When you find her name on the credit list of a movie, hopes automatically shoot up. And you know, regardless of the fate or quality of film, she will be the best thing on the big screen. That’s the buzz Padma Shri awardee and two-time National Award winner Tabu creates. She is motivated by the pursuit of excellence. “I am happy with my journey so far. It’s been challenging, gratifying and a vehicle for personal growth.” This is classic Tabu—focused, but not overtly ambitious.
Having said that, Tabu’s influence in Bollywood is impossible to overstate. Her irreverent choice of films has spawned a generation of copycats while her ‘reclusive’ style has become a template. “I am not a recluse and I don’t know how that word got attached to me. I am anything but a recluse,” she clarifies. Of course, there is the warmth and the frequent breaking out in giggles that’s endearing. On the page, as on screen, Tabu is, simply, a lovely person to be around. Her cheerfulness is quite infectious. “Just because I do certain roles, people think they need to be serious around me. But it takes little to crack me up… a slip of tongue, someone saying something funny… the unlikeliest, silliest stuff.”
Making movie magic
After a very commercial debut as a teenager in Dev Anand’s Hum Naujawan in 1985, Tabu went on to work with path- breaking moviemakers such as Gulzar, Mani Ratnam, Gautam Ghose, Vishal Bhardwaj, besides international names like Ang Lee and Mira Nair. Her last, Golmaal Again, may have marked a new, “commercial” phase in Tabu’s career, but no one can ever accuse the actress of selling out. “Sometimes, you want to be a part of a good project. Sometimes, you need something light and frothy and fun and it comes to you. You change, life changes, your priorities change.”
I am not a recluse and I don’t know how that word got attached to me. I am anything but a recluse.
Tabu is a one-off: an independent actor who has negotiated a brilliant balancing act. She soothes the masses with crowd-pleasers like Vijaypath, Biwi No 1, Hera Pheri and Hum Saath Saath Hain, then shifts gear for more esoteric, art house projects like Macchis, Astitva, Maqbool, and Haider. For someone who takes her time to choose her projects, Tabu put her trust in rookie director Madhur Bhandarkar, who had a disaster called Trishakti behind him. She gave her nod of approval to feature in the grim and realistic Chandni Bar that portrayed the dark underbelly of the dance bars. “It has always been different things about different projects,” she says. “I have done films with completely new directors, with no clue about their vision. I believe every film has its destiny. I have never signed films thinking about box-office returns or awards. The audience does not buy tickets according to the genre of a film. They watch the trailer and if they like what they see, they go watch the film. The audience no longer decides whether they want to watch a film depending on whether it is big or small.” Like her aunt, Shabana Azmi, and her good friend Irrfan Khan, Tabu too made her mark in Hollywood by acting in two incredible films, The Namesake and Life of Pi without much fanfare.
Failure is handled much the way success is. “It doesn’t affect me anymore. With experience and growth, these things don’t matter. You might think I’m lying when I say this, but hits and flops never affected me. I haven’t taken either success or failure to my heart. I also feel it’s healthy to keep away from the results of what you do. It’s difficult in this industry to not be result-oriented because everyone is working towards Fridays and numbers. Our work as actors is not to get money at the box-office. Our work is to play the characters. Every actor on a set is just playing the character; no one is thinking numbers while shooting. No one thinks if I give a shot like this, the film will be a hit. It’s difficult to detach from the results, but I have over time.”
Just because I do certain roles, people think they need to be serious around me. But it takes little to crack me up… a slip of tongue, someone saying something funny… the unlikeliest, silliest stuff.
In an industry where actors fall over each other to hunt for better roles, the witty and charming Tabu feels no need to work every single day and prefers to enjoy the other side of life, too. Apart from marking her presence at every big family gathering, she is particular about taking off to the United States for a month every year. A solo trip once in a while keeps the actor busy. So what’s coming up next after Golmaal Again? “Nothing. I have a clean slate for now. I will relax at home for a bit and maybe sign a new film only next year. I look forward to a break like this every now and then, after investing seven to eight months in a particular film.”