There has been a flurry of news items recently claiming that Uma Thurman (Kill Bill) is being approached by Vishal Bharadwaj for his next film. One report said that Uma would reprise the role of the stunt queen Fearless Nadia of the 1930s. Another conjectured that she may play a ‘softer’ role in a period epic opposite Hrithik Roshan.
Tale of two roops
Quite piquantly, in the course of a rambling chat with Uma Thurman at the Cannes festival, I had found she indeed has two roops.
There’s her calm persona, thanks to her Buddhist upbringing. Then, there’s the more volatile self that expresses itself in the avenger angel roles in which Uma has often been typecast, which might well have come in the way of her establishing stable relationships in her private life.<b1>
She has just turned 37. Her father, Robert Thurman, is Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at New York’s ColumbiaUniversity. He is said to be the first Western academician who converted to Buddhism, and he brought up his four kids in the tenets of that religion. The only daughter among them was given the Hindu-Buddhist names: Uma Karuna.
Her mother Nena, on the other hand, has German-Swedish lineage. She was a fashion model.
Uma told me that her mixed upbringing had made her childhood both “exciting and difficult.” It also didn’t help that she’d shot up in all directions during her adolescence.
“I would be teased in school formy long frame and prominent nose,” she laughed. She might have added a bit about her size-11 slippers but didn’t.
Not surprisingly, she was a school drop-out who hid her insecurities in fantasising that she could be many different women.
She moved from staid New England, where she was born, to the more liberal New York, became a model and made her film-debut as a teenager in 1988.<b2>
Her fourth movie, Dangerous Liaisons,fetched her the first round of oohs and aahs. It was a period film with Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer and John Malkovich.
Yet, Uma made hermark in a supporting role. In one scene she undraped her booty.
“That movie sure gave me confidence in my abilities,” she grinned.
C’est la vie
Her first leading role was in Henry and June (1990) based on the real-life story of the controversial American novelist, Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer). Uma played his unscrupulous wife, June.
Her fascination for edgy roles led to the whopper Pulp Fiction (1994). Quentin Tarantino cast Uma as a gangster’s moll, which earned her an Oscar nomination and a firm footing inHollywood. Her subsequent films were Gattica, Batman and Robin and Vatel.<b3>
When Tarantino planned a film around a female avenger, he wrote the part for Uma Thurman.
The tremendous success of the two Kill Bills (2003-04) placed her in theA-list of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses.
The hits got her commercial deals with the French corporates: Lancome and Louis Vuitton.
France (and Cannes) have been warm to Uma.“I feel very much at home here,” she exulted. The Cannes’ award for Pulp Fiction had brought inter-continental glory to the tall, blonde stunner.
In 2000, Cannes opened with Vatel, a French period movie in which Uma played opposite Gerard Depardieu (the
Big B of European cinema).
Last year, the French government made her the Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters. Conferring the award, the Cannes festival director, Gilles Jacob, called her “the favourite actress of an entire generation.”
Uma Thurman takes success as it comes, after having gone through a down curve.
“You could call it my karma,”, she told me.
Her eyes misted as she revealed, “The Dalai Lama was a regular visitor to our house when I was a child. I received his blessings more than once.”<b4>
It is no surprise that she named her first-born Maya, an important concept in Buddhism.
Uma has worked earlier with Indians. Merchant-Ivory Films assigned her the lead role in The Golden Bowl (2000).
The film didn’t make any waves because of a rather convoluted story. It was one of the rare movies from that company which did not get a general release in India.
She was directed by Mira Nair in the TV film Hysterical Blindness (2002). Playing the role of a middle-aged woman in pursuit of happiness, the performance got Uma her only Golden Globe award till now.
La Thurman terms herself rather deprecatingly as “an average gal.” Whether on or off the screen, she’s anything but.
Vishal B, you stand warned !