Taaha Shah set his mind to acting and auditioned for a year before getting his break.
Dubai-based Indian expat trades steel for the silver screen
DUBAI // From steel trader to the silver screen: it sounds like the storyline of a Bollywood drama, but it is a dream come true for Taaha Shah, an Abu Dhabi-born Indian expatriate.
It all began when a family steel-trading firm he began with his father in Dubai floundered and he enrolled in an acting course at Abu Dhabi's New York Film Academy.
"When the financial crisis hit in 2008 I was depressed at the losses I had made," said Shah, 23, without elaborating on the amount. "But I thought, 'I don't care about a Plan B anymore. I'll just go for Plan A and dedicate my life to what I love - the movies'."
He headed to Bollywood's capital, Mumbai, in 2009 and e-mailed his portfolio to hundreds of agents and producers.
"I didn't know anyone in Mumbai; I didn't have a single friend," said Shah, who studied at Sharjah's School of Choueifat and completed Grade 12 at Sharjah American International School. "I'd never acted before, but I knew I'd love being on screen."
For more than a year, dozens of auditions a day yielded little. But, after a rigorous schedule of screen tests last year, the Indian movie house Yash Raj Films signed him to a three-film contract.
His first movie, Luv Ka The End (The End of Luv), comes out next month. He plays Luv Nanda, a college student who avidly plays the field until a heartbroken ex-girlfriend gets her revenge.
Unlike most Bollywood newcomers, who make their big-screen debuts in syrupy romantic roles, Shah plays an egomaniac who in one scene is drugged, tricked into dressing in drag and gyrates to a Hindi-language song.
"It was a great opportunity to do a grey role in my first film and not a sweet romcom," Shah said about Luv's character. "I like doing negative roles. So it was a dream to play a guy who everyone thinks is lovable and cute, but turns into the devil when you mess with him."
Shah's focused preparation for the part - he enrolled in a slew of acting, dancing and martial arts classes - impressed the film's crew.
"He was disciplined and organised, scarily so sometimes," said Vivek Bhushan, the film's director, who is known as "Bumpy". "It's as if he was thinking, 'I've flown here from Dubai and I've just got to get it right.' His role has so many shades and he got it down pat."
The female lead, Shraddha Kapoor, was among those Shah peppered with questions about everything from make-up to lighting angles.
"I felt I made a mistake telling him not to feel shy and ask me anything," laughed Kapoor, the daughter of the veteran Bollywood actor Shakti Kapoor. Shraddha made her film debut last year in Teen Patti alongside the acting legends Amitabh Bachchan and Ben Kingsley.
"Taaha would BBM me or call me for the smallest things," she said. "But he did help me, too: he helped me memorise the lines and get comfortable with my first on-screen monologue."
One of the studio's goals is to infuse a fresh approach into filmmaking, so the cast and crew of Luv Ka The End included about 20 people - including Shah - who are new to the industry.
The movie is important to Yash Raj Films, because it is the first of three titles it plans to release this year targeted at young adults under the umbrella of Y-Films, its dedicated youth studio.
The company believes India is a crucial market for films that appeal to a younger demographic; after all, 55 per cent of the country's billion-plus population is under the age of 25.
"It is too large and influential a demographic to ignore," said Ashish Patil, the head of Y-Films.
"We have a hungry audience and we need people whose freshness will reflect on the screen."
Luv Ka The End hits the big screen on May 5.