Abu Dhabi-born Taha Shah Badussha on his OTT debut
The Bollywood actor tells us how he pursued his acting dream and why the UAE is a rich source of stories.
Abu Dhabi-born Taha Shah Badussha who made his Bollywood debut with Shraddha Kapoor in 2011’s Luv Ka The End, doesn’t regret a minute of his journey in India’s entertainment industry as he celebrates two more milestones — his OTT debut as a central character in thriller Bekaaboo 2, streaming now on ALTBalaji, and starring in his first music video, Aaj Sajeya.
While the path to showbiz is known to be littered with obstacles, Taha never let go of his vision to make an impact as an actor. The 33-year-old who has starred in films like Gippi and Baar Baar Dekho as well as Hollywood project Draupadi Unleashed, looks back on his childhood in the UAE and the birth of his acting dream, in a Zoom conversation with City Times.
In 2008, after trying his hand at various jobs, Taha came to the conclusion that he was happiest when doing his modeling stints (he has modeled for brands like Pepsi, Honda, Emirates Bank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi), and he wanted something more from life than a conventional 9-to-5 existence.
“I had been working for three years, after dropping out of university. I worked with my mother in Dubai and Sharjah. I had opened up an import-export company for steel and cement. Then I started doing real estate, after which I did labour recruitment. So I was doing a lot of varied jobs over those years and I decided that it was not for me. While I was doing that, every six months or so I would get a modeling job and I would be over the moon! I realised I would give anything to do those shoots. And that’s when I asked myself, what am I willing to wake up at 3am and do? I don’t mind being in front of the camera, I don’t mind performing!”
Unconventional career choices like acting and music are usually met with resistance from well-meaning parents in the subcontinent and elsewhere, but Taha found a great source of support in his mother.
“She asked me if I was sure and I said, yes. I told her I had been researching New York Film Academy which had opened up in Abu Dhabi.”
Moments of self-doubt were brushed aside and Taha is glad his mother pushed him to pursue his dream. “Two weeks passed by and she comes and asks me — so what happened to the Film Academy you wanted to join? I’m like, I was just being stupid, what acting? I don’t even know how to act. I’m scared, what will I do? I’ve never stayed in India, I’ve never stayed in the U.S. where Bollywood and Hollywood are based. No, I’m being stupid.
“Do you know what she did? She grabbed me by the ear and pulled me to the car. She drove for two hours from Sharjah to Abu Dhabi, went to NYFA, spoke to the principal, got me signed up, got me a room, set me up and then said, you’re going to stay here tonight — I will come back on Friday and give you all your stuff! And it just happened like that. Within a few hours, I was into acting! So I wanted to do it but my mother is the one who took the step and put me out there. It’s very rare to find parents who support even your ‘stupid’ dreams — what I felt was my stupidity at the time!”
Evolving as an actor
Emphasising that once he started his journey he “never let go” of his dream, Taha reveals he was glad to have the opportunity in the UAE to hone his skills. He came to the realisation that Bollywood and an acting career were much more than just glitz and glamour that one witnesses on the surface. “When I was studying acting there was so much depth to it; (it’s about) understanding yourself as a human being apart from being empathetic towards other human beings. It’s about reading, it’s about constantly learning new things, it’s about constantly changing yourself to be able to play different characters. It’s not just all fun and games and glamour. Then I loved it even more, because I finally found what I was passionate about.”
The actor admits he is thankful to have discovered his calling at a young age. “I can work on my scripts day in day out, I can work on any skill that is related to acting — I would give my life to it. It’s very rare to find your passion at a young age. I found mine at 21 and I’m so glad.”
In showbiz, as in life, every journey is a mixture of ups and downs and the vibe we get while chatting with the charming Taha is upbeat and positive; he smiles even when he talks about projects which didn’t quite take shape the way he hoped they would. “I shot this one film a long time back; it was supposed to be called Tina and Lolo. And then I don’t know what happened with it. All of a sudden, recently, they changed the name to Bullets and it came on to streaming platform MX Player. It was cut out into episodes, it wasn’t a film anymore. I was like, okay, this is great, at least it came out. And it turned out to be decent, people were appreciating the work!”
He also played a part in critically acclaimed series Made In Heaven, which was the outcome of his acquaintance with its directors. “I did that for Nitya Mehra and Zoya Akhtar. And I had met Alankrita Srivastava when I was doing my first film in the United States when she was showcasing her first film Lipstick Under My Burkha there. When I came to Mumbai, I worked with Nitya on Baar Baar Dekho. So they asked me to be a part of Made In Heaven and I didn’t want to say no. I’m so glad that I was a part of the show; it went to the International Emmys, it has some great actors and now they are all my friends.”
While he is happy to have made his presence felt on OTT through these shows, Bekaaboo 2 is what he feels is his actual ‘debut’.
“The role in Bekaaboo 2 was just a more well etched out role, a bigger one. It was more of a performance that I got to do and hopefully from here on I get more and more performance-oriented roles. Bekaaboo 2 almost felt like shooting a film. As a project it had already had a very successful Season 1. The last project that I did here in Mumbai was in 2018. Then coronavirus hit and there was no work and then finally I got to do something… and I thought it was a good project to be associated with because lots of people would watch you. It’s been an exciting journey because I didn’t expect it to be as well received as it was.”
Music video debut
Taha is also in the news currently for making his music video debut alongside Bollywood starlet Alaya F (the daughter of actress Pooja Bedi) in Saregama original Aaj Sajeya, sung by Goldie Sohel and produced by Dharma 2.0.
Bollywood stars are known to make appearances in music videos and Taha was happy to follow suit, expanding his repertoire with the video which has racked up over 24 million views. “I’ve been wanting to do a music video for the last two years. I’m glad that I got something that is shot very beautifully, and done by really big production houses. Sometimes the wait kind of pays off and I’m looking forward to doing more. In Indian culture and through Bollywood, music is an integral part of people’s lives. You only become truly famous when they are humming your ‘song’. Actors are associated with songs. If you think of Raj Kapoor or Kishore Kumar, you will have so many songs on your mind, you may not think of their dialogues. Maybe with Amitabh Bachchan you might think of his dialogues but you would remember his songs too.”
He called the music video experience “surprising” because he didn’t expect to work with Alaya. “I didn’t know who was in the song. When I went for the rehearsals, that’s when I met Alaya. And I knew her because of a random incident from two years ago, when a friend asked me to a birthday party which turned out to be hers.”
Talking about how they bonded over memories of a “gatecrasher” at that party, Taha adds that Alaya is “a very beautiful and talented girl.”
“I’m so glad that my first music video was with her. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. This is the first song that I have got such a big response to. I’m getting fan videos from all over the world — Zimbabwe, United States, Canada, Morocco. It’s very humbling. I feel I need to do more to reach out to people, keep them smiling, keep them dancing…”
Looking back on his acting career and musing on the adulation that has come his way, Taha says he “wouldn’t change anything.”
“If everything goes from me today and I had to do something else, even if I had to stay on the roads I would still try to be in this industry because this is what I love — creativity, making films, inspiring people. After I did my first film, some people started recognising me, especially out of Mumbai. They would point at me and just start smiling. And that gave me great happiness. They recognise your face, they recognise those comical things that you had done. They remember The Mutton Song from Luv Ka The End! No matter how depressed they are or what they are going through when they see someone from the big screen they recognise it just takes them out of that moment for a while. If people see me and they get that, I feel so happy.”
What is your favourite memory of the UAE?
"There are so many! I was born in Abu Dhabi, and lived there for 8-9 years, then I was in boarding school for two years after which I lived in Dubai and Sharjah. Abu Dhabi was so beautiful. We had the Volcano Fountain in the corniche. I remember running in the corniche. I used to think I was the fastest runner and would say, ‘okay mom, you take the car and I will beat you!’ When PlayStation came out I would spend hours in Hamdan Center looking at games. Other memories — sneaking out of school and going to small cafeterias to devour ‘sausage sandwiches’, a girl I used to like and would run across the corniche in Sharjah for… to the newly opened Dunkin Donuts, driving around for karak chai. You never forget your growing up years."
Taha hopes for an Indo-UAE project
The actor says he really wants “to give back to the UAE”, adding, “I would love to combine Bollywood and Arab movies. Something that we can do together. Because our cultures have similarities. I have so many stories from the UAE in my head, for projects. I don’t want to get into details but it can be epic! Not only because the country was a desert and has became this, but the story of the people, the Bedouins, the British, the Iranians who came down. There are so many stories and so much diversity. We can do a lot and I really hope that I can be part of it and I can even initiate something. (I would love) to make stories like this so people see that Dubai is not just about glamour. There are so many amazing stories from Arabia, that we can make an industry out of them.”