His brief but well-etched character and affable chemistry with Taapsee Pannu in ‘Naam Shabana’ was appreciated by critics and audiences alike. However, Taher Shabbir wears more than just one hat. Apart from being a prolific actor, he dabbles in production and has directed actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, among others, in popular television commercials. Right now, Taher is busy giving final touches to ‘Hanuman Da’ Damdaar’, the first feature film produced by his company R.A.T Films.
You are going through a very interesting phase as an actor. Why did you decide to get into production now?
Apart from being an actor, I have also been running a production company R.A.T Films with two of my friends Ashutosh Shah and Ruchi Narain as partners. We have been making commercials and music videos since the last five years. Ashutosh and I work as a director duo and have directed several commercials ourselves. Producing a feature film was a gradual progression for our company. Having said, acting is my priority. I am getting to do some interesting work as an actor at this moment and my acting career will never take a backseat.
Unlike the West, animation films do not have a huge market in India. Why did you pick an animation film as your first venture as a producer?
As producers, we constantly want to develop fresh content and push the envelope as much as possible. We did not want to make the run-of-the-mill stuff and wanted the audience to experience something new. As you rightly said, animation films do not have a huge market in India. But, I think one can always take an initiative and tap into a market which has not been explored well. Children in our country love Superman, Batman, Iron Man and other superheroes from the west. We have a rich culture and tradition which they are largely unaware of. Lord Hanuman is no less than a superhero and we wanted to present Him in a fun, interactive manner which would be enjoyed by the kids. We are presenting Hanuman Da’ Damdaar as a regular, commercial Hindi film and are leaving no stone unturned in promoting it.
Despite being an animation film, the film boasts of some big names like Salman Khan, Javed Akhtar etc. Was it easy getting such eminent people on board for this project?
There is a saying in Hindi that goes ‘puchhne mein kya harz hai? (what is the problem in asking?)’. We were confident of our product and we thought it would be nice if we could have some popular voices in our film. We have some big names like Salman Khan, Raveena Tandon, Chunky Pandey, Javed Akhtar, Kunal Kemmu and Javed Akhtar lending their voices to the primary characters in the film. I am sure they saw potential in our film and that is the reason they agreed to be a part of it. In fact, this is the first time Javed Saab features in a film as an actor or a voiceover artist. In the opening credits you will see him credited as ‘Introducing Javed Akhtar’.
Despite a brief role, your performance and screen presence was appreciated by critics and audience in ‘Naam Shabana’. How was the experience of working on the film?
Working on ‘Naam Shabana’ was a brilliant experience. Last year, I did an interesting cameo in ‘Fan’ but this time, I got to play a full-length part which was integral to the plot of the film. As Neeraj (Pandey) Sir was the writer and one of the producers of the film, he was present on the sets on most of the days. The kind of jugalbandi or coordination Neeraj Sir and Shivam Sir had on the sets was incredible. Shivam Sir would know exactly how Neeraj Sir expected the written material to be translated on the screen. Though Neeraj Sir is a director himself, there was no interference from his end and there would be only healthy discussions between them.
Viraj, the character you played in the television show Nisha Aur Uske Cousins, is still fondly remembered by fans. Are you looking at doing television sometime in the near future?
I am an actor and will be a part of any medium that offers me something interesting to do. I am not very happy with the kind of content that is out there on television these days. I was offered a few interesting shows in the recent past but they required me to shoot outside the city for days at a stretch. That would have resulted in me staying away from films and I cannot afford to do that now. I am a huge admirer of Ekta Kapoor and the way her company Balaji Telefilms functions. If she offers me something interesting, I will definitely take it up.
Hanuman Da Damdaar was supposed to release on 19 May. The release has recently been pushed to 2 June. Is the mammoth success of Bahubaali The Conclusion the reason behind its delay?
No, that is not the reason behind the release getting postponed. We are in the last leg of post-production and we want to give the audience the best product possible. I firmly believe Hanuman Da’ Damdaar will be a path-breaking animation film for India. We just needed a little more time to polish the film further. We have locked in 2nd June as the release date and we think it is just the right time for the film to come out.
Can you share something about your forthcoming projects?
Our production company is working on a couple of projects. As an actor, you will see me next in Emmay Entertainment’s ‘Lucknow Central’. Nikkhil (Advani), the producer of the film, is a dear friend of mine and the film is directed by a new talented director called Ranjit Tiwari. I have a cameo in the film but it is quite an interesting part. I am paired opposite Diana Penty. I am just happy that I am getting to work with such gorgeous heroines in all my films (laughs). With most of my projects, I get enough time to prepare for my role. But in this film, I was asked to report on the sets the day the climax sequence was being shot. It was a very intense scene and I did not have much of an idea about how I was supposed to perform. It was a very different and interesting experience.