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ITV viewers gobsmacked by Bend It Like Beckham’s Parminder Nagra’s appearance in DI Ray

DI Ray viewers were left distracted after seeing Parminder Nagra’s in the police drama during its debut episode last night.

The Bend It Like Beckham actress, 46, plays the lead character of DI Rachita Ray in the new Birmingham-based ITV series, written by actress Maya Sondhi, who played PC Maneet Bindra in Line Of Duty.

But fans admitted they felt ‘old’ when seeing Parminder on their screens – after realising it has been 20 years since her breakthrough role of Jess Bhamra in Bend It Like Beckham, alongside Kiera Knightley as Jules Paxton.

DI Ray viewers were left distracted by Parminder Nagra's (pictured) portrayal in the police drama during its debut episode last night

DI Ray viewers were left distracted by Parminder Nagra’s (pictured right) portrayal in the police drama during its debut episode last night. Pictured left, Parminder Nagra in Bend It Like Beckham, alongside Kiera Knightley

One viewer wrote on Twitter: ‘Watching Parminder Nagra and am struggling to comprehend that it’s TWENTY YEARS since Bend It Like Beckham.’

Another said: ‘Feeling really old seeing Jess from Bend It Like Beckham as a Detective Inspector in #DIRay Parminder Nagra is a great actress!’

A third individual joked: ‘In my head this is the Bend It Like Beckham sequel,’ while a fourth wrote: ‘For anyone wondering where they know her face! It’s Jess from Bend It Like Beckham.’

Parminder plays DI Rachita Ray in the new series, whose hopes of a promotion to the murder squad are ignored until she foils an attempted stabbing while off duty. 

Suddenly she’s being asked what her heritage is, and then she gets what seems like a dream secondment – but she soon discovers she’s being asked to help on a ‘Culturally Specific Homicide’, as the murder may have been an honour killing. 

Fans admitted they felt 'old' when seeing Parminder on their screens - after realising it has been 20 years since her breakthrough role of Jess Bhamra in Bend It Like Beckham, alongside Kiera Knightley as Jules Paxton

Fans admitted they felt ‘old’ when seeing Parminder on their screens – after realising it has been 20 years since her breakthrough role of Jess Bhamra in Bend It Like Beckham, alongside Kiera Knightley as Jules Paxton

She’s worried her appointment will be seen as tokenism, and it’s clear some of her new colleagues believe she’s been promoted because of her race. 

But while they’re quick to come up with a motive, DI Ray believes there’s more to it, and she’s soon heading into the dangerous world of organised crime.

Speaking about playing the lead role, Parminder recently opened up about the lack of Asian representation on screen.

The actress admitted she doesn’t often get the chance to play ‘well-rounded’ lead characters as she spoke about the lack of Asian female leading roles on TV.

She said the main appeal of the role as DI Rachita Ray in the ITV thriller, produced by Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio, was that she isn’t playing the ‘best friend’.

The Bend It Like Beckham actress, 46, plays the lead character of DI Rachita Ray (pictured) in the new Birmingham-based ITV series, written by actress Maya Sondhi, who played PC Maneet Bindra in Line Of Duty

The Bend It Like Beckham actress, 46, plays the lead character of DI Rachita Ray (pictured) in the new Birmingham-based ITV series, written by actress Maya Sondhi, who played PC Maneet Bindra in Line Of Duty

Parminder, of Indian Punjabi descent, said she feels grateful to be playing a ‘really solid’ character in DI Ray, who is a detective investigating a murder in Birmingham that draws her into the city’s criminal underworld.

Parminder told The Mirror: ‘You don’t often have an Asian female lead on TV – it’s starting to happen more, but having been in the business for so long, I feel like I’ve been saying the same thing for a long time.

‘I can see the change with the likes of Bridgerton but, in DI Ray, this is my generation of women – we’re in Birmingham, and it’s so relatable.

‘That was the main appeal for me – I’m not playing the best friend of somebody or a secondary character, it’s all about Rachita.’

Parminder, who lives in LA with her 12-year-old son Kai – who she shares with her ex-husband James Stenson, said she has questioned whether she has been casted for roles as a ‘box-ticking’ exercise.

Bend It Like Beckham (pictured) tells the story of 18-year-old Jess, the daughter of British-Indian Sikhs living in Hounslow, who joins a local women's football team even though her parents have forbidden her from playing the sport

Bend It Like Beckham (pictured) tells the story of 18-year-old Jess, the daughter of British-Indian Sikhs living in Hounslow, who joins a local women’s football team even though her parents have forbidden her from playing the sport 

She claimed that her agent suggested her for one role only for them to say that ‘they’ve already got an Indian person on the cast’.

But Parminder said diversity on screen is gradually improving as she cited the mainstream success of Bridgerton, and Riz Ahmed and Priyanka Chopra’s careers.

The ER actress said she would like to play a character in the future who isn’t grappling with her identity, as she looked back at her character of Jess in Bend It Like Beckham.

The 2002 movie tells the story of 18-year-old Jess, the daughter of British-Indian Sikhs living in Hounslow, who joins a local women’s football team even though her parents have forbidden her from playing the sport.

While playing for the successful team she befriends Jules (Kiera Knightly), who helps Jess hide her place on the team from her tradition-bound family.

Star: Parminder, who was born in Leicester, has since starred as Dr Neela Rasgotra in long-running US hospital drama E.R., and had roles in The Blacklist and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Star: Parminder, who was born in Leicester, has since starred as Dr Neela Rasgotra in long-running US hospital drama E.R., and had roles in The Blacklist and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The noughties romcom was a huge commercial success and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Parminder, who was born in Leicester, has since starred as Dr Neela Rasgotra in long-running US hospital drama E.R., had roles in The Blacklist and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and was cast in Netflix’s Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock.

Parminder married James Stenson in 2009 with two weddings – a civil and a Sikh ceremony – with former E.R. co-star Maura Tierney, who played nurse Abigail Lockheart, officiating over the proceedings.

The couple share their son Kai, but Parminder filed for divorce at Los Angeles Superior Court on February 8 in 2012, citing ‘irreconcilable differences’ as the reason behind the split.

She previously revealed her family expected her to go through with an arranged marriage, explaining: ‘When I was 18 my mother gave me a photo of a man and said I’d marry him. I told her then that I was never going to have an arranged marriage.’ 

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