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Thursday, May 26, 2022

“With my accent I thought I’d be working in Doncaster not Sri Lanka” says Leeds actor

Harki Bhambra has given Asian Standard an exclusive interview where he talks about his influences, Manchester, and his experience filming in Sri Lanka during a lockdown in the pandemic.

An actor from Leeds hits our TV screens again as a new edition to The Good Karma Hospital series, a much-loved medical drama on ITV set in India.

Harki Bhambra, 36, who grew up in the Upper Wortley and Whinmoor areas of Leeds takes to the screen as surgeon Samir Hasan, a “high flying” and “charming” doctor that leaves his well-to-do job in Britain to join the under-resourced cottage hospital set in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Production took place between August and October of last year and saw the cast and crew lockdown in their hotels for six weeks as Sri Lanka – where they filmed the show – ramped up its Covid-19 regulations in response to rising coronavirus cases on the island.

Harki Bhambra plays Samir Hasan in the latest season of the Good Karma Hospital.

After university plays and theatre productions at the Fringe Fest, Mr Bhambra scored his first professional acting job at the age of 27 in 2015, cast as Mike in Dr Who.  However, his love for acting stems from his childhood when the actor took to the stage for the first time as the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz in a school production.

He said: “My first play was at primary school where I played the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, there was a line where the lion couldn’t speak because he lost his voice and I had to help him get it out.

“After that, I realised that I loved acting. I started doing plays in high school, doing Shakespeare production and a few others. I got an agent in Leeds, but I couldn’t go to auditions or ought like that because I was too nervous.”

With a lack of guidance on how to pursue acting as a career, Mr Bhambra decided to complete a “sensible degree” from the University of Manchester and ended up working as a commercial manager and quantity surveyor, before becoming charted – one of the highest accreditations in the industry – for five years.

“When I became chartered, I thought to myself, ‘am I going to be doing this for the next thirty or forty years?’ so I picked up acting again”, he added.

Living in Manchester as a student and graduate before pursuing acting professionally, Mr Bhambra has his opinions on Fallowfield – an area that is heavily populated with students, known for its high crime rates and lively social scene.

The actor added: “I was always thought Fallowfield was quite dingey. When I used to go to other student areas such as Liverpool, Preston, and Leeds especially, I thought their student areas were so nice, but Fallowfield was a bit of a warzone.”

Mr Bhambra got his first TV role as Mike on Dr Who in 2015.

After moving to London and graduating from Mountview Theatre School, Mr Bhambra has taken on various roles in popular series.  Some of these include Drifters, London Unplugged, Vera, Endeavour, and Call the Midwife. In 2021, Bhambra was Ajay Dewan in Coronation Street for five episodes.

The 36-year-old actor takes inspiration from three of the world’s biggest performers, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, and Tom Hanks. He said: “With those three, there is a lightness or humorous aspect to their performances.

“I think something clicked with me growing up, I always used to take my comedy from them when chatting with mates. They can find laughter in anything they do.”

In the Good Karma Hotel, Mr Bhambra plays Samir Hasan, a successful surgeon looking for a change of scenery from his routine life in the UK.

“Samir has come over from Britain and he is a successful surgeon, everyone is asking why he has left a cushy role. He is a happy go lucky character, high flying and incredibly charismatic.

“There may not be a love interest, it is more like the character starts to get close to a particular character”, Mr Bhambra said.

The cast and crew filmed in Sri Lanka for three months spending six weeks in the middle of the shoot stuck in a hotel under government lockdown.

The Mountview Theatre School graduate expressed: “We were there for just under three months. The first few weeks were great because you could still go out and about and I was going in for work every day anyways.

Mr Bhambra spent six weeks under lockdown in a hotel in Sri Lanka whilst filming The Good Karma Hotel.

“It calmed down for me in the middle six weeks which coincided with a national lockdown. It was quite tricky; it was paradise but six weeks of staying in the same hotel without being able to leave got quite repetitive.

“They have checkpoints with blokes with AK-47s so you didn’t want to go out and get into a bit of a muddle with them if they ask you a question and can’t speak the language.”

Despite being under lockdown for a month and a half, the actor enjoyed filming in the country. He added: “Overall, it was amazing, the heat was great and there were animals everywhere.

“There was a massive lizard that would wander around when we were eating breakfast and one on set. Everyone was chill about it, but I was like are we okay with a two-metre-long lizard roaming around the place?’

Working away in exotic locations for periods is not new to Mr Bhambra, as he spent eight months on location shooting Our Girl.

The Leeds-born actor mentioned: “I’ve done long stints away from home with work before, I think with Our Girl we were away for around eight months. This time was different because of Covid-19. This time, you felt the strain on it because of the six-week lockdown.

“You just got to get into a routine, all the cast members leant on each other and looked after each other and made sure everyone was alright.

“I spent a lot of Netflix and the gym. I particularly like watching the Soprano’s, so I watched that again.

“With my accent, I thought I’d be in Doncaster for six weeks or something like that, so I’ve been fortunate to film all around the world.”

The fourth episode of The Good Karma Hotel will air this Sunday at 8pm on ITV, with episodes available to view on catch-up on ITV Hub.


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