The Tribune - Spectrum

, August 4, 2002

In the spotlight
She puts no bar on sensible roles
Lakshmi Menon

Tabu got under the skin of the character of a dancing girl to give an award-winning performance in Chandni Bar
Tabu got under the skin of the character of a dancing girl to give an award-winning performance in Chandni Bar

SHE has won the National Film Award for Best Actress, made hits out of small-budget movies and recently, sat for her first portrait with M.F. Husain in Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities. Yet, ask Tabu, and she maintains that she is not one to be deliberately breaking the rules of the game.

"It is only that I tend to gravitate towards characters that are real," she explains. "I have no problems with larger than life roles and masala films. I have been doing those all my life and I will continue to do them, but my personal preference is for roles that offer me some scope to perform."

Long before Karisma Kapoor attempted Zubeida and Raveena Tandon Daman, Tabu had bridged the gap between mainstream Hindi cinema and its arty counterpart with some outstanding films like Maachis, Hu Tu Tu, Astitva, Viraasat and Chandni Bar.

"What are Maachis and Viraasat, if not sensible, commercial films?" asks Madhur Bhandarkar, who directed her in Chandni Bar. "She is the one all other actresses ought to thank. She is the reason why the glamour girls are now being offered meaty, dramatic roles."


Says Mahesh Manjrekar, director of Astitva: "No actress can bring the creative edge to a role the way Tabu does. She is both imaginative and thorough. You can talk to her about a character’s graph and she’ll work on it with you. She’s not one of those actresses who will just follow your orders."

Bhandarkar reveals that many of the mannerisms and expressions she lent to the character of a dancing girl she played in Chandni Bar were not in the original script. Before every shot, she would sit with the director, try to understand the scene, deliberate her part and only after weighing all options for her act, would she face the camera. Invariably, she would give a perfect take in the first instance.

This probing nature has gone down well with directors ranging from Gulzar and Mani Ratnam to Kamal Haasan, Priyadarshan, Govind Nihalani, Sooraj Barjatya, J.P. Dutta, David Dhawan, Rajiv Menon and Kalpana Lajmi. As she says, no director has ever asked her to shut up.

"Fortunately for me, I haven’t worked with the kind of filmmakers who find an actor’s queries intrusive," she elaborates. "Every director in whose film I have acted, has been more than willing to work on my role with me. It’s always been a joint effort."

In films like Maachis, Astitva and Chandni Bar, she found her roles challenging enough to work for virtually nothing. "I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle," she says. "I can afford to take a pay cut when I come across material that stimulates me to such a degree."

At the same time, she will not refuse taking mainstream parts as well. For David Dhawan’s Biwi No 1, she signed up knowing well that she would have play second fiddle to Karisma Kapoor. Likewise, for J.P. Dutta’s Border, the fact that she could not get more than three minutes screen time did not bother her.

But then, what sets her apart from others in the same bracket is the ability to draw in the crowds on the strength of her name alone. "She is like an ISI mark on a film," distributor Shyam Shroff points out. "I doubt if Astitva or Chandni Bar would ever have received the kind of attention they did if any other actress was to be cast."

Tabu characteristically underplays the compliments: "It’s just plain luck. I guess the audience credits me with a little sensibility. So they are curious to know the films I do. The day I become predictable, they will stop coming to see my films." MF

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