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April 4, 1997


"Commercial films can get you only so far"

TabuWhen one saw her in Prem, she came across as tubby - but no one faulted her acting.

And it is this innate ability of hers that has earned her dream roles with film-makers of the calibre of Mani Rathnam and Priyadarshan, to name only two.

Rated one of the most level-headed of today's rising stars, Tabbu spoke to Sharmila Taliculam, for Rediff On The NeT, on a rare off day. Excerpts:

You seem relaxed, are you taking a break from shooting?

Sort of. Actually, I am going to Hyderabad for a shoot, I was just taking a few days break before that.

Your schedule is very hectic, judging by the difficulty we had tracking you down. How much longer do you expect this pace to keep up?

At least till the end of the year, even next year, it's going to be like this. I am not sure about the situation after that - it depends on the films I sign. I've been getting a lot of offers, but I am being selective about the roles I pick.

Selective, how? On what do you base your role selection?

First director, then the role, in that order. I have not done any film where my role didn't make sense. I have worked with good directors, and I consider myself very lucky because I think that it is very important.

Did you do Kalapani because it was directed by Priyadarshan? You don't have much of a role in the film...

Oh, you've seen the film already! Yeah, lengthwise, it was not good, but as a role I thought it was. Basically, the film was not a love story, it was about the freedom struggle. But my character has a key role to play in the film, I liked the way Priyan had conceived it. I particularly liked the last scene in the film. The film has been appreciated a lot and whatever scenes I have, I think they are brilliant. This film, I reckon, is a feather in my cap.

Do you expect it to get you an award?

Tabu I don't know. I have never done any film where I expected anything of the kind. I have always tried to put in my best. See, I am my biggest critic and if I am happy with my role, then that's my award.

Given the backdrop of the film and its ambience, do you see it working in Hindi?

I don't know. I guess it should, because the subject is so universal. I hope so, anyway.

How did you get picked for the film?

I was shooting with Priyan for Prem's climax, and he asked me whether I would be interested in the film. He did tell me that it was not the usual commercial film and that my role is a small one, but the description of the character hooked me. I knew that it would be an extraordinary film. I worked with some of the best talents in the industry - Santosh Sivan as the cameraman, Priyan of course and Lal (Mohanlal) as my co-star, what more could I ask for? It was a very exciting set-up. My career took a drastic turn after that, I was recognised as an actress.

Conversely, couldn't it be that doing offbeat films like Maachisand Kalapaniso early in your career can prove harmful?

No. I never found doing these kind of films risky. I don't know about others, but I have always done films which I am comfortable with, it's instinctive with me. If I feel that a particular role is good, then I do it regardless of whether it turns into a hit or a flop. My only consideration is that I should want to do it. Luckily, I have got films, roles, people whom I loved working with and I can see the results. Kalapani has won seven awards, I feel as though I myself won the award. In any event, it has enhanced my career, so I will continue doing off-beat films too.

You are not worried about being slotted into some sort of off-beat image?

I am sure I won't be, as long as I manage to strike the balance between the commercial and the off-beat. I have done Saajan Chale Sasural with David Dhawan and I am doing Gulzarsaab's film too. I am doing Mani's (Rathnam) film and Kunjumon's film in Tamil, both commercial.

I try not to get typecast in any role, any image, I feel I can do justice to every kind of role, so why not make the best of it? See, commercial films alone can get you only so far, if you want to last as an actress then you have to put in that extra bit of investment by doing off-beat films too.

You mentioned Mani Rathnam, what is his film all about?

Mani's film is a little political, I can't reveal the story because Mani doesn't like it. The only thing I can tell you is that my role in the film is great. It's very different from my other roles, the ones I have done so far.

How different is it working for the South directors as compared to the ones in Bombay?

See, you cannot generalise like this. We do have people here in Bombay who are extremely organised. At least, I have worked with the organised ones. I am sure there are disorganised people in the south too, but I think the image of the south film industry is that of being organised. I have never felt the difference at all.

Flashback time - how did you get into acting?

The first film I worked in was Dev Anand's Hum Naujawan.Then I went back to school and college. After that, Shekhar (Kapur) got me Prem.That's how my career began. See, my uncle was a cameraman and got a national award for his first film and his son, Sameer Arya, is also a cameraman. Then there's my aunt, Shabana (Azmi), and her parents - the thing is I've always had talented people around me, all of whom have encouraged me to do my best in whatever I was interested in.

in Maachis with Chandrachur SinghShabana has said that you are better in the Kalapani and Maachis roles than in the Ruk Ruk ones?

That's her opinion, and I think she is right because others also think as she does. I do ask her for her advise on the films that I am doing. She is known as an actress, and I would like to earn a measure of the same sort of fame. The only difference is that I clicked in commercial cinema too. But apart from films, I like the way she has channelised her life, I think it's a big acheivement. I am sure even I can do it. It's just that I am a bit lazy and I don't take myself seriously. But I will do her and my family proud, I am sure.

Judging by the way you've slimmed down, are you dieting?

No, I am not. It's just that I have lost weight now. I have been out of Bombay for such a long time that I don't eat well. No ghar ka khaana.I have over worked. I have not had a break of even a day in a long time - and that kind of routine itself is a good weight-loss technique. But it's good, I think I needed to lose some anyway.

Do you like doing those dance numbers?

Oh, I love dancing. There is no effort while I am dancing, it comes very naturally to me. I have not learnt dancing as such, but I love it anyway. Tu chor main sipahi had a fast number, and I loved every minute of it. I know I dance well. Akshay and I make a nice pair. So it was fun.

You don't seem to have made any friends within the industry?

I am not very social, I don't party. So I guess I have not made friends within the industry. Also, it's very difficult for me to make friends. I am happy the way I am.

And outside the industry?

I have a few friends outside the industry that I am very close to. I have one who's so non-filmi that she's not even allowed to go out. I am content with these friends, and with my family. If I am not shooting, you will always find me at home. I love being home. If I am out, then it's only to my friend's place in Bandra. That's it.

Are you the traditional, conservative type?

No, I am not conservative, never have been. Neither am I the kind to force people into doing things I don't believe in myself. I stick to the principles, the values I have, not by popular perception of what is right and what is wrong. You have to set your own standards, otherwise it becomes very confusing.

How important is a relationship to you?

I feel that everybody is essentially a loner. Ultimately, its your life and you have to fight your own battles. You are alone in whatever you do. But you cannot live without relationships. There are certain people you need, certain bonds you have, certain likes you share with somebody. It's very important to have the right people around. I cannot make friends because I feel that there are very few people who understand you, and every relationship is basically about understanding. If I understand you, then I am worth being your friend.

What about marriage?

What about it? Not for another couple of years, at least.

And will it be with Sajid Nadiadwala?

Yeah, we are seeing each other at the moment. But marriage is not on the cards right now.

During the making of Prem, you had lots of problems - you walked out, then walked back in, all kinds of things. So tell me, If Boney Kapoor had to offer you a film now, would you accept it?

Definitely, why not? Premwas one of my best films and I had a very good role - in fact a double role, and that too at such an early stage in my career. It was Premthat got me into the big league, and people started taking me seriously as an actress because of my performance in it. So yes, if he were to offer me another role, I would accept it.

So why do think it flopped?

I don't know, really. But you can't say anything about any film. I don't know why Vijaypath was a hit and Prem a flop. If we know what clicks, then we would make only such films, right? I don't know what it is that clicks, but it is something that we still haven't found a formula for.

So do the flops affect you very much?

They don't affect me at all. If a film is a hit, then obviously I am glad, that's it. Inspite of my flops, I am doing good films. So I have no reason to complain. I have lost nothing because of it. I have the biggest films in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi... I feel that your work is what matters, nothing else.

What about wanting to be the number one in the industry?

I just want to do good work and be known as a good actress. A star actress.

So what are your future plans?

I want to direct a film. But first I have to learn a lot, which I plan to do by assisting either Mani Rathnam or Priyan, somebody whom I know. I am shooting a song for television based on a poem I have written. I write a lot, I do poetry. Gulzarsaab promised me that he would publish my poems. He loves them and encourages me all the time. I write in English, but soon, I hope to write in Urdu or Hindi. I thank God for giving me these good habits. I like reading, too. I read a lot of non-fiction, like autobiographies of important people. I will start shooting the song when I get some time. People have to take me seriously first.