Farah was the star. Tabu, her kid sister, was content to remain in the shadows. Her dreams were simple and uncomplicated… flying with a foreign airlines, crossing the seven seas and settling down to a life of domesticity in the promised land, United States of America.
And then she turned 10, and suddenly found herself in front of the camera. Dev Anand wooed her with chocolates, but for the shy schoolgirl, the real challenge was not wowing critics with
. She had to get through the seventh standard with marks that would earn her an approving smile from her grandmother.
Five years passed. One day, Shekhar Kapoor came knocking on her door. Dev Anand’s nephew wanted to cast her in the lead in
. Tabassum Hashmi was distraught: “But I don’t want to act, I want to go to college.” Shekhar told her gently that she could go to college, after she finished his film.
eventually went to Manisha Koirala. But by then, Tabu was stuck with
. Her epic love story was endlessly delayed. And finally, instead of Sanjay Kapoor, she made her debut opposite Rishi Kapoor in
Pehla Pehla Pyaar
. And stayed on in movie town because by then, she had grown to ‘love’ acting.
I first met her while
was still in the making. I’d called her for a column we did with newcomers, Tomorrow’s Stars Today. She joked that she must be the oldest newcomer around and wondered whether we could do a full-fledged interview instead. I agreed and turned up at her modest Versova apartment around noon. And although she’d just tumbled out of bed, she looked stunning. I told her so. She refused to believe me. It was always hard to convince her that she was beautiful or talented!
won her her first National Award, and got her compliments at airports and in aircrafts, hotels and shops, she was sceptical.
“Aisa kya kiya maine?
(What great thing have I done?)” she wondered, bemused. “Journalists want to discuss with me the craft of acting. What do I know about acting? I did
in a dream, wondering why Gulzar
would want to cast me when I had only a ‘
’ and a thunder thighs tag to my credit. What if I didn’t measure up? Would he scold me?”
Until she accepted her award from the President of India, she couldn’t let herself believe that she had actually received the coveted national honour. “Such awards are for Shabana aunty. She has received three National Awards in a row!” she mused.
I told her that someday, maybe she too would score a hat-trick. “You’re crazy!” she shut me up. “Why?” I countered, “You are in the big league now?”. “How big is BIG?” she reasoned. “By what yardstick do I assess myself?” For her, big meant being able to buy a home for her mom in a posh apartment block. She was happy when they moved to Green Acres in Lokhandwala to become Sridevi’s neighbours. Twinkle Khanna designed her home and gave her a sunken pool in her living room that inspired poetry and daydreams in plenty.
Over the years I’ve lost Tabu to that pool. She was always accused of being laidback; of not pushing too hard in a world where every Friday, fortunes were made and marred. She argued that why put in the effort when your life is written by an unseen hand? She was happy with the roles that came her way…
Maachis, Virasat, Kalapaani, Hu Tu Tu
Astitva, Maqbool, Chandni Bar, Cheeni Kum
… And she preferred the shadows to the glare of the spotlight.
One time we shared our fears and fantasies. She believed she’d been a Rajasthani princess in a previous birth. I told her that I wanted to move from the too-far Vashi to a more accessible suburb. “It’ll happen,” she promised. Today, I live just five minutes away. But Tabu, elusive and reclusive, is far away.
On November 4, Tabu turned 40. Quietly, I raised a toast to tinsel town’s Sleeping Beauty. And hoped to see her soon, even if only on screen…