Un‘Tabu’lated graph

Un‘Tabu’lated graph

Tabu believes in playing by her own rules, a trait that has made her a much sought-after actor in all genres, writes RAJIV VIJAYAKAR

Multi-talented Tabu

If there is one standout feature in Tabu’s career, it is her relentless versatility in the roles she has chosen. Village girl, terrorist, cop, politician, homemaker, black widow and various shades in many of them — Tabu has traversed the gamut in mainstream, midstream and offbeat cinema across Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali and English films, made both in India and Hollywood.

She opines that though she did make all these choices, they were made from whatever was offered, which in turn was based on what she had chosen before that. “I have been called a pioneering actress in that sense, and the media has said so much about me that I have nothing more to say,” she says candidly. “But yes, I have come to where I am now because of the films I chose. But I am glad I chose quite a variety, and I fitted in and was accepted in every kind of role, and most of the films worked.”

Comic timing

How does she look at the ‘bad’ films in her list? Does she disown them like some other stars do? “They have all led to what I am today. So I would call them learning lessons rather than wrong choices,” she replies wisely.

“I can’t have regrets. They have all helped me grow. Credibility is credibility. And the place I have and my position cannot be taken away. Besides,” she chortles suddenly, “they were not my fault!”

Her latest release, De De Pyar De, sees her in a comic space again after Chachi 420, Biwi No 1, Hera Pheri, Golmaal Again and a few others. Is there anything special for her in comedies, as an actor and otherwise?

“Comedy as an experience is fun,” she replies. “It is good practice for interactive work with a bunch of actors because the timing is very important. There are funny lines, people like to be entertained, and I want to be a part of films that entertain.”

Having done such a vast spectrum of cinema, which are the genres that she herself likes to watch? After a pause, she thoughtfully says, “It all depends on my mood. The movie can be of any kind. But I like to walk away with something from the film inside me, whether it is happy, dark or sad.” 

Would she say that it was Hera Pheri that really turned the tide for comedy in Hindi cinema? “If you are thinking that way, I am very happy, but that’s not for me to say, as it would sound pompous!” she says with a broad smile.

Coming back to De De Pyar De, what attracted her to this comedy? “It was a story suited for Ajay (Devgn) and me and we both were the right people to do this story,” she answers. “It is about relationships and has fun, humour, tears and complications.”

Ajay and she romanced in the successful Vijaypath (her first hit 25 years ago), Haqeeqat and Thakshak and then were together but not romantically in Drishyam and Golmaal Again in the last four years. Their off-screen chemistry is well-known. “Oh, that is something you must come and see first-hand!” she chuckles.
“For us, it was like taking off from the Vijaypath days of Ruk ruk ruk! Both of us felt we are still in that era. He has not changed, neither have I, and he even looks the same!” So do you, we tell her, and she winks and laughs. “Ha! I wanted you to say that!”

And what about showing 50- year-olds falling in love with those half their age on the Hindi screen? “I think it’s great that the audience is accepting such things now,” Tabu replies. “Such things have always happened in real life anyway, but were not considered acceptable on-screen. My Cheeni Kum was one such story, but people accepted it.”

Would she accept a film in which she is shown in love with a younger man? “Why would I not? But only if the script is interesting,” she reasons. Who are the actors she wishes she could have worked with? “Sanjeev Kumar!” is her instant reply.

Tabu is doing a Telugu film as well. How does she look at her regional film innings? “When I did Coolie No 1 in 1991, I was not looking at exposure to a different region. I am from Hyderabad and I did it merely because I was very comfortable in Telugu, that’s all. But I am lucky that I have got some of my best roles and directors down South. Iruvar was one of my best roles, so soulful. I got to work with Priyadarshan, Mani Ratnam, Rajeev Menon and others. And when you are trusted with good roles, especially at a young age, like Gulzar-saab also did in Hu Tu Tu, it increases your bandwidth.”

Speaking of good roles, her role in AndhaDhun was one for which many of her fans wished she had won an award. So what does she think about awards in general? “Which awards?” she grins and asks mischievously.

“The stage awards or the staged awards?” The National Award winner adds, “It’s nice for the people who do win. Winning one feels great, and I think everyone knows whether they deserve any award — or not!”

Arising from that, what about the awards event many years ago wherein she came on stage and did not want to thank anyone? A roar of laughter follows and she answers, “I really meant it! I was bored of listening to all the ‘Thank you’ speeches, so I asked, ‘Can I not thank anybody?’”

Enjoying cameos

What role is she playing in her next release, Bharat? And why has she not been seen in the trailer? “Oh, it’s only a cameo,” she says. So why does Salman Khan take her in his home productions (it was Jai Ho! earlier) only for cameos? “At least he takes me!” she chuckles in reply. 

Tabu’s first featured role was in the 1986 Hum Naujawan as a schoolgirl. How was it working with the legendary Dev Anand? “I was too young, too nervous,” she remembers.

“I was in school, he treated me like a small little girl, and yet it was unnerving, so I went back to school after that. However, I kept in touch with him afterwards. I would go and meet him if I was dubbing at his studio. Everyone knows about his zest for life and all of that, but Dev-saab always spoke about the importance of having confidence in what you are. He showered me with appreciation for the work I was doing, the way I was living, and he was always happy for the world around him. I never saw him sad, upset, angry, complaining or displeased.”

A veteran with whom she got to work recently was Anil Dhawan in AndhaDhun. By default, she is also the only actress to have worked both with him and his younger, and more celebrated brother, director David Dhawan.

Realising this with wide eyes, she says, “That’s true! And they are such completely different people! Anilji would regale us with stories of the 1970s, and lesser-known stories about the actors then!”

Grinning, she adds, “He has such an open disposition and is so chilled out. He does not take himself very seriously.”