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Tabu: making understatement an art

In Cheeni Kum, Tabu takes several leaps forward yet again to prove her versatility. Arnab Banerjee tells more.

entertainment Updated: Jun 06, 2007 12:58 IST

Ever wondered why we see so little of this talented actress? She has been so selective about her film roles that it’s only rarely that one gets to see a Tabu film. But whenever she does, it's usually an award winning film that she agrees to do.

Her five National Award winning actress aunt Shabana Azmi, who is her "severest critic," is clueless about Tabu giving more nays than nods to a film. "I don't know what's wrong with her," she fumes, at times exasperatedly, though one can sense her admiration for the Hyderabadi actress.

Tabu’s stance is simple: “I do films which move me and most of all, the unit and the director should appeal to me.”

Her rare public appearances and even rarer presence in the glossies are now understandable. Those of her fans who saw Mira Nair's The Namesake a few weeks ago, or debutant director Balakrishnan's Cheeni Kum last week, realise it takes an unusual, and not a run-of-the-mill role that interests her.

In Cheeni Kum, where she shares screen space with none other than the iconic Amitabh Bachchan, she takes several leaps forward yet again to prove her versatility.

As Neena Verma, the charming 34-year-old Indian who, on her visit to London, catches the attention of the 64-year-old confirmed bachelor Buddhadev Gupta (the Big B in a marvellous role), she is cool-headed and charming, all smiles but strong willed.
The reason (she says) she hasn't found Mr Right is because she "has found boys but no man worth his salt to fall in love with."

<b1>If Bachchan's Buddhadev Gupta is no-nonsense, meticulous to a fault and very egoistic, pompous and even arrogant, Tabu as Neena plays a complete foil to this restaurateur whose only passion in life seems to be cooking.

In the first few reels of the film, when Neena begins to embark on a journey of discovery and keeps bumping into this “old man”, one gets to see the lighter side of this intense voyage.

Notice her trying to pull Bachchan's ponytail while walking, her indignation at Bachchan's late arrival to the theatre, or making it clear to her father, Paresh Rawal, that she would marry the man of her choice and no one else.

The fact remains that Tabu's Neena is someone who knows how to test her man's love for her and is never hyper about a situation.

If age doesn't seem to be any bar for the two, the credit for the onscreen chemistry goes to two of the finest actors of our times. Bachchan has proved himself time and again and with several roles specially being written for him, he truly has screenplay writers and directors adding the necessary pizzazz to etch out characters that suit his age.

It's Tabu, who, in comparison, remains underrated, lending a whole new meaning to vintage romance as she gets serenaded by a man older than her father.

At the same time, her father's anger, bitter tone, cynical attitude, awkward unpleasantness and unreasonableness cannot deter her from pursuing what she deems to be 'right' decision for herself.

At one point, she even goes to the extent of rudely retorting to her unrelenting father to go and renounce the world, if that is what he most desires, only to feel sorry the next moment and regret.

<b3>And she does all this with dignity, adding yet another layer to a well-written character by bringing in poise, subtlety and understanding despite providing a matter-of-fact approach throughout to her role to make it look more convincing.

Is she then good at comedy? She could be great. If in a David Dhawan farcical masala Saajan Chale Sasural, she was downright banal, keeping pace with Govinda's buffoonery and crisp mindless banter and giving it back to him in equal measure in an equally absurd manner, in Cheeni Kum, she complements Bachchan stroke for stroke.

Some may argue that unlike Chandni Bar and Astitva, this was one role which asked for less histrionic ability on her part, but that does not seem true. In many scenes, she is poker-faced; she is thus understated and yet, she communicates so powerfully, truly the mark of a great actor?

First Published: Jun 05, 2007 18:41 IST