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Home / Lounge / Features /  'I have no interest in the box office': Tabu

Whether it is Panna in Hu Tu Tu, Nimmi in Maqbool, Ashima in The Namesake or Ghazala in Haider, two-time National Award winning actor (for Maachis and Chandni Bar) Tabu is one of Hindi cinema’s most acclaimed and versatile working actors. But she has faced a recurring accusation: that she’s far too selective with her film choices in spite of her versatility.

Tabu’s filmography spans English, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, Malayalam and Telugu language films and most often her characters linger long after the viewing experience has ended. Last seen as the unpredictable Simi in Sriram Raghavan’s black comedy Andhadhun, Tabu will soon be seen playing Manju in De De Pyaar De (17 May), followed by a cameo in Bharat (June). Tabu’s candour and easy-going vibe are refreshing in an age when Bollywood actors are tutored and controlled by a management team. Maybe this has something to do with her love for the creative process, and her declared disinterest in the end result. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What attracted you to the part of the mercurial and inscrutable Simi and how did you construct that character?

I love the fact that my work in Andhadhun has got so much love. It was such a radical and crazy character. For Simi to get that kind of love is phenomenal. It was my first time collaborating with Sriram and working at this level was gratifying. When I got the script, I had no doubt that working in this space and in this style with these film-makers would help me grow. It was really educative. It was interesting for me to experience how the director’s storytelling or his conceptions about performance change you and make you discover different facets of yourself.

Was there room for improvisation?

There was and we all worked on it together. The team is so experienced and Sriram was clear about his vision, but we worked as equals. Considering what a plot-heavy film it is—I mean you cannot blink out of plot—yet I wanted to make the character interesting. That was my journey. You cannot find a core to Simi; you cannot define her. She is reacting to situations and building her actions along the way. She submits herself to the circumstances and improvises at every step. So you don’t know what her state of mind is going to be and with what intention she is doing something. This makes her more intriguing.

Were you surprised by the success of ‘Andhadhun’ in China (where it collected over 300 crore)?

Yes, it’s amazing. Now if anyone says anything to annoy me, I retort, “Don’t say anything or I will move to China!" But what will they cast me as in a Chinese film? I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and I would love to play a ninja, warrior type.

The actor with Sriram Raghavan on the sets of ‘Andhadhun’.
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The actor with Sriram Raghavan on the sets of ‘Andhadhun’.

In your next film, ‘De De Pyaar De’, you play Manju, a mother who has to confront her ex-husband and his much younger fiancée…

It’s a funny film with complicated situations. Working with Ajay (Devgn) is a bonus, always, but this is actually a film that’s dealing with complicated and unusual relationships that we don’t often see on screen. I have not played a character like this before—one who is separated from her husband and is thrown into a situation where her ex comes with his present fiancée and my children are around. De De Pyaar De is an interesting take on this equation where you have different reactions—of the husband, ex-wife, the younger fiancée, the children, the family—to the same situation.

Those who complain that you don’t do enough films should be happy because you have ‘Bharat’ soon after.

Yes, but I only have a cameo in Bharat. Even though it’s a small part, it will be seen by a lot of people. So with these three films, hopefully, there won’t be complaints from people. Then from July I will start shooting a Telugu movie with Allu Arjun. Maybe people will now say they are seeing too much of me!

Do you reject many of the scripts that come your way?

Yes, I do. Absolutely. That is one of the biggest accusations against me. But so many things have to fall into place for one project: Who is backing it, with what intention is the film being made, do they just want to make it because they want to make some noise in the media? I have to really understand the intention behind the film. It’s not just about a good role any more. Fortunately for me, in all these years, I have only been offered good roles.

What about when you know the part has been written specifically with you in mind?

Even then. I still have to be okay with it. I need to be sure that it is a good project being made by trustworthy people. I should feel taken care of and the film-maker’s intention should be right. For example, Andhadhun did not have a big budget but they are sincere film-makers who know their craft so, you know the product will be of a high standard.

In your TedX talk (2018), you said you submit to the creative process without concern for the outcome. Is that liberating?

I have never been result-oriented. I am always about the process and when I am immersed in it, I want to give it my 100%. The only chance I have is while creating and shooting. I can’t undo it after that. I cannot, for the love of God, think of or worry about the outcome or work with a certain result in mind. I know successful people who work with a result in mind. But that’s not me. I have no interest in the business of films or the box office.

Which of your characters do you hold most dear, the characters you would describe as having given you rebirths?

Maqbool, Haider, The Namesake, Hu Tu Tu and Astitva were the key films that gave me rebirths because they addressed relevant issues. My character’s relationships with the other characters in these stories were unusual. They were not one-dimensional relationships. For instance, the mother-son relationship in Haider was not conventional. Through Chandni Bar, I learnt about the beer bar culture and the world of bar dancers. Maqbool was so real for me, and, through Astitva, I understood women in a different way. The Namesake gave me an understanding of the immigrant life and I could identify with it myself, having lived in Mumbai for so long. Through this film, I also understood the role of language and communication in human interaction. All the directors I have worked with—Gulzar, Vishal Bhardwaj, Mira Nair and others—gave me the space for rediscovery and rebirth.

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