I never wanted to play a vanilla heroine, says Tabu – If there’s someone I’m always excited to interview, it has to be Tabu. She does fewer films (which is going to change this year) and is unabashedly honest. Being in the business for over three decades, Tabu has been tagged as the thinking man’s woman. She has struck a balance between commercial cinema and off-beat projects and impressed everyone with her subtle yet powerful performances.
In this chat, she talks about her latest film Missing, how she chose projects that broke norms and why she has never played the game by the rule book. Over to her…
People have often complained about you doing fewer films. But that’s no longer the case. Is it because of the subjects that are changing so rapidly today?
Yes, absolutely. Today, stories are more about characters than just the leading lady and the hero. A lot of different roles have opened up. But it was always like this for me. I have got thousands of characters — good, bad and ugly, in short, everything. So, I always had a lot to choose from (smiles).
How difficult or easy has it been to stay relevant even now?
I don’t know. An outsider’s perspective is important in this context. I had never planned my life thinking I’ve to be relevant. I just thought that these things are important for my journey and I should do them. That’s all. This is the path of my life and this is what I have to walk on. These are my choices and I have to choose from them only. And incidentally, they became things that kept you relevant. But woh toh baad mein pata chalta hain.
Do you remember the first shot you ever gave? How have you changed over the years?
I was so nervous. A few days ago, someone posted a photo of mine from the sets of Prem. I looked at it and thought, ‘My God! I was almost like an infant.’ Mujhe kya acting samajh aayi hogi? I would cry when anybody told me anything. It was a completely new world from Hyderabad and sometimes, I just look back and think about how I made this whole adjustment. It was tougher for my mum. When she came to Bombay with us, she was 40. I was about 13-14. So for me, the adjustments happened as I grew up in Mumbai. The kind of people and life I was exposed to after coming here was a big shift. At that time, it wasn’t easy to understand the industry and the way it works. In the beginning, you are like, ‘Haan, mujhe yeh accha nahi lagta, woh accha nahi lagta.’
You are just saying what you feel, without thinking too much. You don’t know the rules. But that was the best part. To realise that I’m still here and so loved makes it all the more special. I don’t know what it took and how it has been. To me, all of it is a blur. But I kept working with sincerity.
Success and stardom have never hit you?
See, the only big change that has happened to me is that I’ve become more social. I did not have people skills at all. I was painfully shy but I was thrown into this world, and slowly with success, I became okay with the people around me. I became more expressive.
So much is spoken about women-centric roles today. You have been balancing commercial and offbeat films since you started. Has it become the norm now?
Yes, it no longer has the rebellious or sensational value. People are okay doing it and it has become more acceptable. It doesn’t feel like you are sticking your neck out if you are doing a woman-centric film. Aisi koi baat hi nahin hai, sab hi karte hain. I think it’s a good thing because that’s how more work will open up for many more actors and we will also start embracing people.
The outlook towards women has also changed. Does it give you a sense of accomplishment that you have achieved what you set out for?
Yes, today more importance is given to an actress’ role. People are willingly adding different colours to a heroine. That’s something that I have always been interested in. I didn’t want to play the good girl who feels shy and smiles every time. There’s so much more about a woman and a human being. I wanted to express all of that. She is a girl, but why can’t she be bad? Why can’t she be lustful? Why can’t she be dark and betray? At one point in time, it was so blasphemous to hear all of this. People didn’t want their heroines to be immoral or even have extramarital affairs. I never wanted to play a vanilla heroine or doing things by the rule book. Before me, many other actresses have also done it. But today, everything has become a norm. People have started appreciating the very things that they were scared of. My character goes and bombs her own mother in Hu Tu Tu and at the same time, I was doing Hum Saath Saath Hai.
Thrillers are still a dicey space in India. You did Drishyam and now Missing. What do you think of the genre?
According to me, thrillers don’t have a wide audience. I personally don’t enjoy them so much. Thrillers are also the writers’ space. Unless we have fantastic writing, it cannot work. Of course, the performances matter a lot, too. But it has to be a gripping story. We do have a few directors who are amazing at it. Sriram (Raghavan) is really fantastic and rules in that space. Once you know what happens in a suspense film, the repeat audience is already aware what the mystery is. Nowadays, so much has been done in the digital space or on television that it has become easy to predict. Audiences have become smart. They crack things and solve the mystery then and there.
When you select a film, does box office become a parameter?
See, if it does Rs 200-300 crore, then mazaa toh aata hai (laughs). The numbers might not change the way you think about yourself but the public perception of you changes. Flop ke time bhi hota hai. As an actor, I don’t think much about it because hamesha se, something or the other has been happening and coming my way so I think beyond a point, actors are not affected, once they have made their place. But hits are always welcome.