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Sanjeev Bhaskar on his character DI Sunny Khan ‘losing it’ in the new ‘Unforgotten’ ITV series…

Sanjeev Bhaskar on his character DI Sunny Khan ‘losing it’ in the new ‘Unforgotten’ ITV series…

Acclaimed crime drama sees new pairing and much emotional turmoil since the end of Series 4 and the tragic death of a principle character… (mild first episode references)

THERE’S a scene in the first episode of returning hit ITV series, ‘Unforgotten’ tonight (February 27) where Detective Inspector (DI) Sunny Khan loses his temper.

DCI Jessica/Jess James (Sinéad Keenan)
& DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) with his infamous backpack

Devastated by the death of colleague and boss, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Cassie Stuart (played by Nicola Walker) in a car accident in Series 4, and stricken by grief and experiencing fraught relations with new boss DCI Jessica/Jess James (Sinéad Keenan), DI Khan kicks a police station gents’ toilet door in sheer frustration and anger.

It’s totally out of character – as Khan is usually a mild-mannered, generally easy-going kind of guy (as far as a murder detective can be) and not prone to emotional outbursts

Bhaskar who has been in‘Unforgotten’since the beginning, says viewers will find the change in his character possibly difficult to deal with.

“It’s the most upset (I have ever had to feel on set),” he told and other media in a face to face conversation. “And from a purely machismo point of view, I knocked the door right off its hinges and someone said, ‘we need to get someone to fix it’. And I thought this is the most maddening thing I’ve ever done (on set); we are all capable of losing it.”

And indeed, DI Sunny Khan is ‘losing it’; he forgets a dinner date with his relatively new wife, walks around much of the first episode in a semi-daze, looking forlorn and utterly lost.

Of course, grief on this scale does destabilise and have profound consequences for anyone.

Pained: DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar)

“Sunny hasn’t been like this before – because he’s been such a rock,” explained Bhaskar.

“And what Chris (Lang, one of British TV’s most celebrated writers) has done is ask, what will it take him (DI Khan) to that place we are all capable of going, and it’s that – whatever those tensions are in dealing with Jess and that particular conversation is – is what takes him to that place.”

DI Khan – and the now late DCI Cassie Stuart were close, best friends – and Stuart’s replacement, DCI James (Keenan), don’t see eye to eye, on the first case they encounter.

Parts of a body are found in the chimney of a house being renovated in West London in the opening episode, set in 2022. Initially, investigations suggest that the body has been there for a very long time and that it has passed the point at which it could open an active case.

DCI James, who is having her own personal difficulties on her first day, wants to move on but DCI Khan and the team, who also worked with DCI Stuart, think differently.

There is a lot of tension amidst the grief of losing such a respected and well-liked colleague.

“What struck me within this series,” Bhaskar shared, is that, “both Jess and Sunny are operating from a position of shock.

DCI Jessica/Jess James (Sinéad Keenan) who also talked to acv

“Jess’ new shock and his old shock – the grief and nothing makes sense (to Sunny).”

Bhaskar also talked about why Khan hasn’t simply moved into his colleagues’ shoes – as the former no2 in the team which deals with cold cases; the first episode also covers his possible elevation to replace DCI Stuart, but in a very understated and almost nonchalant way.

“He isn’t in any fit state to make those kinds of decisions, because he is still so consumed with confusion over what happened and he’s not at his best and we discover and that neither of them (DI Sunny and DCI James) are operating from their best places and so ultimately they have to find a point at which they can do the job they are both quite good at.”

In some ways, and, as is the reality in some workplaces, people do what they need to, without actually investing too much in these work relationships and devise a coping strategy.

“It may be sitting at opposite ends of the room or doing everything on the phone,” teased Bhaskar intimating how Khan navigates the tension.

Many of the team that worked with DCI Stuart and DI Khan in previous series return and are also struggling to comprehend what has happened.

DI Sunny Khan Sanjeev Bhaskar (©ITV/MainStreet)

“It’s something they have in common; they have all lost somebody, and I think Sunny feels the loss to a greater level, because he worked with her for longer and they were best friends and confidants. And they were always close as a team and bonding in grief is another closeness.”

Much of the early media interest has focused on actor Keenan replacing Walker, and the chemistry that may or may not continue with Bhaskar as DI Khan.

The pair have acted only briefly together before and Bhasker invited Keenan to a Zoom before the pair met with executives over lunch to discuss this series.

“At the lunch, I had a friend,” joked Keenan about the lunch and described Bhaskar’s Zoom gesture as “thoughtful”.

Bhaskar retorted tongue-in-cheek: “It was utterly selfish: I just thought, is this person (Keenan) going to be a pain in the a**, I just want to know as soon as possible – and can’t we ask Judi Dench again!”

For fans of the series – and millions who watched series 4 – the first episode is something of a jolt – and Keenan is keenly aware that her character isn’t the nicest.

Each series has a cast of characters who are connected to the original murder but their connections unfold during each episode – Ebele/Bele) Falade (Martina Laird); Lord Tony Hume (Ian McElhiney); DCI Jessica/Jess James (Sinéad Keenan); DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar); Karol Wojski (Max Rinehart); Jay (Rhys Yates)

“She’s totally blindsided (by personal matters),” described Keenan, “on that first day and not handling it right, as she planned or hoped.

“The team are grieving and she is fully aware of that but she handles things terribly and mismanages herself.”

But whatever you think of her as a character, everything about the first episode is intriguing and absorbing – and it all makes for very compelling drama.

“The reason she has got the job is that she is at the top of her game and she is very good,” Keenan told journalists in the same face to face discussion.

“We don’t see that initially and the genius of Chris’ writing is that the audience know why she is being so awful, before her team and that probably helps a little.”

All pictures: Courtesy of ITV

*Unforgotten Episode 1, new series 5 starts at 9pm this evening (Monday, February 27) and on ITV X all six episodes will be available after 10pm tonight.

Sanjeev Bhaskar was one of the stars of the hit TV comedy sketch show ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ and featured in a recent discussion about the programme at the BFI Southbank –

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture