Taaha Shah credits UAE for helping him navigate Bollywood
When Dubai’s property boom was in full flourish, despite being only 21, Taaha Shah cut it as a successful entrepreneur with his own steel import firm. When the economic downturn struck, his company went to the wall. But rather than being disheartened, the Abu Dhabi-born Indian took it as an opportunity to live out his dream.
He enrolled in a course at the New York Film Academy in Abu Dhabi and set his sights on becoming a famous actor.
After graduating, he was on his way to Mumbai to seek his fortune in Bollywood. Now, despite a few setbacks, he’s making headway in reaching his ambitions.
Last week, the 25-year-old returned to the UAE for the first time in two years to help promote his second starring role – the romantic comedy Gippi. The film stars Riya Vij as the eponymous heroine, an overweight teenager who struggles with confidence issues. Shah plays the classmate whom she has a crush on.
Shah sees his success as a reward for the immense toil he’s put into mastering the skills required of any Bollywood star. For, while his schooling in Abu Dhabi taught him the art of acting, in Mumbai he’s had to spend countless hours practising dancing and martial arts.
Plus, he says, most of his free time is spent networking, which is particularly vital since he hardly knew a soul when he arrived in Mumbai.
His parents are from south India, denying him the family connections many budding actors rely on.
“It was quite scary when I arrived there. I felt alone and a bit lost, but I soon began to see it as an adventure,” Shah recalls. “But being an outsider, I realised I’d have to work twice as hard as everyone else in getting myself out there to meet people. Talent comes from hours and hours of training, but talent will only get you so far,” he says.
“I realised a lot of success comes from networking, meeting people and getting your face known in the right circles.”
Many of his early auditions led to outright rejections. But he did not let this deter him.
“Rather than feeling upset, I looked at it as something that made me want to work harder,” he insists. “To succeed, you really have to swab the floor. Rejection made me realise this and made me a more determined person.”
Finally, he secured his first lead in the romantic comedy Luv Ka the End, produced by the legendary Bollywood production house Yash Raj Films and starring another up-and-coming talent, Shraddha Kapoor.
Although the movie did dismally at the box office, Shah’s performance as a high school bad boy won him acclaim from the critics.
And now, with the release of Gippi, Shah says he has more film offers in the pipeline.
So, how did he succeed when many others have had their dreams of movie stardom dashed in the cut-throat nature of Bollywood?
Shah puts it down to his background in business as well as the cosmopolitan nature of the land of his birth.
“Being brought up in the UAE meant I have met people from all over the world and [it has] possibly given me a more open mind than someone who was just raised in India,” he says.
“And from working in the construction industry, I’ve had to talk to everyone – from sheikhs to labourers. It really improved my communication skills.”
Shah is also completely unsentimental about what his job entails.
“In my opinion, acting is not a creative art, it is a business. In many ways, you are a product, like a shampoo. So you have to market yourself and sell yourself to people,” he says.
He also feels determination is key.
“I believe you should never have a plan B. If you dedicate your life to something, if you are passionate about it, you will give your last breath trying to fulfil your dreams.”
And with his roots in mind, he’s interested in making movies in his birth country.
“I’d love to make a film in the UAE. In fact I’d be up for being in films in any part of the world. But it would be great to return to Abu Dhabi or Dubai – then I would feel I had come full circle.”
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