She is the thinking man's favourite actress. But she began, like all the girls in showbiz do, as just another glamorous prop.
Today, she has matured into one of our finest and most admired heroines. Enacting roles that others would easily die for. What makes Tabu so amazingly different, so unique? What makes her the hottest actress around? Pritish Nandy finds out.
Are you happy with the kind of roles you get these days? They are very different and they are winning you a different kind of adulation from what you got when you started off?
I am very happy. I am happy not only with the kind of roles I get and do. I am happy even with the kind of roles I get and do not do. I am happy. Period. I take each day as it comes. I have decided to do fewer films. In fact, currently I am only working on two films. One of them is Meghna Gulzar's film, which has a wonderful script and features me along with Sushmita Sen. After I finish these two films, I want to take a longish break.
For how long?
For at least four to five months. I want to go away and spend some time with myself somewhere else in the world. That is very important for me at this phase of my career, when so much is happening to me and around me. I am enjoying it all but I also want to take a break, Pritish. I am a person who is at peace with myself. So it is not difficult for me to take a break and spend time with me.
Why such a long break at the peak of your career? Are you pregnant?
You are right. This is exactly the kind of questions I have to face simply because I want to be with myself. No one is actually prepared to understand that sometimes a person needs to take a break and opt out. Even if it happens to be in mid-career. I want to spend time with my family, with my cousins in San Jose.
My sister is married to this computer whiz out there, the Healtheon guy. I want to go to New York and may be do a course out there in one of the colleges. Then there is Spain. I love the thought of going there. There is so much to do, so much to see, to discover. I enjoy working in the movies but that is not my entire life. I have many more interests. I seek many more joys that are not exactly part of this career as an actress.
With Astitva getting you such rave reviews as an actress, do you feel your career as a typical Hindi filmstar is over? That you are now moving in an entirely new direction, you are maturing as a performer, an actress?
I am lucky with the roles that are coming my way. You are right, the star roles are now going to younger and younger girls. That is the amazing thing about this industry. It is actually regressing in a sense. If you think about the films that Guru Dutt once made, the Dev Anand and Vijay Anand made, don't you feel that the matured heroine is losing out?
Where are the Waheeda Rehman-and Meena Kumari-kind-of-roles? We are only making more and more teenybopper romances and no one is ready to explore more serious, more mature relationships?
You see them on television, however. How come cinema is regressing while television is becoming more mature, more realistic, less embarrassed to explore the complexities of adult behaviour?
It has something to do with the kind of stories we choose. Not many producers and directors are ready to experiment with new ideas. They would rather stick to the tried and tested model and the prevalent star system. Of course, they protest against it all the time but, when it comes to breaking out of this vicious circle, they are far too scared. In fact, they encourage and nurture it themselves.
So why should the stars complain? They are getting lots of money and they can pick and choose the directors they want. They are getting the best of both worlds. If the cinemagoer gets what he deserves, why blame the stars? What we need is to break out of this system. We need, I guess, more producers ready to take risks, more creatively ambitious directors who are prepared to try out new themes, new idea.
Our heroines in popular films are getting younger and younger. As in, say Mohabbatein. How do you expect the scripts to be more interesting? How is it possible to bring in a more adult, more mature view of life? Or are we going to be stuck forever with this kind of chewing gum for the eyes? Pretty pictures. Nice dressed. Lots of well-toned bodies. Hummable tunes. Nothing that you can remember once you have left the hall.
All over the world, actors and actresses are chosen for their performing skills. Not how they look or what they wear. It is all about how they act, how they emote. Why is Night Shyamalan such a fine director? It is the quality of his mind. He must have worked the entire script out backwards. No wonder Bruce Willis agreed to do the role. It was a truly amazing film. I screamed when I figured out the denouement.
There are so many wonderful films being made everywhere, including in Hollywood. There is nothing wrong with commercial cinema if it is made well. In fact, if you ask me, the Hindi film industry has also produced some truly outstanding works over the years. Films that we should be proud of. Like Pyaasa. Like Kaagaz Ke Phool. These are all great films, mature films, films with a vision. We need more films like that to be made.
We need producers and directors with vision. Why can't we make films like The Bridges of Madison Country or On Golden Pond? Imagine Ashok Kumar and Nadira acting together! It would be amazing!
Are you going for a shoot now?
No, I am going home. I have just done ten days of shooting and driven for six hours before catching this flight from Delhi. I want to go home now and rest. In fact, I am not even working tomorrow (November 4) since it is my birthday.
What will you do?
Stay at home. I will read, write, chat with my mom. Take time off. I am never embarrassed to relax. I am not part of any rat race. I am very happy to be by myself.
What are you writing? A book? An autobiographical book?
Yes, I guess so. But it may not be entirely autobiographical. It is too fragmented yet to say what kind of book it is going to be. It is in bits and pieces. Three poems, stories, anecdotes, scribbles, dialogues with myself. A kind of strange diary that I have kept over the years. I am not sure it will be a book in the sense that we describe a novel or a collection of short stories. but it will be an experiment in creative writing. Who knows, maybe it will be interesting to read. If it isn't, I will not publish it.