Now one of the most popular talk shows on YouTube in the Middle East, AB Talks is shattering stereotypes with sensitive, powerful, honest and much-needed conversations. It tackles the taboo subjects of masculinity, inclusivity, feminism and mental health, and highlights how our different struggles can end up bringing us together.
This week marks the 59th episode of the show and leading the charge is Anas Bukhash, an ambitious, motivated, level-headed and inquisitive Emirati entrepreneur. As well as being a successful businessman and motivational speaker, he is also a doting father, brother and son.
The purpose of the show is to highlight that no matter how successful someone might be, at the base level, we are one and the same, says Bukhash. However, everybody faces their own personal struggles, “which ends up uniting people, who can relate and know they are not alone”.
Bukhash's approach in interviews is objective and meaningful, while the athlete in him likes to keep people guessing. Notably, retired Brazilian footballer Ronaldo was one of his most famous guests, as were Gary Vee (Belarusian-American entrepreneur), Atif Aslam (Pakistani singer) and Balqees (Yemeni singer), among other celebrities from various parts of the world.
Bukhash’s first question to his guests, “How are you really doing?”, has become something of a catchphrase. “Everybody likes to ask me this question now,” he says. “I feel focused, productive, happy and am trying my best to give everything its fair time.”
Apart from what we see on his social media channels, Bukhash says he is “human, as typical as that may sound. My social media is a decent reflection of me. Other than that, people may assume I am very social, but I have a small circle of friends. I cherish all my close relationships.”
AB Talks was conceptualised in 2016, when Bukhash decided to launch his own talk show, on which he would have the freedom to initiate and steer conversations that mattered. He was working in TV at the time, and one of the shows he was on involved interviewing celebrities and entrepreneurs.
He was allowed only seven minutes to ask specific questions, which he had to read from a teleprompter. “I didn’t enjoy it. That experience taught me that I enjoyed TV and interviews, but didn’t enjoy the format, style and lack of realness.”
So he flipped the script, and the show officially began in 2018. "Now, I have my own multimedia team and I can do things my way. I can write it the way I want, design it the way I want and ask anything I want," Bukhash says.
“Everything I do is out of passion. I am very protective of my time. I like everything to have a meaning. I am very curious, passionate and focused, and I want to leave this life with added value. Otherwise it would be a wasted life.”
Shows such as AB Talks provide young people with role models and new channels where they can share their thoughts and points of view. Leading by example, Bukhash addresses topics such as masculinity, offering a new perspective on what this might mean in today's world.
“The show can help a young boy watching us discuss masculinity – to hear that crying is not a problem, nor does it represent a lack of masculinity. Just to know that you are not alone is a reason why the show exists.”
Bukhash also talks about broader social subjects that hit close to home, including feminism, parenting, the stigma attached to divorce and family pressure when it comes to marriage in the Arab world. Such topics are sparking conversations and debates in households and communities, causing a ripple effect and encouraging out-of-the-box thinking.
Bukhash’s liberal views on society and women in the Arab world have boosted his growing fan base. “From the beginning, I didn’t see things the way others did. I’m always questioning things – why we do things a certain way. I’ve always been curious to look at the other side and perspective. With time, confidence and experience you can express it more.”
This mentality was cultivated by his mother, Hala Kazim, a renowned Emirati public figure, artist and motivational speaker who helped to shape his mindset from an early age. "She is a great 'life school'; even though she never graduated from college, her life wisdom is immense. I take a lot from her, even though I have a different personality.
"My foundation of no-judgement or trying to empathise, knowing there can be two or more sides to a story and a lot of these principles were instilled by her. Just having a strong and independent woman in your life inspires you, and helps you to appreciate and respect women much more from a younger age."
Bukhash purposely engages with subjects that may not have affected him personally, including depression and mental health, which are recurring themes in his episodes.
"I think it would be very selfish to talk about depression only if it affected me. Sure you can empathise and relate more, but that cannot be the only reason to share it. I know how common it is; seven out of 10 guests tell me they were depressed. It is something people perceive as a weakness."
He recalls a chance meeting with a fellow Emirati, who told him he was recently diagnosed with depression and said: "The fact that I watched your episode, I realised it is OK to be depressed and there is no shame in seeking help from a specialist."
AB Talks' star-studded guest list has boosted its popularity in the GCC and farther afield.
“It gives me the right kind of fame. Many people are famous for the wrong reasons. To do something good and to receive that in return is a blessing.”
As a result, Bukhash says, strangers approach him for meaningful engagement and not just selfies.
The show is also helping to change public perception of famous people, by allowing viewers to see their more human side. Most of the time, Bukhash is meeting his guests for the first time. And, as with most people, he might approach them with some kind of bias, based on his research. "But when you listen to them and find out their story, you're blown away and it humbles you. Even the viewers."
He offers the example of his interview with Aslam. Feedback revealed that before the show, viewers liked Aslam, but most weren't familiar with him.
"After watching, they saw his other side, they are in love with this human being and the way he thinks. When you're really popular, like Atif Aslam, and don't do many interviews, it is a great opportunity for the show. I loved his story."
The episode further helped to break down standard stereotypes about successful and “strong” men. It showed that some can be unapologetically vulnerable, honest and transparent about their love for their children, their relationship with their fathers or their powerful bond with their mothers.
Many of the guests on Bukhash’s show have broken their silence on personal subjects and shared intimate stories that have never been heard before. So how does he do it?
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Bukhash says, with a pause. “But here’s what I think. It’s a theory. I believe people want to be heard and listened to. That’s important. It’s the non-verbal cues, subconscious energy and perception. It’s the energy you feel, when you’re not being judged and it makes it easier for people to trust you.”
One of the most important things he has learnt to do since he launched AB Talks is to listen, Bukhash says. "It affects you consciously and subconsciously. Maybe I won't realise it until one day when I look back at how I was a few years ago and try to compare how I used to think, speak or even interrupt.
“It has definitely taught me how to listen. I can be a great listener when I want to be. It also taught me that if I focus and set my mind to something, I can be good at it. It humbles you and makes you less judgemental.”