Rakhee Thakrar as Shabnam Masood (2014)
|Portrayed by||Zahra Ahmadi (2007–08)
Rakhee Thakrar (2014–)
|First appearance||17 July 2007|
|Created by||Diederick Santer|
|Introduced by||Diederick Santer (2007)
Dominic Treadwell-Collins (2014)
|Occupation||Post office worker
Zahra Ahmadi as Shabnam Masood (2008)
Shabnam Masood is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Zahra Ahmadi from 2007 to 2008, and by Rakhee Thakrar from 2014. Shabnam's first appearance was on 17 July 2007. On 8 September 2008, it was reported that Zahra Ahmadi had quit the show, as her character was not given enough "meaty storylines". Ahmadi made her final appearance as Shabnam on 24 October 2008. Thakrar took over the role on 1 December 2013, and Shabnam returned on screen on 13 January 2014.
Shabnam, the daughter of Masood Ahmed (Nitin Ganatra) and Zainab Masood (Nina Wadia), appears initially as a university graduate, who is undecided what career path she wants to follow. She has aspirations to travel and makes plans to leave Walford but is forced to rethink when she discovers her parents are struggling financially. Shabnam's lack of direction, friendship with Dawn Swann (Kara Tointon) and recreational activities anger Zainab, causing friction between mother and daughter. Zainab tries to set Shabnam up with Jalil Iqbal (Jan Uddin) and invites him to stay with the family and work in their post office for a while. Shabnam is initially against this as she remembers Jalil as a "geek" from her childhood, though when she sees him, she is attracted to him. Zainab sets them up with a romantic meal, listening in on their conversation using a baby monitor. Shabnam discovers that Jalil has a girlfriend, though Zainab sees a picture of her and says she is ugly and that her make-up looks like it has been done by Edward Scissorhands. Shabnam later bumps into Jalil on a night out in R&R nightclub, where they flirt. Jalil and Shabnam later share a kiss, but during a conversation with the Masood family, he says that he thinks modern Muslim women like Shabnam provide "great entertainment" but are not marriage material. Zainab is offended by this and sends him away.
Shabnam and Zainab have an argument about Shabnam's behaviour after Zainab catches her poledancing in a club. Zainab is ashamed that Shabnam wants to embrace British culture more than her family's traditional Muslim culture. Zainab warns Shabnam about the dangers of going against her people's culture and society's rules, relaying an incident in Pakistan, where a girl was burnt as punishment by her family for secretly dating a boy her family felt was unsuitable. Shabnam, admits that after hearing that story, she is unable to feel proud of her culture; however, Zainab has many positive things to say about the Muslim culture too. Shabnam feels confused; she does not know where she really belongs, so she leaves Walford to find her roots in Pakistan.
Shabnam returns to Walford after attending her grandmother's funeral. She immediately dislikes Carol Jackson (Lindsey Coulson), who is dating Masood and after an argument with her father, she is forced to leave. However, the following month, Tamwar's friend, Fatboy (Ricky Norwood), calls Shabnam and informs her of Masood's downward spiral so she moves in with him and Tamwar. She gets a job working with Denise Fox (Diane Parish), at the local Minute Mart.
Kush Kazemi (Davood Ghadami) begins to run a stall on Bridge Street Market and starts trying to impress Shabnam, but she is not interested as they are totally different people. Shabnam realises that Denise has been stealing alcohol from the Minute Mart and threatens to report her but doesn't when she sees her struggling with looking after Patrick Trueman (Rudolph Walker), who has suffered a stroke. She later befriends Stacey Slater (Lacey Turner) and ends up getting to know Kush better. On her 29th birthday, Shabnam discovers that she is being made redundant, and things get worse when Masood finds out she inherited his mother's money. Shabnam tells Kush that she did something wrong. They kiss and have sex. Shabnam thinks he gossiped about what happened and eventually tells Stacey that she had a baby named Roya which she left on her aunt's doorstep and was adopted. The father is Dean Wicks (Matt Di Angelo). Shabnam later realises she has feelings for Kush and when he notices it, he gets her to admit it, and admits he feels the same way. They start seeing each other in secret but when Stacey finds out, Kush tells her that they should tell Masood eventually. Although she is hesitant, they agree to tell him after her last shift at work. However, Masood finds out through gossip at Shabnam's surprise last-shift party and confronts her and Kush at home. He is upset that they lied to him but calms down once he learns how serious they are about each other. However, Shabnam takes things too far by lying that Kush has proposed to her and is horrified at her actions when Kush says it is happening too fast and Masood orders him to leave. At Donna Yates' (Lisa Hammond) 30th birthday party, Kush admits that he is unable to commit as he is still mourning his wife. After he explains more at the Masood house before leaving, Shabnam thinks over what he just said and when she finds him, admits that she only pushed their relationship through lying because she loves him. They decide to resume their relationship and take things more slowly this time round, and tell a hesitant Masood of their plans, who slowly comes round to the idea. Shabnam is very disappointed when Kush refuses to commit and enlists her aunt Fatima Inzamam's (Anu Hasan) help to find a husband, however Shabnam is dismissive of her suitor when he mentions children. Fatima tells Shabnam she knows about her child, although Fatima does not know who the father is. When Shabnam sees Dean, he is upset and she believes Stacey has told him he fathered her daughter. Shabnam falsely informs Dean that their daughter died. Kush returns from a holiday but when Shabnam is distracted by seeing Dean, Kush believes it is because she dislikes him. She accepts Kush's proposal.
Creation and development
Shabnam Masood was one of several Asian characters introduced in 2007 by executive producer, Diederick Santer. She was first seen in July 2007, the episode after the introduction of her mother, Zainab (played by Nina Wadia), who became Walford's new postmistress. An EastEnders source commented: "Shabnam's definitely going to turn heads. She's 21, fresh from university and has no idea what she wants to do with her life. To keep her going, her mum gives her a job at the Post Office." Shabnam appeared intermittently until October 2007, when the Masood family, including Masood Ahmed and Tamwar Masood (Shabnam's father and brother), moved to a property on Albert Square and became regular characters.
The Masoods were the first Muslim family to join the show since the Karims, who appeared between 1987 and 1990, and they were the first Asian family to be introduced since the unsuccessful Ferreira family in 2003. Panned by critics and viewers, the Ferreiras were dismissed as unrealistic by the Asian community in the UK, and were eventually axed in 2005.
The introduction of more ethnic minority characters is part of producer Diederick Santer's plan to "diversify", to make EastEnders "feel more 21st century". Prior to 2007, EastEnders was heavily criticised by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), for not representing the East End's real "ethnic make-up". It was suggested that the average proportion of visible minority faces on EastEnders was substantially lower than the actual ethnic minority population in East London boroughs, and it therefore reflected the East End in the 1960s, not the East End of the 2000s. Furthermore, it was suggested that an element of "tokenism" and stereotyping surrounded many of the minority characters in EastEnders. The expansion of minority representation in EastEnders provides "more opportunities for audience identification with its characters, hence a wider appeal." Trevor Phillips, CRE chair, has said: "balanced representation of ethnic minority communities in the media matters. The industry has a key part to play in this, it is a powerful tool and can go a long way towards helping to build an integrated society."
Actress Zahra Ahmadi, a graduate from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, was cast as Shabnam. She has commented: "I've watched EastEnders as long as I can remember and I'm really excited to be joining the cast. It was very surreal walking into the Square and seeing all the faces I'd grown up watching. I felt like I knew them". EastEnders executive producer, Diederick Santer, has said "Newcomer Zahra is a real find. She's warm and great fun. I'm confident the Masoods will be a big hit with viewers."
It was reported on 8 September 2008 that Zahra Ahmadi had quit her role as Shabnam "after producers refused to give her meaty storylines" and discovering that she "barely [featured] in new scripts." A source at the time told The Sun that "Zahra was really disappointed with the way scriptwriters used her character. You hardly ever saw her on screen. If she had been given exciting scenes she would have stayed for a long time [...] she began to feel she was wasting her time." Ahmadi was quoted as saying: "I’ve made the tough decision to leave as I'm still young and I want to try other roles. But I’m really happy the door has been left open for me to return as it has been a great experience." Diederick Santer added: "Zahra is a fine actress, even though she's leaving, the door is always open for her to return. The Masood family have been a great addition to Albert Square so there's plenty more to come from them in future." The character made her exit in October 2008, leaving England to find her roots in Pakistan.
2014 return and recast
It was announced on 1 December 2013 that Shabnam would return to EastEnders in January 2014, played by Rakhee Thakrar. Thakrar said of her casting: "Having grown up watching EastEnders with my family, I'm really excited to now be joining the show. I can't wait to become part of the Masood family and start working with the rest of the amazing EastEnders cast and crew." Shabnam returned to EastEnders on 13 January 2014.
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