Traveller Tabu

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 21.09.14

Much like her choice of films, conversations with Tabu are never predictable. In the last three years, the 42-year-old actress has done Life of Pi and Jai Ho. Up on October 2 is the much-awaited Haider, the finale of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespearean adaptations. And that’s what makes Tabu — who many think of as the face of cerebral Indian films — an exciting interviewee. (Spoiler alert: Tabu doesn’t understand why she is thought of as a “thinking actress”.)

In the past, you have been very categorical about not signing films just on the basis of the role offered to you. What excited you about Haider?

For me, the safest and the best thing was that Vishal Bhardwaj was heading the project. So I knew that I didn’t have to worry about anything.

Years ago you said you didn’t understand Nimmi from Maqbool that was based on Macbeth. You couldn’t decide if she was “good, bad or pathetic”. What was your impression of Ghazala in Haider?

Oh god! Kitna intellectual sawaal hai! (Laughs) I saw Ghazala as confused. She is torn between too many people — her husband, son, lover. She is conflicted about love and politics. Her situation is all over the place and she is trying to find her centre amid all the turmoil (pauses). Ya… she is conflicted.

Your association with Vishal started way before he directed you in Maqbool, right?

Ya… We got to know each other during Maachis (1996). He had worked with Gulzar saab on a TV show before and was doing the music for Maachis. The thing about that film was that all of us involved were passionate about it. It was like we all grew up on that film. I was very young when I did the film. And Gulzar saab was like a father figure to both Vishal and me. That was the beginning of our association. After that came films like Hu Tu Tu, Chachi 420 and Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar where he continued to do music. And then, Maqbool happened. (Pauses) Over the years, Gulzar saab has been our strongest link.

Haider has brought the two of you back together after 11 long years. Did you notice any changes in his directorial style?

Hmmm... you know, my relationship with him is the same and I don’t really see a change. Even during Maqbool, he never said anything. Even now, the only instruction I get from him is ‘Arre, just do it, na!’ (Laughs) But seriously, his writing is so strong that everything is in the script. Also, we understand each other and so I know what he wants from a scene.

Having said that, I did notice a slight change and that is more in the person that he is on the set rather than his working style. Having done so many films since Maqbool and now also being a producer, Vishal is more relaxed. There is maturity that’s come with age and experience.

You are known to read a lot. Is there anything you have read over the years that you’d like to see adapted into film?

I don’t read that much… see this is one of those myths about me. People have this image of me… I am not as intellectual as people think I am. I am not a thinking actor (laughs). I don’t have the patience or attention span to read a book. I just can’t focus. So, I’ve read very few books. But if you really want me to answer… I think The Alchemist (by Paulo Coelho) would make a great film. I think it has the potential to be an absolute visual treat.

Now that we are talking about your image, I know that you don’t like the term ‘reclusive’…

Ugggggh! I hate it. You know I am not reclusive!

Yes I do. My question is... if you had to pick an apt descriptor for yourself what would it be?

Definitely not reclusive! I think I need to start a campaign to correct my image… tell people that I am not an intellectual or reclusive. And I think you should head that campaign! (Laughs)

Okay, so let’s start the campaign. What would you like to be described as?

Hmmm…. I don’t know. Alive? Awake? Aah, I know… traveller.

That’s a good one. Getting back to films, your first hit Vijaypath released 20 years ago...

(Laughs) Yeah… I realised that it’s been this long. But I don’t feel like it’s been 20 years. As in, I see the number, but experientially, I can’t fathom that it’s been so long. I signed Prem (opposite Sanjay Kapoor) in 1988. I don’t feel the stretch of time because I’ve been busy working… doing stuff. I remember Vijaypath (opposite Ajay Devgn) fondly because it was my first hit. That film made me who I am today.

But your first time in front of the camera was for the 1982 film Bazaar, right?

Ya, but it was nothing. The film was shot in my naani’s home in Hyderabad and we were just playing around. I must have been seven or eight years old. We were asked to sit in the background for a scene, so we did. We had no idea what was going on (laughs).

You have such a varied filmography — from a Biwi No 1 to The Namesake. Which role has really satisfied you?

I think with Chandni Bar, Maqbool or Astitva, people reacted to my role and the film how I expected them to. They understood the intention behind what they were seeing. So the effort paid off.

There have been some career choices that have baffled people... the most recent being Jai Ho where you played Salman Khan’s sister.

I don’t understand why people want me to justify Jai Ho.What is the big deal?

I guess it’s because fans don’t expect someone who has done a Namesake or Maqbool to do a Jai Ho...

Why? Who decides the calibre of a film? Who decides that Namesake is of a higher calibre than Jai Ho? This really upsets me because I have never differentiated between films.

You have always been categorical about how you love being single and that you are single out of choice. What is the best thing about being single?

Hmmm… I thought like everyone else you were going to ask me when I am getting married! (Laughs) I guess not being responsible or answerable to anyone is what I love the most.

Karishma Upadhyay
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