One thing actress Kubbra Sait was most excited about when landing in Dubai recently was grabbing a shawarma – a throwback to her previous time spent within the city.
“I need to go and eat my shawarma,” she tells The National. “When I started working in Dubai, I think, for the first six months, the only food I had was a shawarma for lunch and dinner. Not because it was a novelty – but because that’s all I could afford.”
She’s come a long way since then. Today, the actress is an instantly recognisable figure worldwide, thanks in part to her roles in films such as Sultan, Ready and her breakthrough as Kukoo in the Netflix Original Sacred Games.
Sait’s most recent visit to Dubai was in collaboration with Tourism Ireland, which had her visiting the Ireland Pavilion at Expo 2020 and launching a series of six videos for the country.
If you’re wondering why the Indian actress – who worked in Dubai from 2005 to 2010 before moving back to India – is representing Ireland, it all boils down to Foundation, the hit Apple TV+ series in which she stars. Parts of it are filmed in Ireland, and the pandemic delayed filming, so it’s where Sait lived for the better part of two years, and she fell in love with the country.
She loves how her time in Ireland is now bringing her back to the UAE. “For me, Dubai is an extended version of home. I love coming back and, to be honest, this time around, it’s extra-special because the first time I moved out of home, it was to come and live in Dubai, and the other time I left, it was to go to Ireland.
“To have these two really important places to me – personally more than professionally – intersect, and to be here talking about these places that were instrumental in changing me as a person, is great."
A strong 'Foundation'
If the UAE gave her that first taste for travel, Ireland cemented her love for it.
She gushes about the “million shades of green”, the freshness of the cold weather, the warm hospitality of the locals – from students inviting her to play Holi with them to her chauffeur inviting her to spend a traditional Irish Christmas with family. These are some of the things that convinced her of Ireland’s “humanity and heart”.
“I’m just another visitor, but to be able to experience a feeling of belonging and a sense of home was something else.”
Sait moved to Ireland in January 2020 to audition for the role of Phara Keaen in Foundation, and spent a chunk of that time being a tourist.
“I remember visiting a beautiful cathedral in Limerick and thinking, 'If I get this role, I’m coming back – and saying thank you!'”
The audition process, which also took place in Ireland, was competitive, she says. “Phara could have been from anywhere, she’s not even from Earth ... She’s a grey character, a dark one, and to read that script, I could see that the writers put so much heart and soul into making her valuable."
The first audition went great and she got a callback, but then she "botched" the second audition, she says.
“But they called me back. And that’s why I believe in second chances. They said they saw something of Phara in my first tape ... There was a four-month waiting process before they said ‘congratulations, you are Phara’”.
Sait took another trip to the cathedral in Limerick to say “thank you”.
“I am that person who believes in gratitude and appreciates the little things."
Learning a fictional language and to throw a punch
The final episode of Foundation season one was released on November 19. The show is based on the series of the same name by Isaac Asimov, considered one of the most influential sci-fi writers. It is one of the most expensive new science-fiction fantasies ever made.
Creating this epic series at Troy Studios took Sait into an alien world – one that involved the use of larger-than-life props, green screen, linguists, dialect coaches and stunt training.
“I’ve never thrown a punch in my life; and here I was working on stunts for eight hours a day, learning how to do a roundhouse kick, a flip, wearing a harness to ‘fly through space'.”
With Phara being of a species called Anacreon – a barbaric – on the show, she had to learn a whole new language. Sait even had a dialect coach to “polish enunciation glitches”.
“I never knew how to say repercussions, maintenance, academic," Sait says, with a laugh. “At the same time, they never asked me to change my accent or sound like someone I’m not. I’m from a different planet, I could sound like anyone, and the most authentic thing would be to sound like myself.”
In fact, Foundation makes it a point to feature a global cast. “The beauty of this entire show was not to have diversity just for the sake of it, but to really embrace it. We’re all speaking our accents to create this magnum opus.”
It’s all given her a deep respect for Asimov – who she considers a philosopher more than an author – and the show for managing to do what many considered impossible, and translating the book for the screen.
“Asimov predicted a dystopian word with AI, cloning, robotics, suppression, political agendas. All of it so simply put in the first season of the show.”
What’s next for Kubbra Sait?
The finale has only just come out, but Foundation has already been commissioned for another season, and filming for it has already begun in Ireland.
So, what does this mean for Sait's character? “No spoilers,” she says, with a laugh.
“I think the pandemic has taught me not to make plans. To live in the moment. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve received, to work in a project of this magnitude was beyond my imagination.”
Now she’s open to more. “There’s a new fire in the belly, an extension to the ambition. There’s a clarity of the kind of work I want to do, am drawn towards.”
That includes roles in Hollywood and Bollywood. “I want to work with great storytellers,” she says.
Spurred on by the extra time she had during the pandemic, Sait has also written a memoir titled Open Book, which she says may hit shelves at the end of this year or early next.
"I’ve seen so much of an unscripted life as I’m inching towards my forties. This book is not about overcoming adversities, but about what I learnt from these moments.
“It’s all falling into place. And I did nothing,” she says modestly. “I just lived.”