If you ever meet Tabu, here’s a warning in advance. Never, never ask her where she’s been all this while. A simple question like where are you these days? puts her in a terrible mood. “I am disgusted with this query,” she practically spits in response. “Will people stop asking me this question? I am sick and tired of it.”
So you won’t get a response from her, but thanks to photos of a glamourous Tabu attending various events that started flashing in the media, you can heave a sigh of relief. The actor, who seemed to have modelled herself on the reclusive Hollywood star Greta Garbo, appears to be back on the scene.
Add to this her recent outing in the Ang Lee film Life Of Pi, which will soon be followed by Bejoy Nambiar’s David, and you feel you can safely predict the return of Tabu once and for all. As we sit down for this exclusive chat at a suburban hotel, it’s hard to believe that Tabu began her career in Hindi films purely as a glamour prop. She’s one of the industry’s finest actors — so much so that Ang Lee refers to her as the sublime Tabu.
Yes, we know you hate being asked this question. But everyone wants to know — where have you been?
I made a conscious decision to keep away from the maddening crowd, and the senseless rush. I have chosen to step aside from the hullaballoo simply because I want it like this. My life is not as exciting as you would like to believe. I belong to a middle class family and my needs, values and aspirations are reflections of it. If something good is offered to me in my career, I will accept it.
I have asked your contemporaries this question in earlier interviews: Is Bollywood unfair to actresses who are past their prime?
There was a time when the film industry had a regressive attitude and mature heroines were losing out. Though mature actresses are also sensible enough to understand that having done so much, they now need to exercise qualitative and quantitative control over their work.
However, let me add that it’s not just the film industry. It’s a mindset that exists in all industries and in every sphere of life. Women are expected to be younger and good looking. Unfortunately, that’s been the mindset for ages. And to put it simply, the film industry is a reflection of society. Let’s ask ourselves: are men and women ever considered equals? Perhaps with changing times, the equation is slowly changing for the better and films will reflect this.
Having said this, I want to add that the film industry has also been kind to some extent. There have been huge iconic female stars like Nargisji, Waheeda Rahman, Rekha and Hema Malini. Age was never a barrier for them. And the best part is that
cinema today is undergoing a tremendous transition.
But the fact remains that even though cinema is maturing, actors like you are pretty much missed. I am happy there’s so much love for me and grateful that there’s so much respect and emotion attached to my work. My greatest satisfaction comes from good and satisfying work. I have had a solid connect with my work. Unfortunately there hasn’t been any film offered to me off late that has stimulated my thoughts, let alone consumed me!
I am sure my fans want to see me in my element. And for this I have to get good work to come back. If I have to work for other reasons, for instance, to be in the news or for money, then it’ll reflect in my work and I won’t be able to do justice to it. And my fans will regretfully say, we were better off without her! (laughs).
‘I seek many more joys than are part of my career as an actor’
So are you spending quality time with yourself and your loved ones?
I have always had quality time for myself and my family. Always. But this is a different kind of time which I am enjoying.
What do you do with your time?
I seek many more joys than are part of my career as an actor. I travel a lot, it’s invigorating. Reading is something I am yet to make a solid habit of. I know that’s totally another world and I would like to get into that space as well. Also, I have been watching movies in a multiplex next to my house; I do that every often. I love the theatre experience. I enjoy my time with my friends. I have found my space and of course, there’s my family. I am taking each day as it comes. I am a person at peace with myself. Work has been a great way of self discovery for me, but now I also want to discover newer things in life and rediscover my own life. I started working at a very young age. So I guess, yeh time apne liye toh banta hi hai na? Hum lage hue hai journey mein (So, this is my time to enjoy and I am on its journey).
What kind of projects are you waiting for? Give us a hint.
See, I am getting roles, but it’s equally important for me to trust the people I am working with. I also know that a project cannot meet each and every expectation of mine. Being picky about the work I do is not a conscious thing. I’ll never accept anything unless I’m fully convinced that there is something for me to take back home. It can be a big amount of money, or it can be the role and director that I’m kicked about. Even if 60 per cent of the project makes me go Wow, I will go for it. I am not saying that every aspect of the film has to be big and great. Even if a few features are noteworthy, I’ll accept it. What I mean is that if I end up liking the 10 films that are offered to me in a year, I may do all 10. Similarly, if I like only one film, in say, three years, then I will settle for that one. Only great roles don’t excite me, I have to be comfortable with who’s behind it. I did Life Of Pi only because of Ang Lee. For me, it was a Wow film. He’s the director of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000).
Do you have any films in hand now?
I am doing a small cameo in the Jivaa and Vikram starrer, David by Bejoy Nambiar. And one movie in the south. Luckily, it’s a good time for Hindi cinema, and I feel that soon I should be saying yes to some offers. There’s a time and place for everything.
Do you feel your poor networking, as you have called it, and your communication problems have ever come in the way of your career?
They are a part of my personality and I have lived with these traits happily. I have never seen them as obstacles and don’t consider them as weaknesses. I agree I am not good at it, but fortunately I have never felt like I missed out on anything because of it. I am very happy with the kind of films I am doing and have done. And all without succumbing to that need to go out and promote myself unnecessarily. It must be great to not have any regrets.
Maybe I have had some difficult experiences with some people, but I won’t call them regrets. Yes, there have been good and bad
experiences, but I won’t call them regrets. Everyone, I’m sure, has had such experiences. But it’s okay. I am the type who moves on from the unpleasantness.
How do you feel when you see the male co-stars of your films still romancing younger actresses?
I never feel bad. We are all part of the same fraternity. If there is some good project, we shall work together.
We want to see Cheeni Kum (2007) part 2 with you and Mr Bachchan. Of course. Even I am waiting to work with Mr Bachchan again. I hope someone casts us soon.
Have you ever thought of getting into direction or production?
It’s too much of a responsibility and not my scene. Acting is much easier. If somebody offers a collaboration, I may consider it.
You started as a child artiste and then moved into the masala genre as a glamorous actor before you evolved as one of most mature and finest actresses of Indian cinema.
I never set out to build any image. It was not done with the purpose of being someone. I don’t want to carry a film on my shoulders; it just happened that many of the films I’ve done have been liked. And for me, it has always been about the actor-director relationship. I think that has stayed unique and common to all the films I have done in all languages.
I’ll never accept any film unless I’m fully convinced that there is something for me to take back home
Your contemporaries are still around in some way or the other…
I agree. But my not working has come into focus purely because my contemporaries are all very much in the news, either for their work or for whatever reasons. I am sure even they would agree to my views on this.
Don’t you also want to be in the news?
Let me tell you, I have never been good at networking. Or maybe I haven’t seen the need to do it. As it is, I am bad with interviews. That’s because I am very bad at expressing myself in words. I can do it pretty well through my acting and my eyes.
Who are your buddies in the industry?
I am friendly with everyone, but not overfriendly. Salman, Aamir, Shah Rukh and few others. Ajay Devgn is my buddy. I am happy that all these guys are up there today. Ajay and I have worked together in three films — Vijaypath (1994), Thakshak (1999) and Haqeeqat (1995) — and I have so many wonderful memories of them. I am happy to see his rise. Ajay was my brother’s childhood friend and we are buddies. I have grown up with them. I love watching him in movies and love to see him excel.