FROM A RE­LUC­TANT AC­TRESS TO A RECLUSE, TABU’S IN­CRED­I­BLE JOUR­NEY

Tabu has had a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing eva­sive when it comes to in­ter­views. In this rather leisurely chitchat with So­ci­ety, she made a wee bit of an ex­cep­tion and let her guard down from time to time

Society - - CONTENTS - By Arwa Jan­jali

Tabu has had a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing eva­sive when it comes to in­ter­views. In this rather leisurely chitchat with So­ci­ety, she made a wee bit of an ex­cep­tion and let her guard down from time to time

“Come in, come in. Are you com­ing all the way from town? Have you had lunch?” The in­ter­view seemed to have be­gun right at the door as Tabu wel­comed me into her of­fice. Ex­cept that there was an un­ex­pected role re­ver­sal here, with me be­com­ing the in­ter­vie­wee and she, the in­ter­viewer. Look­ing her ca­sual and pretty self in a top and pants, her hair tied up and name­sake make-up not tar­geted at con­ceal­ing any­thing, Tabu rev­els in her nat­u­ral beauty. Age is cer­tainly not a con­cern for this ac­tress. Though she uses the age fac­tor to her ad­van­tage to avoid any ques­tions that she doesn’t want to an­swer. “I don’t have any sen­sa­tional quotes to give you. I am older na, so my in­ter­view will be dif­fer­ent,” she will say di­plo­mat­i­cally, when she sniffs con­tro­versy. Or she will just bring out her scis­sorhands and go “cut cut cut” with her fin­gers. In fact, there is no scope for the con­ver­sa­tion to even veer to­wards cur­rent af­fairs as any­thing that re­quires her to give an opin­ion on or com­ment about some­thing, be­comes a big ‘cut cut’ for Tabu. De­spite the fact that she has been an in­te­gral part of a par­al­lel frame­work of films, which have delved into deeper is­sues con­cern­ing the so­cio-po­lit­i­cal fab­ric of In­dia. She may have set a bench­mark as an ac­tress with im­por­tant por­tray­als in films like Maachis, Chandni Bar or Haider, but she is no cru­sader who be­lieves in mak­ing a dif­fer­ence by speak­ing up on is­sues. Nat­u­rally then, if you thought you could even men­tion the black­buck case to her, you have un­doubt­edly har­boured the great­est il­lu­sion of your life. It is per­haps this squeaky-clean and elu­sive side of hers, that has had jour­nal­ists snub her as be­ing ‘bor­ing’. The me­dia has of­fi­cially bap­tised her a ‘recluse’. And although she is tired of the tag and would hap­pily em­brace an­other ad­jec­tive, she wouldn’t make any ef­forts from her end to get rid of the la­bel. In­stead, she would rather live up to the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing a recluse. Be­cause un­like most of her con­tem­po­raries, Tabu cares less about in­ter­views and pub­lic­ity. Cater­ing to the pa­parazzi was never a part of her agenda. So to say, be­ing an ac­tor too.

“I was the last per­son who could ever dream of be­ing an ac­tress. I was the stu­dious type, the quiet type. This pro­fes­sion is con­trary to my per­son­al­ity. My sis­ter (Farah Naaz) was a movie buff, so she could still em­brace it. But it took me some time to make this pro­fes­sion my own. I didn’t have the re­quired per­son­al­ity,” Tabu re­veals. Is it this per­son­al­ity trait that ex­plains her con­tin­ued dis­com­fort of be­ing in the pub­lic glare? I won­der, keep­ing the thought to my­self. Go­ing back to her re­luc­tant be­gin­nings, she ad­mits that she had it easy by get­ting the big­gest break with Boney Kapoor’s Prem (with San­jay Kapoor as her first co-star) that any new­comer could ask for. “I didn’t have a strug­gle story. In­stead, I saw the best side of it. Also, I came in as Farah’s sis­ter. So all the lead­ing ac­tors knew me and there was a fa­mil­iar­ity. My strug­gles have been more to do with adapt­ing to a dif­fer­ent cul­ture. And that kind of a per­sonal ad­just­ment is­sue is al­ways your own strug­gle. No­body can help you in it,” she says non­cha­lantly. Tabu started her in­nings with an out-an-out com­mer­cial film like Prem, dur­ing the eight-year-long pro­duc­tion of which, she took up K Raghaven­dra Rao’s hit Tel­ugu film Coolie No 1. This was her first re­lease as an ac­tress, in which she played a con­ven­tional glam­orous role. What fol­lowed was the flop Pehla Pehla Pyar (her first Hindi re­lease co-star­ring Rishi Kapoor) and then, Vi­jay­path (with Ajay Dev­gan), which shot her to fame with the song Ruk Ruk Ruk. She came to be known as the ruk ruk girl ever since. Af­ter a string of com­mer­cial re­leases for three years, Gulzar’s Maachis in 1996 es­tab­lished her as an ac­tor with some met­tle, earn­ing her ca­reer’s first Na­tional Award. The sud­den shift from a hero­ine to an ac­tor hap­pened as an un­planned, yet wel­come move for Tabu. “In the first few years, you are just hav­ing fun, en­joy­ing the glamour and wear­ing good clothes. But slowly, I wanted to do more than just what I was do­ing and

I was look­ing for those plat­forms. And luck­ily when I worked with Gulzar saab and Priyadar­shan, I found some­thing that could hold me in this pro­fes­sion, some­thing mean­ing­ful and true that would come from my heart. I found peo­ple who helped and sup­ported me in my self-ex­pres­sion,” she re­counts the tran­si­tion from a superficial ap­proach to a deeper process of act­ing. But there was no chart­ing a ca­reer graph for her. “I got those roles at a very young age and I started por­tray­ing them sin­cerely. At that age you can­not have these big in­tel­lec­tual thoughts about your­self or the in­dus­try. I didn’t even know the game. Aaj kal jo words use karte hain... per­cep­tion, im­age, brand... aisa toh kuch tha nahin. One just did what ap­pealed to them and what one thought would help them in their growth as a pro­fes­sional. For me, it was ex­cit­ing to find my groove and I took it for­ward and kept im­prov­ing my­self,” she says thought­fully. And while she made the most of char­ac­ter driven roles in films like Priyadar­shan’s Vi­rasat, Ma­hesh Man­jrekar’s Astitva, Mad­hur Bhan­darkar’s Chandni Bar and Vishal Bhard­waj’s Maq­bool, she also starred in pot­boil­ers like David Dhawan’s Saa­jan Chale Sa­sural and Biwi No 1 and the re­cent, Ro­hit Shetty’s Gol­maal Again. Coin­ci­den­tally, af­ter her last psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller Miss­ing with Manoj Ba­j­payee – which bombed at the box-of­fice – her up­com­ing films are Sriram Ragha­van’s sup­posed rom-com with Ayush­mann Khu­ranna and a Luv Ran­jan film with her favourite co-star Ajay Dev­gan. Tabu’s kitty of films has been a bal­anced mix of masala en­ter­tain­ers and re­al­is­tic films. And sur­pris­ingly, keep­ing this bal­ance has been quite the cal­cu­la­tive and thought out de­ci­sion on the Ruk Ruk girl’s part. “My be­gin­ning has been big com­mer­cial cin­ema. That’s where I am com­ing from. I got no­ticed be­cause of a Ruk Ruk and Vi­jay­path. That will al­ways be my claim to fame. I feel that the plat­form that com­mer­cial cin­ema gives any ac­tor is some­thing that we can’t deny. Even to­day, peo­ple come up to me and tell me that they lis­ten to Ruk Ruk and it’s their favourite song. So you un­der­stand the kind of reach com­mer­cial cin­ema has and it gives you the free­dom to ex­per­i­ment with other stuff. It makes it that much more in­ter­est­ing for the view­ers to watch. Plus, I haven’t dis­crim­i­nated be­tween films. Oth­er­wise I wouldn’t have been able to do a Maachis or a Chandni Bar. Also, most of my par­al­lel

“I didn’t have a strug­gle story. In­stead, I saw the best side of it. My strug­gles have been more to do with adapt­ing to a dif­fer­ent cul­ture.”

films be­came com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful. So one doesn’t know where to de­fine that line, es­pe­cially now. To­day, there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween par­al­lel and com­mer­cial be­cause ev­ery­thing is com­mer­cial. There is a burst of rel­e­vant sto­ries and in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters for both men and women. There isn’t that much gap be­tween the lead ac­tors and the other ac­tors in the film. In­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters have be­come quite the norm now,” she ob­serves. Then she lets me in on a lit­tle se­cret. “My mother likes the reg­u­lar masala com­mer­cial en­ter­tain­ing films and she is very clear about it. She will watch every movie first day first show,” she laughs. F or Tabu, her mother Rizwana has been the most in­flu­en­tial fac­tor in her life… her win­dow to the world. “She is al­ways watch­ing news. She will give me all the in­for­ma­tion on what’s hap­pen­ing in the world every morn­ing,” she says proudly. The ac­tress also de­pends a lot on her mother’s opin­ion for clothes. “She has fine taste. She will be able to tell even if a sim­ple black top is stylish enough. I dis­cuss films with her too some­times. But she has very strong opin­ions on what I should not do. In some ways, she is typ­i­cal. Es­pe­cially with films,” she shares, adding, “Con­sciously un­con­sciously, whether we ac­knowl­edge it or no, I think for most women, their moth­ers will con­tinue to be in­flu­en­tial all through their lives. We learn from our moth­ers and as much as we don’t want cer­tain traits of theirs, we in­vari­ably end up hav­ing the same traits. I think I am so much like my mother. The fact that she is so truth­ful, hon­est, she doesn’t care about what peo­ple think and she is very in­tel­li­gent.” Apart from her mother, there’s an­other woman, from whom she de­rives in­spi­ra­tion. “I ad­mire Oprah Winfrey to the core. Since 1999. I re­mem­ber her mag­a­zine had come

“I think I am so much like my mother. The fact that she is so truth­ful, hon­est, she doesn’t care about what peo­ple think and she is very in­tel­li­gent.”

out in May 2000. I was in the US and I had got­ten the first is­sue of the Oprah mag­a­zine and I would sub­scribe to it there­after. She has been one of the hugest in­spi­ra­tions and not just as woman, but as a per­son. Look­ing at the kind of work she has done and where she is com­ing from and the kind of work she con­tin­ues to do, ir­re­spec­tive of any­thing,” the fan­girl speaks. Talk­ing about fab­u­lous women, there have been many trend­set­ters in the Hindi film in­dus­try, who have car­ried films on their shoul­ders in a male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try. Like her, there has been a bat­tal­ion of fe­male ac­tors across eras with names like Mad­hubala, Meena Ku­mari, Wa­heeda Rehman, Rekha, Smita Patil, Sha­bana Azmi, Vidya Balan... and oth­ers hold­ing fort with their pres­ence on screen. Women-cen­tric roles have al­ways ex­isted. Yet, there sud­denly is a fem­i­nist surge with a lot of brouhaha about women be­ing at the fore­front in Hindi films. Tabu rolls her eyes at this and says, “Ab kisi ke bhi bare mein baat zyada hoti hain na, be­cause there are so many plat­forms. More me­dia

space is be­ing given to any­thing, not just this.” Gain­ing promi­nence is also the spot­light on women’s rights with pay par­ity and the works. But Tabu in­sists she has not ex­pe­ri­enced any dis­crim­i­na­tion with re­spect to pay­ments. “I must say that whether it was a big bud­get film or a small bud­get film, peo­ple were fair to me. Go­ing by what the mar­kets were at that time, I al­ways got enough. And if I de­cided to let go off some­thing for a film, that was my choice. Not that I was be­ing fooled into do­ing some­thing for less money,” she states. “In Chandni Bar, I don’t think any­body got paid,” she laughs out loud. Then she re­alises she might have said some­thing which could prob­a­bly be­come an in­ap­pro­pri­ate head­line for the ar­ti­cle. So she quickly cor­rects her­self. “What I meant is that Chandni Bar was a film that we wanted to make at any cost. We knew we had no bud­get. We had no big hero or songs that would sell. It was a very ex­per­i­men­tal film,” she ex­plains. L ike fem­i­nism, Hol­ly­wood too seems to be the taste of the sea­son. Whether it’s Priyanka Cho­pra, Deepika Padukone or Aish­warya Rai, ac­tresses now are more ea­ger than ever to make a mark in the West. And they make sure their slight­est move­ment there makes the big­gest of waves in terms of news. Re­cently, Priyanka Cho­pra spoke about the dis­crim­i­na­tion against South Asian ac­tors in the West. She re­vealed how she didn’t land a role dur­ing an au­di­tion­ing process there some time back on the ba­sis of her race and colour. On the other hand, Tabu has al­ready been there, done that with two ma­jor Hol­ly­wood projects to her credit, with­out much fan­fare – Ang Lee’s Life of Pi and Mira Nair’s The Name­sake. “Every ac­tor, every per­son­al­ity, every per­son has a dif­fer­ent voice, has a dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­ment, has a dif­fer­ent way of ex­press­ing them­selves. You have to see the space they are in, how old they are, etc. Also, peo­ple can choose what they want to talk about and every­one has their own pri­or­i­ties, you have to pick your own bat­tles I guess. My ex­pe­ri­ence in Hol­ly­wood has been of the films and the work. I don’t even know if I was think­ing about dis­crim­i­na­tion at that point. I just know that I did two great films and worked with two fan­tas­tic di­rec­tors in Amer­ica,” she says. Get­ting a tad pen­sive, she adds, “As a com­plete ex­pe­ri­ence, Life of Pi is a very big land­mark in my ca­reer. It was a very dif­fer­ent kind of… kya bolte hain… there is so much hap­pen­ing around you and you are just a part of it. The vi­sion of the film, the mes­sage of the story, the graph­ics, the big­ness of the sub­ject and the thought… it’s so huge and it’s all en­com­pass­ing. It made me feel like ‘Oh my God, I was a part of some­thing that is so uni­ver­sal’. Of course, the fact that it has reached all over the world and it has been re­ceived with the same amount of love and re­spect, with peo­ple be­ing in awe, try­ing to break it down, un­der­stand…

the kind of ef­fect it had was re­ally amaz­ing for me to see and ex­pe­ri­ence. It was about be­ing a part of some­thing that was so much big­ger than me.” Whether it’s Hol­ly­wood, Kol­ly­wood, Mol­ly­wood or Tol­ly­wood, Tabu has dab­bled in dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent film in­dus­tries, cater­ing to a wide va­ri­ety of cul­tures and set of val­ues through films, es­pe­cially cov­er­ing the spec­trum down South. She has worked with the most prom­i­nent South­ern stars, from Venkatesh and Na­gar­juna to Mo­han­lal and Chi­ran­jeevi. Her de­but film – K Raghaven­dra Rao’s Tel­ugu film Coolie No 1, co-star­ring Venkatesh – be­ing the strong­est foun­da­tion of her ca­reer, ac­cord­ing to her. “I learnt so much on that film about ev­ery­thing, from punc­tu­al­ity, sin­cer­ity, be­ing fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent to re­spect­ing the di­rec­tor’s vi­sion and work­ing within the frame­work of the di­rec­tor’s vi­sion. Yet, main­tain­ing your own style. All these things have re­ally been im­printed in my mind by Raghaven­dra Rao,” she says fondly. She has also been most at home with Tel­ugu films as she is well-versed with the lan­guage, ow­ing to her Hy­der­abadi ori­gins. “Tamil was tough as a lan­guage and Malay­alam was the most dif­fi­cult to act in. But I made the great­est and ev­er­last­ing friends while do­ing Tamil and Malay­alam films,” she in­forms. In­ter­est­ingly, Tel­ugu films have pro­jected Tabu in a largely glam­orous avatar. When you watch her in those films, in­clud­ing her block­buster Hindi film Vi­jay­path for that mat­ter, where she is danc­ing away glee­fully to Ruk Ruk Ruk, you can’t miss the prom­i­nent glimpse of a ‘pot­boiler hero­ine’ in her, a com­plete con­trast to her oth­er­wise in­tel­lec­tual and se­ri­ous per­sona that she has been known for on screen. She may have carved a niche for her­self with in­tense…packed with emo­tions…’char­ac­ter’ roles, but you can’t over­look the fact that she en­joys the masala en­ter­tain­ment just as much. In fact, the more she gets com­fort­able talk­ing to you, it’s not hard to see the gig­gly, fun side of her per­son­al­ity com­pletely tak­ing over her poised frame. She laughs loudly at the sil­li­est of things, gets su­per en­thu­si­as­tic while talk­ing about go­ing to the movies, sim­ply be­cause she gets to pass id­i­otic re­marks in be­tween scenes with a tub of pop­corn as an ex­cit­ing in­cen­tive. “I en­joy the whole ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing to the theatre and watch­ing a movie. The larger-than-life im­pact of the big screen just takes me in. Then there are other at­trac­tions, like the pop­corn, com­ment­ing on scenes, say­ing silly things...I en­joy that en­tire pack­age,” she says play­fully.

“I must say that whether it was a big bud­get film or a small bud­get film, I al­ways got paid enough. Peo­ple were fair to me.”

If not for the theatre, watch­ing movies or tele­vi­sion at home is noth­ing short of a long drawn strug­gle for her, which she is yet to over­come. “Binge watch?” she looks at you like you are to­tally bonkers. “I have Net­flix and there’s a lot of in­ter­est­ing stuff out there. But I haven’t got into the habit of all this. If I have to watch some­thing, I have to plan it. Then, when I get on to watch­ing it, I will keep check­ing, kitna khatam hua... 23 mins aur? Arre yaar. That way I end up watch­ing one show or movie in a year or some­thing,” she says, her laugh­ter echo­ing in the room. When you ca­su­ally ask her if she has ever given a thought to do­ing theatre, since she has worked in Vishal’s Shake­spearean adap­ta­tions and she dis­misses the idea in­stantly, let­ting out a screech, “No way! Who will re­mem­ber all those lines on stage?!” She laughs again. The size of books put her off, so much so that read­ing scripts also be­comes a te­dious af­fair at times. But we do know that she loves pen­ning down her thoughts in her free time and singing is an­other hobby she is pur­su­ing. But if not an ac­tor, would she have been a writer or a singer? Not re­ally. “Hmmm... I would have been an an­thro­pol­o­gist maybe. His­tory, na­ture, places…they have al­ways in­spired me… made me cu­ri­ous. The world in gen­eral ac­tu­ally...un­der­stand­ing cul­tures and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing na­ture is what I love. Or maybe, I would have had an or­ganic farm on some hill. I think that’s my dream…,” she dis­cov­ers sud­denly, “…hav­ing a re­sort in the moun­tains and liv­ing there for the rest of my life.” She gets lost in vi­su­al­is­ing the moun­tains as she speaks. You can see the dreamer in Tabu. You can also see the en­ter­tainer. With a fierce will, she has learnt to play the game well over the last 30 years in an in­dus­try, she was con­vinced, she didn’t be­long to at one point. But now, she plays it ex­actly on her own terms and con­di­tions. Then if she is la­belled a ‘ recluse’ for life, so be it.

...with Na­gar­juna

...with Om Puri and Gulzar

...with her mother Rizwana

...with Ajay Dev­gan

...with Chan­drachur Singh in Maachis

...with San­jay Kapoor in

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