February 21 2019
For Tabu, it’s fun to get cut off from the world
06 November 2017

And the ‘serious actor’ does just that, curled up on a recliner seat with two tubs of popcorn, salted and caramel

If there is one song by her mentor Gulzar that could capture Tabu’s mood at the moment, it would be from Ghar: ‘Aaj kal paaon zameen par nahi padte mere, bolo dekha hai kabhi tumne mujhe udte hue (I can’t keep my feet on the ground these days, haven’t you seen me fly?). Tabu and I have been chasing each other for more than two weeks, unable to fix up a rendezvous.

Eventually the tryst happens at a perfect point in time. Diwali has just gone by, leaving Tabu ecstatic at having notched up the biggest hit of her career — Rohit Shetty’s horror-comedy Golmaal Again. It’s evident she can’t contain her joy. The wide smile, the vivaciousness and sparkle show no signs of ebbing in the unhurried hour and more that I end up spending with her in the Lokhandwala flat that is her informal office and meeting place.

The success of the film matters a lot to her but it hasn’t been about instant happiness. “The effect will manifest slowly.” For now, she is delighted not just for herself but the team at large. “I love the fact that I am sharing it with so many people who I am fond of, who have built the brand Golmaal,” she says. “It’s not with every project that the success is something bigger than your own self.”

Never in a rush

In blue skinny jeans and a long, flowing, colourful kurta, with just a hint of make-up but for nails painted a vibrant orange, the actor looks fresh and relaxed as she sits feet curled up on the sofa. She overlooks my late arrival due to a stuck elevator and dysfunctional doorbell. Ten minutes late is okay by Mumbai standards, she says. Moreover, she is not in a rush herself.

She continues to not put her fingers in too many pies, doing only one film at a time, one that excites her; and gives her time for herself. The only one she is committed to now is Sriram Raghavan’s Shoot The Piano Player with Ayushmann Khurrana and Radhika Apte. She is taking it easy, some yoga, the morning papers, playing with the dog. She has also been writing prose, her experiences in Kashmir during the shoot of Haider. What she can’t write is a film script: “I have utmost respect for those who can do that.”

Her career has never been about a mad dash to the top, reflecting instead an overarching equanimity with some occasional turbulence thrown in. This has not been by any overt design, she claims, but more about doing things on her own terms; being in the mainstream and yet not quite, courting the limelight while seeking privacy. “It is the only way I know to be. It is not so much about the perceptions others have of me but my own internal dialogue with myself.”

Doesn’t she ever feel insecure being seemingly laidback in a world that is cut-throat and ambitious? It’s in her DNA, her personality, her life choices, she tells me. “I am not against the herd mentality, if someone is comfortable with it.” But “I won’t do anything just because people expect me to,” she says.

So even a surefire blockbuster like Golmaal Again was chosen only because she had always wanted to be a part of the successful franchise. She chased Shetty for six or seven years to eventually get a seat on the mad ride, she says.

Quite strange, I tell her. Not the kind of film one would expect a “serious actor” like her to do. But then there has been an eclectic set of roles dotting her filmography: good, bad and indifferent. From The Namesake and Life of Pi to MaachisChandni BarVirasatAstitvaHaider to Saajan Chale Sasural and Biwi No. 1. What made her pick them?

There have been no ground rules here; just a matter of being instinctive. And even in an illogical screwball comedy, she has played her role with a sense of thehraav (composure); inane mumbo jumbo like “Heem Bhreem Cold Cream” uttered with deadpan hilarity. She brings a modicum of level-headedness and dignity even to the utterly silly without losing her individuality and credibility.

“The role has a spiritual and intriguing quality if you look at it deeply,” she smiles. “But one does try to retain one’s own essence and spirit in performances.” At a larger level, it has been all about seeking out the different even in the usual, doing even the regular stuff her way.

Poise and self-possession have marked most of her roles of late. But before me sits a vibrant woman given to animated gestures and swift, hearty laughs; the restive Tabu can’t sit still.

A personal quest

It has been quite a long journey for someone who was never a movie buff, who never actively aspired to be a part of the industry. For Tabu, it’s the personal quest rather than the professional that has been of utmost importance. The films and her roles boil down to where they will take her next in life. So it hasn’t been difficult to adapt to a varied set of filmmakers and their sensibilities either — from Ang Lee to Shetty, Gulzar to David Dhawan.

“An actor is just a tool; finally a film is all about the director’s vision. Their cinema is a part of them, reflects who they are,” she says. For her, the hunger for new experiences is the motivating factor and it is amply fed by her directors’ imagination. “What will I take away from a film and its maker? It’s about opening the doors in my mind to a new world.” Ang Lee was one such life-changing influence. Not much conversation could flow in the two hours that she first met him but it was while working with him on The Life of Pi that she sensed his “power to contain you with a vision so much bigger than your own.”

If there is one thing Tabu is careful about, it’s interviews. She texts and talks to journalists the morning before a meeting. “I like to give my best even in an interview. It takes a lot for me to speak about myself,” she says. So staccato Q&As won’t do for her. She can’t do them mechanically, and prefers “baggage free” conversations. We let it be an untailored, free-flowing chat, interrupted by snacks and tea.

When my tea turns cold while we talk, she sends it straight back to the kitchen. “You can’t have tea if it’s not hot,” she says firmly.

We switch gears, no more talk of cinema. What does she do in her spare time? She loves watching films, in a hall, on a recliner seat with two tubs of popcorn, salted and caramel. “It’s fun to get cut off from the world.”

Right on top of her bucket list is a road trip across India and hosting a travel show. We talk of how her stint in cinema has taken her places, made her travel the world, given her experiences that she wouldn’t have otherwise been able to encapsulate in one life. “I had never imagined I would ever step out of Hyderabad or the country,” she says. In fact, she had applied to be an airhostess so she could travel (“my height helped,” she giggles) but then Prem came her way. “I got stuck here, carried on and began enjoying myself.”

The greatest journeys

What is it about travel that excites her? “It helps me get in touch with a world divorced from my own. I can breathe easy.” She loves seeing the landscapes change, how the same sunlight falls differently in different places, likes to absorb a place and its people, and meet individuals from different walks of life. “A different culture and different way of thinking take you out of yourself. They show you that your way is not the only way. It’s very humbling, how insignificant you ultimately are,” she says.

Home for her is Lokhandwala, not Hyderabad, any more. The city of her birth has changed far too much for her. “Jubilee Hills used to be a picnic spot. Now my friends live there in plush homes,” she smiles.

She thinks that travel and home are two sides of the same coin, they exist for each other. Home recharges and grounds her before taking off on a flight and she loves getting back after roaming the world. A popular line from her own film, The Namesake, is a big favourite and instantly quoted: “The greatest journeys are the ones that bring you home.”

I see a director in her, I tell her. She doesn’t. “People think of it as a natural progression but I don’t have it in me. I don’t have that understanding of cinema. My passion, energy, desires, are in a different direction.”

She would love to work in a Quentin Tarantino film one day, she says. “His women are fantastic. Even if they are in one or two scenes, they are of significance.” But most of all, she wants to live in the moment: “I want to be one with what I am doing.”



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