can't stand Kareena - she needs to get a life';
In EastEnders she's
dowdy Kareena Ferreira, but off-screen
Pooja Shah's a very different
girl. She talks about fashion,
her fella and why she loves going
by Jenny Cockle, for Sunday Mirror, London, 14 March
Actress Pooja Shah couldn't be less like her EastEnders
character Kareena Ferreira if she tried. She bounds into the north London
cinema where we're shooting, extends her hand and states, 'Hi, I'm Pooj.'
There's no trace of the subdued, naive girl she plays on screen. Instead,
the 'Pooj' we meet is a very confident, no- nonsense woman. She talks
incredibly fast, barely pausing for breath, and isn't afraid to slam her
character's unglamorous image.
'I'm fed up with it now,' sighs the
24-year-old Londoner. 'Kareena's too dowdy. I don't want to look like Zoe
and Kelly because they're the sex kittens of the show and they have the
figures to wear little dresses and tops, but I wanted Kareena to be
different, to stand out in Spanish-style floaty tops or something. But
it's turned into grandma clothing.' You get the feeling she's not afraid
to tell the costume department exactly what she thinks. 'I do have input,'
she says. 'I feel I've been in the show long enough to say, "Do you know
what? I really don't like this." I tried on a load of new tops yesterday
and I said which ones I liked, but there was nothing particularly
Pooja's thrilled when she spots the rail of glamorous clothes
she'll be wearing today, but admits she doesn't usually make a big effort
with her appearance. 'It's jeans all the time,' she laughs. 'I'm so
boring, I just wake up, brush my hair and go out. Because we have to wear
make- up at work, I don't wear it when I'm at home or out locally. If
anything at all, I'll put on a bit of eyeliner.'
Pooja's not one
for teetering around on high heels either. 'I just can't walk in heels.
For photos they're great, cos I don't have to move in them. Otherwise I
only wear wedges or flat shoes.' True to her word, throughout our shoot
she walks around barefoot with her stilettos in her hand.
explains she's only been acting for three years after finishing a degree
in theatre studies at the University of Brighton. She vividly recalls her
previous TV role in Sky One's Is Harry On The Boat?, about a group of
holiday reps in Ibiza.
'It was filthy and there was a lot of
nudity,' she laughs. 'It's funny playing a role like that, then a role
like Kareena - extreme opposites. I played a DJ who started off innocent,
but ended up a complete slapper. I was nervous about doing the topless
scenes, but I'm very proud of it. I've done that so I can do anything now.
It was great fun.'
Playing clean-living Kareena is not a barrel of
laughs, however, and Pooja thinks her character should lighten up. 'If I'm
completely honest, I can't stand Kareena,' she laughs. 'I thought she had
potential, but she just grates on my nerves. She needs to get a backbone
and get a life. I've had letters from people saying that. She has a bit of
an ego problem - she thinks everyone is in love with her. She hasn't got
many friends, but then I wouldn't be her friend if I met
One friendship Pooja has translated from screen to real
life is with her Bend It Like Beckham co-star Parminder Nagra, who now
stars in ER. The pair have remained close friends since making the film.
'She's a fantastic actress. I don't think I could follow in her footsteps
to be honest, but I'd love to. Doors seem to be opening over here for a
lot more Asian British actors, but for Parminder to break through to
America is phenomenal. I have dreams, I'm always thinking about the next
thing I want to do. I'd like to have a go at comedy, but I don't think I'm
very funny,' she adds.
At the moment, she's happy to be
appearing in the UK's highest- rated soap. 'I love it. I wake up every day
and look forward to going to work.' She's good friends with her co-stars
Charlie Brooks (Janine) and Nabil Elouhabi, who plays her half-brother
and, er, former boyfriend Tariq.
'Nabil and I have decided to go
out for dinner together once a week and try to get round all the
restaurants in London. I also get on very well with Charlie. Michelle Ryan
and Brooke Kinsella are as inseparable off-screen as their characters, Zoe
and Kelly, on- screen, so that was intimidating at first. A lot of the
cast hang out together, go clubbing and stuff. I go every now and again,
but most of the time I like to get out of the work environment and spend
time with my boyfriend, my friends and family.'
Pooja has been with
her boyfriend Josh, who works in the property business, for a year and a
half. She's happy to talk about him, but they like to stay away from the
paps' lenses. 'He's gorgeous, I can tell you that much,' she reveals. 'He
has friends in this industry, so he doesn't get freaked out by it all.
He's handling all the attention better than I am.' Although she currently
lives with her family in north London - she's the middle child of three -
Pooja is saving up to buy her own house.
'My parents weren't at all
strict. When I was 17, they bought me a tattoo for Christmas. Not only
were they not strict for Asian parents, they weren't strict for any
parents. They'd ground me if I misbehaved, but they let me have
boyfriends, and were open to a lot of stuff. But I'd like my own place
Pooja slips into an elegant chiffon dress and everyone says
how stunning she looks. 'It's cute, yeah,' she says, inspecting the
Polaroid later. 'I'm covering my bedroom wall with Polaroids from all the
shoots I do.'
Although she loves clothes, it's no surprise to hear
that down- to-earth Pooja refuses to spend a fortune on designer labels.
'My dad runs a men's clothing business, so I've always had it in my head
that you don't need to pay too much. I've been to a few awards ceremonies
and what you wear is very important. Last time, I wore a dress I bought
for pounds 20 in the East End. People were like, "Wow! Where's it
In her next shot, Pooja wears a gorgeous floaty pale blue
dress, but she's not about to get carried away by the glamour of it all.
'It's very Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz,' she laughs. 'You know, before
this shoot I would have said no to wearing silver sandals in the real
world. But now I think I just might.'