Neighbours' UK fans saw the final scenes of Ajay and Rani Kapoor yesterday (August 9) as they departed Ramsay Street to visit a sick relative in India.
Sachin Joab and Coco-Jacinta Cherian, who played the characters, filmed their exit scenes earlier this year after producers decided to write the Kapoors out of the long-running soap.
In his first interview about his Neighbours departure, Sachin caught up with Digital Spy this week for a candid chat about his exit, diversity in the show and his future plans.
Now that we've seen your final scenes in the UK, how do you look back on your time with Neighbours?
"I had a great time working on Neighbours with the cast and the crew. All of the moments that I had with them were fantastic and it was often like being part of another family, as we were all so close. A lot of people outside the television industry might not realise that it really is a full-time job which involves working 12 or 13-hour days. You're pretty lucky if you can get along with all of the cast and crew in that environment, so I was very fortunate that all of the actors and crew members were so great."
Bringing in the Kapoor family brought greater cultural diversity to Neighbours. What kind of feedback did you get from fans over that?
"Internationally there was a lot of positive feedback, in particular from the UK and other places in Europe. Given that the show is made in Australia, it's kind of ironic that there was some negativity which was thrown at us over here. We did have some positive feedback too, but generally speaking, there were a lot of negative comments which came our way.
"That frustrated all of us and we would all speak about it, but I was probably the one who spoke publicly about it more often. I really hoped that by speaking out, some of the people who were being negative might feel differently."
There's been a lot of speculation over why the Kapoors have left the show. Did you all leave of your own accord, or were you written out?
"We were definitely written out and it wasn't of our own accord. We were actually dumbfounded by the decision and we had no idea that it was coming.
"It was more of a shock to us knowing that it wasn't just one multicultural actor who was being written out, it was every single multicultural full-time actor on the show - myself, Menik Gooneratne who played Priya, Coco-Jacinta Cherian who played Rani, and Alin Sumarwata who played Vanessa. All four of us were written out in the first year of our full-time contracts, which felt like a massive step backwards in terms of cultural diversity on the show.
"All four of us were hired by the previous producer Susan Bower, and it was the new producers who came in and decided to let us go in one shot, after just a year. We were all really hurt as we'd all been part of extremely heavy storylines and after working so hard on those, we really felt that we'd earned a second year on the show. Instead, they've now brought in another all-Caucasian family and returned Ramsay Street to all-white characters."
What reasons were given for your departures?
"The reason that they gave me was that it was a lack of storyline ideas for us and a lack of budget. I was really surprised, because they'd made it clear that Fremantle had actually invested several million dollars into the show while we were there.
"Also, how can you not write storylines for a man who's just lost his wife and a young girl who's just lost her mother? To me, there were an unlimited amount of stories which could be written, and I even suggested some to the producers but they weren't taken up."
How have the fans reacted to your exits?
"A lot of the fans seem sad and I've heard from a lot of people who feel short-changed, as they'd really invested in our family. The audience became attached to them and I think once Priya's affair with Paul began, they were really interested in our storylines.
"Once Priya left, we could have explored whether Ajay would find a new love interest and how Rani would react to that. It would have also been a great opportunity to perhaps explore an interracial relationship for Ajay, which is so relevant in Australia and elsewhere. I think there was lots of potential for new stories."
What did you think of your exit storyline, which saw Ajay and Rani head to visit a sick relative in India?
"The exit storyline was so low-key that when it aired in Australia, some of the fans didn't even know that we'd left. The majority were under the impression that we'd be coming back. It feels like it was written that way so that we could just be swept under the rug so that nobody would notice that we were gone. They've even kept us in the opening credits for now but not the actual show.
"When it comes to Priya's death in the explosion, I actually support that because I thought that it was a great way to write a character out. The explosion was a fantastic sequence which was brilliantly directed, but for Ajay and Rani, the exits were really disappointing.
"Another issue was our characters being sent 'back to India'. It made no sense to me for Ajay and Rani to be sent back to India considering that both characters were born, educated and raised in Australia. I encouraged the head of the writing department at Neighbours to send us elsewhere, but they chose not to. I suggested that the idea of visiting Ajay's ill grandma could take place in Sydney, Adelaide or any other state in Australia, but the writing department still chose not to.
"Finally I said, what about if we visit my grandma in India and from there we leave for the UK, considering the majority of Neighbours fans are based in the UK. The writers agreed with that. So that's how it ends for the Kapoors."
Neighbours have recently brought in Remy Hii in the role of Hudson, so do you think the potential is there for more regulars with different cultural backgrounds?
"I would obviously love to see that happen, but Remy was brought in as a guest actor and I know that they're writing him out in quite a negative way, which to me seems like a real waste."
What would you say is the current state of play when it comes to diversity on screen in general in Australia? Will it be difficult for you to find more work over there?
"It'll be a lot more tricky to find work here in Australia than it would be in the UK or the US. The US have really incorporated a lot of different ethnicities into their shows - it really doesn't matter what your skin colour is over there. It's getting the same way in the UK, which has really caught up.
"For some reason, Australia is stuck in some sort of time capsule and usually when you do see non-white characters on screen, it's only in non-fiction when it's needed for factual reasons. For some reason when it's fiction over here, the industry chooses to exclude non-whites and include whites only.
"It's very unrealistic given that Australia is a very multicultural country. The two main places where the shows are made, Melbourne and Sydney, are two of the most multicultural but that really isn't reflected on screen."
What memories will you take away from your time on the show?
"Just like in everyday life, there are people you connect with more than others. On Neighbours, we all got along but some of the best moments I had was connecting with actors like Alan Fletcher who plays Dr Karl, Ryan Moloney who plays Toadie and Eve Morey who plays Sonya. We got along really well and had a lot of fun backstage. These are moments that I'll remember 20 or 30 years from now. It's the same with certain directors that I connected with too."
Would you rule out a return to the show?
"I would definitely go back, but I'd be very surprised if the current producers asked us to, given that they've written us out for their own reasons. However, they're one story and Neighbours is a separate entity. If new producers came in and asked us to go back, I wouldn't be surprised and I would say yes. I'd also say yes if the current producers asked us back, but I'd be surprised if that did happen."
You've recently appeared back on screen in Australia in another Fremantle production Better Man, which told the story of Van Tuong Nguyen, the last Australian to be executed. What has the viewer response been like?
"The response has been really good. According to the producer, Better Man was one of the highest-rating SBS shows. It touches on a story that a lot of people remember, as the young man was only 25 years old and made a very stupid mistake. The decision to execute him in Singapore really split Australia and everyone remembers it because of that.
"I myself was very close to the story because I'd grown up about 10 minutes away from the real Van Nguyen. We grew up listening to the same music and going to the same clubs. After he was executed, I went to his funeral and hugged his family. To be a part of the TV project was almost like coming full circle and getting a closure moment."
Is it true that you have a project lined up with Nicola Charles, who played Sarah Beaumont on Neighbours?
"Yes, Nicola has written a film and she directly asked me whether I'd like to be the lead in it. I only shared one small scene with her in Neighbours, but after that we started talking and became friends. Nicola sent me the script and it's great.
"The film explores the idea of how much the media shows. 20 years ago, certain images of war were not shown on the news. Due to the lack of technology back then, the public were not exposed to the same images that the soldiers were. Nowadays the public turn on the news and see the same horrible images as the soldiers over there.
"Nicola's film takes a standpoint on how the numbers of suicide have increased and how that could be related to the number of images we see which are related to war. The lead character tries to have the media legislated, so it's a Pelican Brief or The Firm-style film. It's a really interesting film which we hope to get up and running, but we're currently looking for investments."
What are your other future plans?
"Right now I have a small role in a counterpart of the Underbelly series. There's another series being filmed called Fat Tony, based on the criminal figure of Tony Mokbel. Afterwards, I'll more than likely go to the States to see the opportunities over there, as it's so hard to find work over here in Australia. The industry here is very small anyway, and as I've mentioned, it's still stuck in a lot of old ways from an ethnic point of view. I have meetings set up in LA in September."
How would you like Ajay to be remembered?
"Basically just as a character who was very passionate and always lived by the truth. He was very family-orientated and wouldn't stand for anything which strayed from the truth. He also had eclectic interests - he was a lawyer and a councillor, but was also a musician, father and husband. It's funny, actually - apart from the legal degree and being a father and husband, he's actually quite similar to me!"
After chatting to Sachin, Digital Spy approached Neighbours for a comment on his departure. Executive producer Richard Jasek provided the following statement:
"It is the nature of a long running daily series that characters will come and go from time to time through the evolution of storylines. Characters' departures from Neighbours are quite regular as part of the storytelling process and these changes are always for editorial reasons.
"We all miss Sachin - he was an exceptional actor and a great friend to all the cast and crew. The Kapoors were at the forefront of some memorable storylines which is testament to Sachin's talent."
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