Hospital pass

Filming for his new role in ITV series The Good Karma Hospital may have been bedevilled by lockdowns but it gave Leeds-born actor Harki Bhambra the chance to immerse himself in Sri Lankan culture

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Harki Bhambra has come a long way from his hometown, Leeds. From Nepal to Malaysia to South Africa, the actor has filmed in locations across the world.

“With my accent I always thought I’d just be up North all the time,” Bhambra says. “I’m baffled that this accent has been able to spend so much time abroad filming and seeing these amazing places. And not just seeing them – you get so immersed in the culture as well.”

Best known for roles in Our Girl and Call The Midwife, the British-Asian actor talks to Big Issue North having spent the end of 2021 filming in Sri Lanka for his role in the fourth series of ITV’s The Good Karma Hospital. His new character, surgeon Samir Hasan, is described as “high flying and charismatic” and yet what drew him to the role are its more complex, nuanced elements.

He says: “At this stage in my career it’s the deeper, chunkier lead character roles that when you start to look through them and you can see that there is something a bit more to the character, that’s what draws you into them. You can tell with my character that there was something a bit deeper to him.”

Bhambra joins a well-established cast including Neil Morrissey and Amanda Redman. Like so many projects of late, filming The Good Karma Hospital was not without its interruptions. The crew faced a six-week lockdown filming in Sri Lanka, confined to their hotel and only allowed out to travel to sets and back. Lockdown brought them together.

The 36 year old says: “We were very lucky. We still had the little beach in the front and we were keeping each other company. Usually when you go on long-term jobs you get close but I think we got a little bit closer and we almost had to become each other’s family just to get ourselves through it.

“Being in Sri Lanka, the people, the food, the culture – it’s all really beautiful. The nice thing was that apart from some of the heads of department a lot of the crew were Sri Lankans so you got a really good chance to get to know them and to get to know the culture through them.”

Bhambra grew up in Upper Wortley and Whinmoor in Leeds before becoming a student in Manchester, set to become a chartered quantity surveyor. Acting had always been a passion but he had “lost sight of it”. University was “quite full on” and between academic and social commitments and the football team, there was no time to pursue it. It was only when he was 27 that he chose to leave his job for his first love – and a move to London, where he trained at Mountview Theatre School. His first professional acting job was as Mike in Peter Capaldi’s Dr Who in 2015.

“Down here you grip hold of being Northern as much as you can. I love being from Leeds and I’m really proud of my 10 years in Manchester. I know you shouldn’t say that because of Yorkshire and Lancashire and all that – Leeds is still better for the record! The people seem a lot friendlier and that feeling you get when you’ve been in London for a few too many weeks – you get back and realise you’ve missed it. And the water is better as well!”

Amid all the disruption of the last few years, one positive was the opportunity to move back to Leeds for some months and spend time with his parents. “They were a bit older so I thought I could go and do the shopping and things for them – it was nice to spend it with them,” he says.

“It’s strange – the one positive from Covid is that everything has been made a lot more remote and if you wanted to live outside of London, it’s lending itself to that. I’ve got no thoughts on doing it now but in the future it wouldn’t be the worst thing if you were to move out of London.”

What can we expect from Bhambra in the coming months? There are roles he can’t tell us about just yet but what he can say is that he may pop up for a role in This is Going to Hurt, the BBC drama based on Adam Kay’s best-selling 2017 memoir, starring Ben Whishaw.

And what about The Good Karma Hospital? “A lot of thrills and spills and some quite heavy storylines. It’s such a beautiful, touching Sunday night show – a lot of heartfelt stories in there. The audience have got a lot of good drama coming their way.”

The Good Karma Hospital is on ITV

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