Sahira Shah

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Sahira Shah
Holby City character
Sahira Shah.jpg
Laila Rouass as Sahira Shah
First appearance"Blue Valentine"
15 February 2011
Last appearance"Ribbons"
17 April 2012
Created byBelinda Campbell
Portrayed byLaila Rouass
OccupationCardiothoracic surgical registrar

Sahira Shah is a fictional character from the BBC medical drama Holby City, played by actress Laila Rouass. Sahira is employed at Holby City Hospital as a Cardiothoracic surgical registrar. She is an old acquaintance of Henrik Hanssen (Guy Henry) who is the CEO and Director of Surgery at the hospital. She has been portrayed as an honest character with a "warm heart". She approaches her career with perfectionist tendencies which is compromised by her emotional vulnerability. Her main relationships were with Henrik, friendship with registrar Greg Douglas (Edward MacLiam) and a feud with consultant cardiothoracic surgeon Jac Naylor (Rosie Marcel). Rouass later decided to leave the show.


Sahira arrives at Holby City Hospital as a registrar on the cardiothoracic surgery ward, Darwin. Having taken time out from her career to have two children, she is assigned a mentor – a reluctant Jac Naylor (Rosie Marcel), who sees her as a potential rival.[1] It emerges that Sahira took the job at the behest of Director of Surgery Henrik Hanssen (Guy Henry), who she worked under at three previous hospitals. Tasked with managing budget cuts, Hanssen is looking to make staff redundancies, and asks Sahira to report to him on the capability of registrar Greg Douglas (Edward MacLiam). Although Greg struggles in an operation, Sahira claims that he is an excellent surgeon. She tells Hanssen that she will not be his spy, and does not want special favours from him in return. Hanssen therefore reneges on his promise to allow Sahira to work flexitime.[2] With a consultant position available, Sahira decides to apply, which pits her against Jac.[3] Greg feels that Sahira is taking liberties by arranging her childcare schedule on duty and delegating patient care to him. He suggests that she is incapable of balancing her personal and professional life, but feels guilty when Sahira subsequently struggles in an operation and is berated by Hanssen.[4] On the day of the consultant interviews, Sahira becomes emotionally involved in a patient's plight and misses her interview slot, so Jac is awarded the position by default.[5] Greg later oversteps Sahira to take the lead on the case of a teenage girl with a rare heart condition.[6] He is devastated when she dies in theatre, and breaks Hanssen's windscreen in a drunken accident. Hanssen issues Greg with a formal warning; Sahira sympathises with him, and when he later makes a medical error, she takes the blame and resultant warning herself.[7]

Dismayed that Sahira would tarnish her previously unblemished record for Greg, Hanssen attempts to revive their previously positive working relationship. He offers to remove the warning from her file, and convinces her to join him in an operation she has never performed before, but is forced to call Greg in to assist when she panics in theatre. The operation is ultimately successful, but an angered Sahira tells Hanssen she is unwilling to be his "special project" any longer.[8] As a result of the hospital's financial difficulties, the cardiothoracic department faces closure. Sahira comes up with an idea for a mobile cardiac unit, which Jac gives her consultant backing to, but double-crosses her by signing a contract with plastic surgeon Michael Spence (Hari Dhillon), whose department is encroaching on Darwin.[9] Worried about her future at Holby, Sahira tells Hanssen that she has been offered a job in a Newcastle hospital. When an official visit goes badly, Hanssen is forced to announce the demise of the cardiothoracic department.[10] Sahira is furious, and goes against Hanssen's instructions by taking on an emergency patient, who she unsuccessfully attempts to conceal in the basement. Aware that he could lose her to Newcastle, Hanssen tells Sahira that although her trauma unit proposal is not in the best interests of the hospital or himself, he cannot let her go.[11]


Creation and characterisation[edit]

Sahira was one of several characters introduced during Holby City's thirteenth series, at a time when many established characters were written out. She, along with Hanssen and registrar Antoine Malick (Jimmy Akingbola), were created to compensate for the losses. Series producer Myar Craig-Brown said she wanted the new group to become "equally iconic" as their predecessors. Sahira was created as an old acquaintance of Hanssen's, and their relationship formed a central focus of the series. She was additionally devised as a love interest for registrar Greg Douglas, and rival to colleague Jac Naylor.[13]

BBC Online described Sahira's qualities as being her passionate nature, her warm-heart and her honesty. They said she is flawed by her emotional vulnerability and being a perfectionist.[12] She has the tendency to become emotionally attached to certain patients, which Rouass felt stemmed from her being a working mother.[14] Her situation necessitates balancing her personal and professional lives, and she is depicted as sometimes failing to commit fully to both.[14] Rouass and executive producer Belinda Campbell hoped that viewers would be able to identify with Sahira: the former deemed her situation "a reflection on what millions of women are going through now",[15] and the latter said that she had been "a joy to create". Campbell added that while Sahira appeared "cool and calm", in reality she was "kicking madly just to keep afloat" and had created a "façade of perfection" around herself.[16]

Generally well-liked by her colleagues,[13] Rouass said that despite Sahira's rivalry with Jac, she was unlikely to become embroiled in professional discord. She expanded that Sahira is not territorial and prefers to "kill people with kindness rather than being in your face or sly."[17] She is good at her job, and Rouass assessed that although Sahira is very ambitious, unlike Jac she is not "bitchy about it".[18] Instead, "her ambition is a silent one and people generally love [and are fascinated] by her".[17]


In November 2010, it was announced that Rouass had been cast as Sahira.[19] After she completed filming on the ITV programme Primeval, Rouass told her agent that the only show she would sign a long-term contract with was Holby City, as she believed it to be "so understated in the most positive sense." It was important to Rouass that she loved her character before signing, and explained that if she could not connect with Sahira and was not passionate about creating her, then she feared the role would become just another job.[15] Rouass ultimately joined the show on a one-year contract, the longest she had ever signed.[20] Sahira was created as a woman struggling to balance her career with being a mother, something Rouass was able to relate to as a working mother herself.[21]

Rouass, who had no medical expertise prior to her casting, said the role was "a real eye opener."[16] She spent a day at The Heart Hospital in London as preparation, and commented in February 2011 that she also hoped to observe a real operation.[22] Rouass felt it was crucial that she liked her character and remained passionate about creating her, otherwise she may not have taken the role on.[15] When asked whether she had much input into the character or storylines, Rouass explained that she had been given a questionnaire to gauge her opinion of Sahira's backstory, and that the creative team were receptive to suggestions.[23]

In November 2011, Rouass announced her intention to leave Holby City, in order to spend more time with her daughter. On 8 November, she stated that she would be filming for several more weeks, and that Sahira would remain on-screen until early spring 2012. She did not believe her character would be killed off.[24]


"They're both very competitive and focused and both want the same outcome but they do it in different ways and have different approaches to their job. I think they've got a lot of respect for one another as both are very good at what they do, they're exceptional, but you've also got the catty comments, which gives it a fun element, so it's never too serious."

— Rouass, on Sahira and Jac's relationship.[15]

Sahira was introduced as a rival for registrar Jac Naylor.[16] Rouass characterised their relationship as a tense one, alleviated by frequent comedic one liners.[20] She called the rivalry a highlight of Sahira's early storylines, noting that the "bitchy, catty comments [gave] it a fun element."[25] Rouass explained that although Jac was threatened by Sahira's presence, a mutual – albeit silent – respect developed as a result of their shared profession.[17] Though Jac had had antagonistic relationships with many of her colleagues beforehand, Katy Moon of Inside Soap assessed that she may have "met her match" in Sahira when the two competed for a cardiothoracic consultancy. Marcel, who plays Jac, observed that her character's previous competitors had all been male, in contrast to Sahira. She noted that Jac suspected nepotism on Hanssen's part had been responsible for Sahira's hiring, and commented that her character would not allow "someone like that" to best her. However, when one of Jac's patients later died in theatre, she was surprised that Sahira stood by her; Marcel called Sahira's loyalty "quite a moment" for Jac.[26] When the future of the cardiothoracic ward was threatened, Jac secretly backed opposing plans by Sahira and Michael. Marcel explained that Jac had her own self-interest at heart: "She's on the side she's always been on, which is hers." She refrained from giving advice on a difficult case, "hoping Sahira [would] hang herself," however to the surprise of Jac and their colleagues, Sahira performed well and impressed Director of Surgery Henrik Hanssen.[27]

In October 2010, prior to Sahira's arrival, Guy Henry revealed that his character Hanssen would be mentoring a female doctor and their partnership would carry a "hint of unrequited love."[28] It was later revealed that Sahira's backstory included a friendship with Hanssen. She was said to have a "dark history" with him.[16] Whilst producer Craig-Brown revealed that they had storylines together planned for the whole of series thirteen.[29] By January 2011, Henry confirmed the unrequited love scenario would be applied to Hanssen and Sahira.[30] Rouass said their history was not romantic, just mentorship. Hanssen pushes Sahira as he believed her personal life prevented her from reaching her full potential. She agreed that Hanssen is a "big fan" of Sahira's work.[18] Henry later revealed Hanssen was attracted to her but saw her more as this "wonderful doctor and a bloody good surgeon." The theme of unrequited love remained set in place, as he did not want "distract her" from her work.[31]

Sahira is married with two children. Rouass revealed that her family may be introduced to the series in 2011,[17] and indeed her youngest son Indy appeared in the episode "What You Mean By Home". In her introductory episode, Sahira stated that she had two sons,[12] however in the later episode "Hand In Glove", she mentioned having both a son and a daughter. Despite the fact her character is married, Rouass expressed her desire for Sahira to have a romantic relationship with an on-screen character.[32] She hoped that Sahira would become involved in a love triangle as she found many of the male cast members "really dishy",[25] and noted that being married has "never stopped anyone."[15] She assessed that Sahira has "plenty of chemistry" with her colleague Greg Douglas, which she was looking forward to depicting.[20] In June 2011, Craig-Brown stated that a central focus of series thirteen had been establishing Sahira's character and developing a triangle between herself, Greg and Hanssen.[33] Asked about Sahira's future storylines, Craig-Brown commented, "there's been an amazing relationship developing between her and Greg, and it's going to be exacerbated by a blast from Greg's past". She said that this would bring the two closer together, but qualified, "I don't want it to be a conventional soap or serial drama story about a woman who has an affair, because I think it's not as simple as that. We're trying to mine the difficulties that people face if they fall in love with somebody else."[34]


Rouass was nominated in the Drama Performance: Female category at the 2011 National Television Awards for her performance as Sahira.[35] "Blue Valentine", the episode in which Sahira was introduced, was selected as recommended viewing by the Liverpool Daily Post and Sunday Mercury. Both publications commented on the way she immediately made her presence felt through her interactions with Greg and sparring with Jac. The former additionally called her "very attractive and talented" and observed that she outshone Jac.[36][37] The episode drew 5.59 million viewers,[38] down from 6.13 million for the previous episode,[39] however Andrew Laughlin of media news website Digital Spy attributed a rise of 310,000 viewers the following week to the storyline which saw Sahira struggle with her loyalty to Hanssen.[40]

Tom Latchem of News of the World said Rouass appeared to be the "big name replacement" for Patsy Kensit's character Faye Morton.[41] TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh described Sahira as "an amazing character" because she is "head vs heart". He also said "this is a woman who is a surgeon, but whose emotions are very much to the full."[14] The Daily Mirror's Jane Simon approved of the Sahira/Jac double-act, and commented, "Watching Sahira (sweet, maternal, human) and Jac (a Dalek in scrubs) hilariously lobbing insults at each other is to witness the start of a beautiful hatred and the scriptwriters are guaranteed to have a lot of fun writing for these two."[42] Once the two began working together on Sahira's Cardiac Trauma Unit, the TVTimes commented, "Whisper it, but Sahira and Jac make a great team, with Jac's tough love proving to be what her nemesis needs."[43] In July 2011, What's on TV described Sahira as one of their favourite characters, but called "Sirens", the episode in which she misses her son's birthday, "Not one of the great episodes, if we're honest, as Sahira's attempts to juggle home life and career [...] feel overly contrived."[44]

In April 2012, the editor of TVTimes, Ian Abbott said that he would miss "smart surgeon Sahira".[45] While columnist Joanne Lowles named Sahira's final episode as a four star rated "TV Highlight" that was "memorable for all the wrong reasons". She added that it "was a shame" to see Sahira depart because Rouass had played her "brilliantly"; describing her exit scenes as a "disastrous final surgery and a predictable huge bust-up with Hanssen".[46]


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  2. ^ Fraser MacDonald (director), Nick Fisher (writer) (22 February 2011). "Open Your Heart". Holby City. Series 13. Episode 19. BBC. BBC One.
  3. ^ Jamie Annett (director), Nick Warburton (writer) (8 March 2011). "What You Mean By Home". Holby City. Series 13. Episode 21. BBC. BBC One.
  4. ^ Reza Moradi (director), Tony McHale (writer) (15 March 2011). "Too Much Monkey Business". Holby City. Series 13. Episode 22. BBC. BBC One.
  5. ^ David Innes Edwards (director), Joe Ainsworth (writer) (5 April 2011). "Coming Second". Holby City. Series 13. Episode 25. BBC. BBC One.
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