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March 12, 1999


To describe how Tabu transformed from a starlet into a glamorous heroine is quite easy. Go in this order: Maachis, Sazaa-E-Kalapani, Darmiyaan, Virasat and Hu Tu Tu.

That is the upper end of her career of course, but Tabu's first film was Dev Anand's Hum Naujawan aeons ago, when she was but a child. And then she came back as a heroine in Prem.

But there she tripped up. The film, and an off-screen attachment to hero Sanjay Kapoor, did her career a great deal of damage. It was only with Pehla Pehla Pyar that Tabassum Hashmi made her name. But she had learnt by then that she had one major handicap...

"They'd all look at my height and laugh. I asked one producer what was so funny about me. They said I was not funny, but that I'd make them look funny if I was paired with a short hero."

Click for a bigger pic She even lost Indra Kumar's Mann opposite Aamir Khan, and Manisha took over. The objection raised was that she was two inches taller than her hero.

"I've acted with shorter heroes and no one has objected. May be there are still some people who think a heroine should always be shorter than the hero, though, in real life, I know many wives who tower over their husbands and nobody considers the couple abnormal. They lead perfectly happy lives. I am proud of my height.

"My fans tell me my height is my biggest asset. I don't care if the heroes are short. That's their problem," she says with a glint of anger. Then she laughs, "Jaane do na!"

People who know Tabu well find her a misfit in Bollywood. She is so unfilmi that she doesn't even bother to check if she has make-up on for an interview so that the scribes will have something to say about her looks.

But then, Tabu is a genuine stunner now, a far cry from the plump and uncertain girl who first made her way into the industry. She know she doesn't need any accessories to look good.

She was perched on a small stool, and dressed in a simple light green churidar when answering our questions. While very quick to smile, Tabu also blushes furiously when embarrassed.

Click for a bigger pic The television is on and she is watching the Sri Lanka-Pakistan match.

"They don't want India to enter the final," she says knowledgeably. So she does know a lot about cricket.

"Yeah, and Ravi Shastri is my favourite cricketer," she says, adding hastily, "I also like his commentary." Of course, you say, looking over the mush and smooch novels spread across her table. Rather a romantic, aren't you, we ask.

"Yes," she giggles. And goes on to discuss the importance of values and things of that ilk.

"I am a middle-class girl and proud of it. I have to thank my mother and sister for the way they brought me up. I have been close to my family only because of my middle-class upbringing.

"Even didi [elder sister Farha] and jiju [brother-in-law Vindoo] get along well despite a thousand problems only because even she has been exposed to certain values in a simple middle-class family. Click for a bigger pic

"Our mother had brought us up single-handedly, undergoing tremendous hardships. That's what made both of us fit to face the world." One thing the family never lacked though was in talent. Its members include film personalities like Kaifi Azmi, Shaukat Azmi, Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Baba Azmi, Tanvi Azmi and Sulabha Arya.

Height and family dealt with, we shift to matters more relevant to her career. About the role of a prostitute she essayed in Jeet a role akin to that of Rekha in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar.

There too she brings in a personal element. She says fiance Sajid Nadiadwala had a big hand in her doing the role that she was initially a little leery of. She ended up with accolades for the performance.

"I don't mind doing any film as long as I like the role. I need to make sure that the film suits my tastes and liking. Nothing else is a problem after that."

We were still a little disapproving of what we thought was a silly film, 2001 a few months ago. What, we wondered, was the national award winner for Maachis doing here? But she has no problems with the role.

Click for a bigger pic "I am not ashamed of doing that film," Tabu says firmly. "I had a very good role and I delivered was expected of me. The hero was a newcomer, but even Jackie [Shroff] was there.

"I've never been able to distinguish between art and masala films. In my opinion when a so-called art film becomes successful, it is called commercial. Personally, I want to strike a right balance between the two. I have every reason to believe that I am managing well." And she smiles gloriously.

That, she says, is why she delighted in films like Tu Chor Mein Sipahi with Akshay Kumar and Saajan Chale Sasuraal with Govinda, despite having to engage in those lurid pelvic thrusts. And who can one forget those thunder thighs in the Ruk ruk ruk number. But she doesn't think it was so bad. Quite the contrary.

"Yeah, Ruk ruk ruk was indeed a high point in my career. That one dance changed a lot of things for me. People started believing I could dance well. After Prem and Pehla Pehla Pyar ended up not doing too well, I needed something good. And that's I got through Vijaypath and the Ruk ruk ruk number."

Though not one of the tough industry numbers, Tabu hasn't quite opted for domesticity yet. Which is why Nadiadwala is still waiting while she sees her way through her career. Of course, she doesn't quite discount working after marriage either. We move on to her upcoming films and immediately mess up.

For speaking about Sooraj Barjatya's Hum Saath Saath Hain immediately brought up the topic of the black buck that Salman Khan and Saif Ali Khan shot in Rajasthan. And Tabu was also there, we'd been told.

"Please, I am not involved in it, please don't mention it. It makes me feel sick," she says with finality. She prefers to speak of Govind Nihalani's Takshak in which she says, she has a "very strong role of a woman who stands up for her rights".

There are many other films in her kitty. Priyadarshan's Raftaar, Nadiadwala's Chandralekha, Mehul Kumar's Kohraam, Satish Kaushik's Bus Conductor with Anil Kapoor, Chhalia with Ajay Devgan, Biwi No 1 with Anil Kapoor and Salman Khan, N Chandra's Shikari with Govinda and Karisma Kapoor...

Click for a bigger pic But Tabu prefers to speak of a film she yet doesn't have in hand.

"Gulzarsaab told me I will be there in his next film too. He has called me his daughter, na? So he will take me in every film he does."

We realise we Are treading on holy ground here, but we still inquire what then happened to Hu Tu Tu? If Maachis, which discussed a negative solution could work, why hadn't Gulzar's latest?

"I don't think people liked the last scene even though it went down very well in terms of the script and the story. They could accept Maachis... But they couldn't do it here [in Maharashtra]," she says.

And since she's looking a little testy by now, we decided it was time we left. And when we turned back a last time, that huge smile was back there on display again. Ah, well

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