Tabu Image Credit: Supplied

Indian actress Tabu has stood the test of time in Bollywood and can play a diabolical killer (‘Andhadhun’) and a resilient mother (‘The Namesake’) with agility and ease.

She’s a true star, a character actor, and a consummate performer.

While billions of movie-mad fans are keenly aware of her versatility after her work with India’s celebrated auteurs like directors Vishal Bharadwaj, Mira Nair and Sriram Raghavan, Tabu is blissfully unaware of her own charisma and on-screen magnetism.

Her last film and crackling horror-comedy, ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ out on Netflix now, was a monster hit at the box-office, collecting more than Rs2 billion worldwide as per its producers T-series.

Tabu undeniably forms the spine of this rib-tickling entertainer and her dual turn as an evil/sweet twin was one of the highlights of this Anees Bazmee directorial, also starring Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani.

“I can’t find any words to describe myself or put adjectives to myself. I can’t decode it,” said Tabu in an interview with Gulf News, when asked about the secret to her success.

She made her debut as a child artiste when she was 12 with Dev Anand in ‘Hum Naujawan’ and as an adult topped it off with a string of powerful roles in films such as ‘Chandini Bar’, ‘Cheeni Kum’ and ‘Maqbool’.

Her major role as an adult was in Telugu film ‘Coolie No 1’ in 1991.

“It’s the people who can have an assessment and conclusion of what I am like and what kind of an actor I am,” she added. And, that’s the beauty of Tabu who is one of Bollywood’s powerhouse performers. Over the years, the gifted niece of veteran actors Shabana and Tanvi Azmi has earned enough screen credit to merit a viewing of a film if she features in it — no matter how miniscule or substantial her role.

And, she’s riding high after the stupendous success of ‘BB2’ in a Hindi film industry that has seen a debilitating drought of blockbusters in the last two years due to a combination of factors like the global pandemic and lack of strong writing in star-driven films.

“To know happiness like this for something you have worked so hard … That film was a new genre and a new zone for me. It was truly my characters’ story. It was the most intense part of that story too and so it just feels so amazing to be appreciated,” said Tabu.

Tabu in 'Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2'
Tabu in 'Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2' Image Credit: IMdB

At the risk of giving spoilers to her hit horror-comedy, the 51-year-old Tabu plays diametrically opposite twins Manjulika (the wicked half) and the amiable Anjulika. Their contrasting nature and personalities are brought to life with incredible verve and vivacity by Tabu. But she’s just kicked that a director like Bazmee approached her for his bombastic brand of cinema.

“The fact that he came to me with this film to play its central characters felt so amazing. I have been a big fan of his films and his writing. With this film, he handed over this completely new world for me to explore. Anees always has his finger on the pulse of what people find entertaining and he edits his own films. It’s a joy to work with those who know their craft so well,” said Tabu.

To see a National Award-winning actress like Tabu be a part of a Bazmee film can be compared to someone as experienced as Hollywood’s Meryl Streep being a part of a crowd-pleaser like ‘Dumb & Dumber’. Bazmee’s films thrive on low-brow humour and take pride in their absurd capers filled with buffoonery. But Tabu, a chameleon artist, doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t pretend to be this intellectual snob when it comes to her work. Whether it’s a slapstick spook comedy like ‘BB2’ or an intense drama like ‘Maqbool’ in which she plays a guilt-ridden lover in Vishal Bharadwaj’s ‘Macbeth’ set in Mumbai, Tabu says she looks at films as ways to experiment as an actor.

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Tabu Image Credit: Supplied

“Again, I can’t decode or know the reason why they all care to watch me or my films… All I can is that I have got some great roles and some great characters have come my way. I have been a part of some really, really fantastic films,” said Tabu.

Her solid of work filled with gems like ‘Andhadhun’ in which she played a warped and wicked temptress. Her modus operandi is simple.

“All I can say is that I do my work with utmost sincerity. I go on time and I am terribly punctual and I have always tried to give my best to my work,” said Tabu. She’s a proud stickler for time and discipline, and that’s something of a rarity in Bollywood who are notoriously tardy.

Tabu in 'Andhadhun'
Tabu in 'Andhadhun' Image Credit: Supplied

“A lot of people are terribly punctual and some are not. And that’s frustrating. But I was born with being punctual. I come from a convent and you know how it is. If you are late, you wouldn’t be allowed entry into the school and so I have this thing about being on time for shooting,” said Tabu.

She’s also fiercely diplomatic and hates being drawn into any kind of controversies or scandals. When this journalist sought her opinion on South Indian films giving Bollywood a stiff competition at the box-office across India, Tabu categorically stated that she doesn’t want to be attached to that debate. She just wants her work to speak for herself and prefers to keep her head down at other times.

While no one can deny her talent in award-winning films, she has also accepted films that ended up as damp squibs at the box-office. For instance, she flew down to Dubai to film portions of Salman Khan’s ‘Jai Ho’ (2014) and many, including us, wondered why a seasoned actress like Tabu would be a part of such a harebrained feature. But for Tabu, choosing films and roles aren’t merely transactional. She isn’t clinical and cold while taking such calls.

“I have done so many films with Salman because we have a personal equation. We have known each other forever and his family is like my own family. He considers me a part of his family. And he’s somebody who will always be there for me … He’s a non-negotiable relationship in my life. I will continue to work with him as long as there are opportunities,” explained Tabu.

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Salman Khan Image Credit: PTI

She enjoys a similar equation with celebrated director Vishal Bharadwaj. His son Aasmaan Bharadwaj is making his debut with ‘Kuttey’ and Tabu is a natural fit in this star-studded thriller. She's also part of Vishal's new production and spy thriller 'Khufiyan', based on the popular espionage novel 'Escape to Nowhere' by Amar Bhushan.

“His sensibilities, the kind of vision he has, and how he tells his stories is his greatest USP [Unique Selling Proposition] … He remains true to his vision and he has never digressed or tried to be another person. He creates a world of his own and he has his own space. And we both have evolved so much over time,” said Tabu. Being a part of his son’s directorial debut was symbolic of her wanting to work with ‘new people’ and ‘newer talent’. It’s an extended cameo.

“He always saw me very differently in every film and in ‘Kuttey’ — his son’s films — I will be seen in a different light … I have so much trust in him that I didn’t even have to hear the story of the whole film. He always has something interesting for me,” said Tabu.

Late actor Irrfan Khan and Tabu in director Vishal Bharadwaj's 'Maqbool' Image Credit: Supplied

Personal connections and bonds matter to this actress, who doesn’t network like other actors in Bollywood. She’s rarely seen with an entourage and doesn’t conduct herself like a diva. There’s a quiet dignity about her that’s tenable.

“While it’s great to have an entourage, you don’t really need an entourage to tell you what to wear and what not to wear. We know ourselves, our bodies, our faces long enough to know and understand what we should wear,” said Tabu with a laugh.

She remembers how she had gone all bling for Bollywood movie mogul Karan Johar’s epic 50th bash in Mumbai.

Tabu goes bling at Karan Johar's party
Tabu goes bling at Karan Johar's 50th bash Image Credit: Supplied

“I knew what I wore has to match Karan’s profile. He made sure he send us invites saying ‘black-tie bling’ and he means it. I knew I could let go and go as much bling as I want,” said Tabu.

It was one of those rare times where we saw Tabu wear a sparkling blue sari with statement diamond earrings and work the party circuit and mingle with Bollywood’s social set. But that’s never the norm for her.

Her work and films is what gives her sense of accomplishment.

“This industry can be brutal, but it can also be very exhilarating. Be prepared to enjoy everything and embrace it all. Don’t over think it, just do it or don’t do it. It’s all cool … I want to make every role of mine a dream role.”

All depends on what kind of work you’re being offered. The reason why I did ‘The Namesake’ and ‘Life of Pi’ was because my characters were important and not because they were Hollywood films. The material matters to me and what I can do with that material matters

- Tabu when asked if she would court Hollywood with renewed vigour.

Don’t Miss It!

‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ is streaming on Netflix now