Video Credit: Editing by Mohammad Hassan and video supplied by Bobby Sahotra Photography

Indian actor Taha Shah Badussha, who grew up in the UAE, believes Bollywood has been the biggest leveler.

The brutal entertainment industry, with its epicentre in Mumbai, has taught him to be immune to rejection and to work hard.

After 13 years of struggle, his perseverance has paid off: he caught the attention of revered director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and landed the role of the noble Tajdar in the hit sprawling period saga ‘Heeramandi’ on Netflix.

Taha Shah Badussha plays the nobility Tajdar in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 'Heeramandi' on Netflix

Now, life has taken a 360-degree turn. Shah, who was born in Abu Dhabi and schooled in Sharjah, is being hailed as a talent to watch out for in Bollywood. Tags like India’s latest crush are bandied about easily.

However, his journey to break into the notoriously clannish Bollywood, where nepo kids born to influential film dynasties get a wider berth, has been far from easy.

Armed with a few pointers, Gulf News caught up with the actor during his recent visit to Dubai to recount his success story. Here are the key takeaways from his success story and how he made it big in Bollywood:

1. Nepotism exists in Bollywood. Accept it and learn to move on:

“They definitely get more chances than we [outsiders] do. When my film ‘Luv Ka The End’ did not work in 2011, people wrote me off. It was a very difficult phase for me. After a wait of two years, I got my next film ‘Gippi’. But those who are privileged get a proper launch … There’s a strategy which is put in place for them and they know how it all works. But in my case, nobody is putting any strategy for you. There’s nobody telling you what’s right and what’s wrong. A lot of doors open for the privileged ones [star kids], while we have to nudge any door open and beg to be seen. But learn to play that game. Nepotism exists in every industry. If I had a company, I am not going to give the reins to the best worker, but to my son. So learn to make peace with it … You can’t fight that [nepotism] for long … When you are an outsider, you don’t wait for things to come to you. You just fight your way in. Survival of the fittest rings true for Bollywood. And let’s not forget that all the superstars in Bollywood – be it Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Priyanka Chopra, or Deepika Padukone – have all been outsiders.”

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2. Take the leap of faith and move to Mumbai:

“I met my friends a few days ago and they were marveling at how I took the leap of faith and moved to Mumbai without knowing anybody in that city … If you have a dream, you need to pursue it with all your might. Cultivate that fire in your belly … You may have grown up in the lap of luxury in the UAE, but be ready to live in a small one-bedroom home in Mumbai or less. Films happen in Mumbai, so you need to be there physically. Don’t fool yourselves into thinking that acting jobs will come to you … There are thousands of actor hopefuls who come to Mumbai every day from different parts of India, so increase your chances by moving to Mumbai. Once I took that plunge, I knew what my weaknesses as an actor were --- I was told to work on my diction, language, tone, communication. It’s a long, tough road.”

Indian actor Taaha Shah, who grew up in the UAE, makes ripples in Bollywood
Indian actor Taha Shah Badussha, who grew up in the UAE, makes ripples in Bollywood

3. Chasing is the name of the game and you never know when luck turns:

“It took 15 months of chasing the casting director of ‘Heeramandi’ to get me an audition … The casting director finally got tired of me and asked me to audition for a three-day role. It was a blink-and-miss role, but I went for the audition anyway. I was selected, but was told that director Sanjay Leela Bhansali wanted to meet me. I wondered why he wanted to meet me for a three-day role, but I went anyway because it was a fine opportunity. He said: ‘you have done a lot of work, but nobody knows you’. But I was used to hearing such things and I was grateful about him meeting me … I was then offered another role – that of Balraj, the revolutionary. But at the last minute, I was told that Sir [director Bhansali] had changed his mind. But I was used to getting that rejection calls … Every time I had gotten selected, somebody influential comes in and takes over that role. I had 13 years of experience in facing rejection by now … But that call wasn’t a rejection call. Sir wanted to give me a bigger role.”

4. Networking is the name of the game …

“Every aspiring actor goes through a phase where nobody gives you acting jobs or auditions. Being written off from the industry is something you need to learn to accept … Think of auditions like attending a job interview where you know there are dozens of you running for the same position. To offset such hurdles, you need to just go out and meet people … You may hit an all-time low, but the key is to hang in there. Before I was offered Tajdar in ‘Heeramandi’ I was even ready to become an Uber driver, things had hit rock bottom. But don’t give up. Just go out and put yourself out there.”

5. Don’t go by Bollywood rumours and gossip:

Sanjay Leela Bhansali with actor Taaha Shah
Sanjay Leela Bhansali with actor Taha Shah

“Before working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, people were telling me a lot of stories about him … But I found him to be the kindest and the most professional director. Once he realizes that you know what you are doing and that you come to his sets with a certain education, he is amazing … Look at every director as someone whom you can learn from. And once you get your big break, all your struggles will be worth it.”