood's representing a lot of fathers who have separated or divorced and don't have access to their children in the same way."

What can you tell us about Masood discovering Yusef's abuse of Zainab?
"At first, Masood is quite suspicious of Zainab and thinks that she's trying to stop him from seeing Kamil. But when he talks to Denise, he starts to see things differently. It's been really, really good to work with Diane Parish as Masood doesn't often get to mix with the other characters.

"Masood tells Denise, 'It's just another one of Zainab's dramas', but then there comes a point where he sees bruises on Zainab. Then Masood becomes very concerned for Zainab in a very genuine way. It also might reignite something between the two of them as well, as they have to work together to solve these problems."

Zainab and Masood discuss their divorce papers
Is it hard for Masood when he can't rescue Zainab straight away?
"Definitely. Masood says to her, 'I could save you now - but we have to put our son first'. With Kamil still away, they can't let Yusef know that anything is amiss, so that means Zainab has to go back to the lion's den. It's such a painful decision for Masood to make, because he'd love to jump in there and beat the hell out of Yusef, but that could mean that Yusef would hurt Kamil. Masood has to risk Zainab's life in order to protect Kamil, so you can see how high the drama gets in these episodes.

"It's such a complex drama to play out, and the writers and the storyliners have done an amazing job on it. The build-up is great - and this is only the episodes running up to Christmas Eve, where they're trying to find Kamil. There's lots happening on Christmas Day and Boxing Day too."

What can you say about the explosive Christmas Day and Boxing Day episodes?
"Well, what's great about these Christmas episodes is that they build and build and build. Soaps can sometimes put all of their eggs in one basket for Christmas Day and it can become a very sensationalist episode. But this hasn't been blocked out in that way. Instead, we're building the drama and even Christmas Day builds up to Boxing Day. The episodes are really good and I'm really proud of them.

"What you'll see is that on Christmas Eve, just when you think that it's okay, it goes wrong. On Christmas Day, it's the same - it goes wrong again as there's another twist. And then on Boxing Day, it's really explosive and there's a big spectacle. But I'm not allowed to say any more than that!"

Have you had a chance to watch any of the episodes back yet?
"I haven't, as I tend to just watch the episodes as they go out, so I've only seen what we've filmed. But I know they're great and they're not as sensationalist as you might expect. It's clever storylining and a clever script. With every episode, you just can't wait to see the next one."

Syed is torn between Amira and Christian
Masood and Syed seem to be on better terms these days. Moving forward, do you think that could be explored more or does Masood fully accept him now?
"At the moment I'm not sure as it hasn't been discussed, but I would like to do more with Syed. I think the Syed and Zainab story has been very, very strong and has been explored in-depth, but I haven't really had a chance to do father/son stuff. I look forward to exploring that.

"At the moment, they have spoken but I'm not really sure where the two characters are at. But I do have some lovely scenes with Tamwar coming up. It's not often we get scenes with just the two of us, but when we do, I really, really enjoy it."

How are you spending the holidays?
"I'm not going to be here for the Christmas episodes going out, but I'm sure that I'll start receiving texts and phone calls if they're good! It's my first holiday in five years - I'm off to Mauritius and I'm looking forward to it!"

> Read all the latest EastEnders spoilers and news

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