Saba Zaidi Abdi: Australian TV has really come of age with ”˜The Unlisted’

By Neena Badhwar

ABC and Netflix have been busy shooting last year the series ”˜The Unlisted’ which is now showing on ABC Iview till the 31st of October and will be on Netflix sometime later. Based around an Indian family with twin boys Dru and Kal (Ved and Varun Rao), their sister Vidya (Avishma Loth), Bua Maya (Zenia Satrr), their parents mum Anousha (Virginie Laverdure) and dad Rahul Sharma (Nick Brown) and Dadi (Saba Zaidi Abdi), this 15-part series is engrossing, a story that one gets glued to till the very end. Centred around an Indian Sharma family and its two smart twins in Dru and Kal, their doctor Bua and the character of Dadi, the grandma, its a treat to watch the series with an Indian home at the centre of it all.

Conceived by producer Justine Flynn who spent her childhood around Woolgoolga, ”˜The Unlisted’ has a multicultural cast as twins inadvertently get caught up in a sinister plot by the Infinity Group run by some billionaires who want to manipulate young kids using high-tech electronic implants in a charitable front called the Global Child Initiative. Dru and Kal get involved when they participate in a national dental program at school and come across a group of underground vigilante kids who want to stop Infinity Group.

We talked to Saba Zaidi Abdi who has acted in the role of Dadi (Dru and Kal’s grandma). She has proved to be a great actor as the matriarch of the Sharma family, someone who could be strict yet loving and caring at the same time. “While the parents are busy with their working lives, Dadi’s role assays the central character who keeps not only an eye on everyone but feeds them loads of paranthas and samosas. She watches over them like a hawk, and is always available and at home, she does say some clichéd remarks but she connects to each and every member of the family in her special way, be it Vidya, Maya or even the twins,” says Saba.

A theatre actor who is known for directing and acting in plays ”˜Kanjoos’, ”˜Shri 420’ and having acted in TV series in India with professional training from National School of Drama, Saba says that being on ”˜The Unlisted’ was when she actually was now in front of the camera rather than being behind’.

Saba, How did you land the role of Dadi in ”˜The Unlisted’?

It came as a surprise to me as they (McGregor Casting) contacted me. I was told it was a Science fiction thriller series and that it was a big ticket item with producers who were involved with the movie ”˜Lion’ (Dev Patel) and will be produced by Netflix and ABC. It was exciting to know that they have set a show around an Indian family and that I was to play the grandma’s role. I went through a rigorous audition when finally I was offered the role.

How was it working with Australian crew, writers, director?

It was great working with them. There were four or five directors and one of the Indian writer Mythila Gupta had worked hard to make sure that we are portrayed authentically as the Sharma family. The entire team was very well prepared and had done enormous amount of homework. At times I did suggest things to which they were open to yet they did say that I was there as an actor and not as a director and was told to ”˜leave your director’s hat behind’. On my part I tried to get into the character of ”˜Dadi’ by observing people around me, even the elder ladies in my own family, how they behave and say things and in the manner they say.

Your role seemed pretty important in the series, how you ran the Sharma household and how you connected to the twins?

Yes, it is the main role. I am not just a matriarch cooking and cleaning. I am supposed to be quite involved in the lives of Sharma kids. This ”˜Dadi’ is happy to teach the game of ”˜Kabbadi’ at school, she is the one who attends to everyone in a time-poor parent family, supervising home, their tiffins, teaching yoga, telling stories, a traditionalist yet open-minded at the same time. She plays quite a pivotal role when she realizes that children are in trouble, goes all out to save them and tries to expose the forces of evil.

How was it working with the Sharma family of ”˜The Unlisted’?

We developed a strong bond with each other. Kids got very attached to me. Nick, Zenia and other four kids would hug me as if I was their real Dadi. When asked which one is their favorite character they all said ”˜Dadi’, a role that they do not see very often on TV. Even SMH review mentioned that my role stood out.

Why was the series ”˜The Unlisted’ not advertised in the Indian community?

It was a product for the mainstream. It is quite heartening to see that TV has come of age now and that we are a part of the mainstream. This series will definitely reach wider audience and has sure served its purpose. Yes, more awareness in the Indian community would have been good, since October was the festive month with Diwali on 27th of October. I must add that it was very rewarding working with a professional crew, that comprised of, would you believe, all women, which was quite amazing. We worked long hours for 25 days between December to March last year and post-production took long time. When it finished I really missed ”˜The Unlisted’ family. I had to go away overseas for personal reasons and have only started to watch it now. When you see it you think you could have done it differently but friends and people around me who have seen it said they really like my role.

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