Coronation Street's Sunita Alahan takes centre stage in some of the soap's biggest ever scenes next week as the Rovers Return goes up in flames.
Sunita is left lying unconscious in the pub's cellar as the fire takes hold in must-see episodes airing next Monday (March 18).
With actress Shobna Gulati bowing out from her role as Sunita, it's no secret that the shock fire storyline marks the end of her time on the cobbles - but there may well be a few unexpected twists and turns along the way.
Digital Spy recently caught up with Shobna to hear about her decision to leave Coronation Street, the fire scenes and her future plans.
Why did you decide it was the right time to leave Coronation Street?
"Corrie has been invaluable to me as I've been bringing up my son over the past few years. But I've brought him up now, he's 18 and it's time to spread my wings. I am 47 this year, and in my head, that's just before 50. I just think it'd be nice to put Sunita to bed and work on something else.
"When you work on a show like Corrie, you spend so much time developing a character, but then you wonder if there is anything else out there. There was when I first left, but Sunita still wasn't dead - she went in a taxi, so that meant I could come back."
This time around, the door isn't being left open for you. Are you nervous about not having the option to come back?
"I think I've reached the point in my life where I don't want to come back. That's not a terrible thing to say at all, because I've loved every minute of my time at Corrie.
"But time just passes on this job - I can't begin to tell you how much time passes. It feels like I've only just come back, but now I'm going! That's how quickly time passes."
You've just joined Loose Women, but are there any other projects you're looking to do?
"Well, myself and my writing colleague Tracy Dell have just written the first episode of a six-part sitcom. We've actually written it from start to finish, and now it's ready for actors to play it. The people who we have in mind are actually coming over to my house as it's ready to read.
"The show is set in Urmston and it's about two friends. I'm the antagonist, but that's all I can say about that! Myself and Tracy have set up our own production company, called Separated At Birth Productions. Interestingly, we're complete opposites but we have the same sense of humour. Funnily enough, I met her having a colonic - she's a colonic therapist!"
Do you think your son will be pleased to have you around a bit more?
"Well, my son is 18 now so having me around is probably not what he wants, is it?! He finishes college this year so he's busy auditioning for drama school, as he's an actor as well. I didn't think he'd be very interested in acting, but all of a sudden, it came on.
"It's known that I'm a single parent and he's been everywhere with me. I was even in a show when I was pregnant with him, dancing and acting in it."
How have you found filming Sunita's exit scenes?
"It's been quite tough filming all these scenes. I know that I went off screen for a while, but I've since had about eight weeks of quite intense filming for Sunita's exit storyline. Because of that, I've not had much time to take stock yet. It does feel odd and it doesn't feel real that I'm actually leaving!
"At one point, my boyfriend texted me to say that he was having a rough day, so I replied with, 'Well, did you die?! Because I died today!'"
Has it been an emotional experience?
"It has been very emotional over the past eight weeks. Tears have been coming quick, because you realise how much you'll miss your colleagues.
"I've known Jimmi Harkishin for a long time, and he recently said to me that he thinks we have an unspoken knowledge of how the other is going to be when we work together. That is very rare and very special, so I'll miss that. We don't socialise outside the show, but when we're together, we know exactly how we'll be. Jimmi said that and I cried.
"Saying goodbye to Jimmi is hard, because he's been the closest person right from the beginning until the end. Although, I know I did Karl and a few others along the way! Sunita at one point was quite the one! I'd even had more men than Tracy Barlow at one point, but then she soon took over!"
Is there anyone you would have liked to work with more?
"I would have liked to work with the older cast members a bit more - people like Malcolm Hebden, Barbara Knox and Eileen Derbyshire. We've had the odd scene every now and again, and those have been really nice. There's something quietly lovely about those scenes, so I would have liked to be involved more in their world somehow."
Who will you stay in touch with?
"Everyone that I'm friendly with, really! Me and Kate Ford are best buddies, so obviously her. I really don't want to give a long list as I'll miss somebody out, so I'll say Kate and Kym [Lomas], who I've shared a dressing room with.
"Kym's actually introduced me to a whole heap of new buddies. My first ever hen party was Kym's, and Kym's sister-in-law Charley Webb is now really close as well."
What are your happiest memories from your time at Corrie?
"What stands out is the camaraderie. For example, when we're on set burning in fires and things like that, it can be quite an awful environment. The sets are full of smoke and fumes, and there isn't much time to film the scenes due to schedules. But we still find time to laugh and that's the best bit about it - you've just got to laugh.
"At one point in the filming for the Rovers fire, it was so hot that my jacket started to steam. I thought to myself, 'Should I call this scene or will someone else do it?' Instead of swearing, I came off set saying, 'Hot! Hot!' Everybody just burst out laughing. It was the most serious situation, but they couldn't help it."
How do you feel about the Corrie bosses burning down The Rovers for your exit?
"I'm very, very pleased to have such a big exit storyline. As I say, it was quite emotional to film, especially when you see The Rovers burning from the inside. Betty's picture goes up in flames, along with lots of other memories. You also have to remember that Sunita was a barmaid, so she had a relationship with the pub."
Can you tell us a bit more about the stunt work you had to do?
"I could have had the stunt lady do most of the work, as she was there every day to do what I didn't want to do. But I thought, 'This is the last time the viewers are going to see me, so they might as well see my face rather than the back of the stunt lady's head!'
"There's a scene where Sunita falls down the stairs of the cellar at the pub. I didn't do that, but I did the last two steps. There's also a moment where I'm standing on the top of the steps, looking into The Rovers when it's all on fire. There's no CGI at all - this is fire. When you watch it, you might be able to tell that I genuinely was terrified.
"There was also so much smoke involved. We were all coughing up smoke. My outfit was fireproofed, but I could smell the smoke afterwards for days."
Will you be watching these episodes?
"Yeah, I'd like to see what the cut is. The director, Tony Prescott, is amazing. Although after we'd done all the stunts, Tony said that it might be too scary for the timeslot! (Laughs.) I really hope they use all the scenes we did!"
Did it make you think of real-life accidents?
"Absolutely. When I came out of filming one day, I came into the car and cried as I just thought how horrific it would be if you were in an accident or a disaster like that. I just thought of every person who's been in that situation.
"Just filming it was horrific due to the heat involved. I could feel the burn on my skin. It was just so hot and the Rapid Fire Cover, who worked on the episodes, had a bucket waiting to cool my body down. I deliberately didn't know what I was letting myself in for."
How have your on-screen children reacted to this storyline?
"I've tried to keep them away from what I look like in the fire, though little Tanisha, who plays Asha, did catch me one day. I had to rush off and tell her that I'd come back. The little boy, Zennon, is like a typical little boy - he hasn't been able to find the right words. But Tanisha was like a proper actress and said, 'Phew, at least I'm not going!'"
Sunita's had a few disasters over the years…
"Flipping heck, they've finally got me! They've been trying for years! Sunita has had the worst time. There was the brain tumour, when Dev fell in love with Sunita. Then Dev fell back in love with Sunita after the incident with Mad Maya in the fire. A few years later, under the rubble after the tram crash, Dev realised he loved Sunita. Now, does he love me? We'll have to wait and see!"
How are things between Sunita and Dev around the time of the Rovers fire?
"There's a point where everything's going okay with our Dev. They're going to be happily ever after, but then there's a question that Dev is inspired to ask Sunita, because Stella has put her oar in. Stella essentially says to Dev, 'Does she love you?'
"Sunita does love Dev as the father of her children, but she's not 'in love' with him. I think she was in love with him in the past, but there's a point where that changed. She was 23, 24 when she joined and she had her children. Then she spent ages bringing them up and dealing with Dev's other children, as he had millions of kids!
"I think Sunita has been finding herself the whole time. She hadn't even discovered her own sexuality. I think she's just discovering herself again as a woman, and she doesn't see in Dev what she saw before.
"When Sunita had the affair with Karl, a lot of women with young children told me, 'Go for it! Has Sunita been reading 50 Shades of Grey?' I think Sunita has! Women can get sex and love confused, and that's what she did with Karl."
What did you make of the reaction to Sunita and Karl's affair?
"There was a blurring of fact and fiction with some of the reactions. I'm glad that I came off Twitter during that time. I was experiencing some very offensive trolling, but now I have a tweet administrator, who actually takes the trolls off so I don't have to see their tweets.
"That experience definitely wasn't water off a duck's back for me. I'm an actor and I'm very sensitive. I'll continue to be that way, because that's the way I want to be. I don't want to be hard, as that's not me."
Which of Sunita's stories were your favourites?
"I liked falling in love with Dev in the Corner Shop. I thought that was cute and it wasn't a big story, it just happened. Equally, I enjoyed the stuff with Ciaran and having two boys fighting over Sunita.
"Mad Maya I didn't enjoy too much, because I spent a lot of time bound, gagged and chained to a cooker with the gas on!"
Is there a part of you that's hoping to be less high-profile after Corrie?
"I might get some private life back, but I don't think Corrie ever leaves you. Although this time, they can't come up and say, 'Don't worry, they'll have you back!' or 'When are you coming back?' I may come back as Sunita's twin, as twins run in the family!"
Have you taken any mementoes with you?
"I've stolen a lot of things over the years! I once took Sunita's candlesticks, because they were orange and matched my front room. I've had a little drawer cabinet that was in her flat at one point. I've also got the thing that Mad Maya was going to hit me over the head with!"
Does this feel like a new chapter for you?
"Definitely. I think you have those different chapters in life. Sunita has been there for 12 years and it's a long time for a character. Now it's time to try something new."
> Read more 'Coronation Street' spoilers and news
Coronation Street kicks off the Rovers fire storyline on Monday, March 18 at 7.30pm and 8.30pm on ITV.
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