She has always exhibited a chameleon-like ability to slip into myriad characters.
In the five releases coming up this year, Tabu continues to experiment with various personas.
In Jaal -- The Trap, an out-and-out commercial potboiler that is expected to be her first release this year, she plays the typical Bollywood heroine.
In Vishal Bhardwaj's Mian Maqbool, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, she reprises Lady Macbeth.
Guddu Dhanoa's horror thriller, Hawa, sees her trapped in a haunted house.
This year will also witness Tabu's debut in Bengali with Gautam Ghose's Abar Aranyer, inspired by Satyajit Ray's Aranyer Din Ratri. Tabu plays Sharmila Tagore's US-based daughter, who is traumatised by a bitter romantic relationship.
And, of course, who can forget she has replaced Madhuri Dixit as artist-and-sometime-filmmaker M F Husain's new muse in Meenaxi -- A Tale of Three Cities?
You've been away.
Yes, I've just come back from a 25-day shoot of Mian Maqbool in Lucknow. We have now begun post-production work on the film. It only releases in November and so much seems to have been written about it already! Maybe, it's because I don't play the conventional heroine in it.
But you never have played a conventional heroine...
That is true. But Guddu Dhano's Jaal is a complete commercial potboiler. It has jet-skis, helicopters and my favourite co-star, Sunny Deol. The only difference is, I play a widow in the film. I am very excited about it. It's just that I do the kind of films that excite me; I always do what I please with my roles and that makes people think I am moving away from commercial cinema.
What made you sign Mian Maqbool?
When I was approached by Vishal -- I had earlier worked with him in Maachis (Om Puri, Chandrachur Singh) -- I couldn't say no because the script was great and the co-actors were an absolute treat to work with.
The role is very interesting. It has lots of shades and is different from the regular clichéd Hindi film heroine acts. I signed it a year before we actually began shooting for the film. I wanted to finish my backlog and plan everything so that I could enjoy the shooting.
It has an unusually powerful star cast that includes Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Kapoor, Om Puri and Irfan Khan.
Working in Mian Maqbool was a refreshing experience. Normally, it is only through a trial-and-error process that I learn whether I am doing the right thing. To be with people who have studied the craft, to be with people with so much authority on the subject is completely enriching. It's almost like being in another world altogether.
I was most thrilled when the cast and crew took off for a week to Matheran before we started shooting. Naseer did a small workshop with us there. It helped to break the ice and interact with everybody.
I've always wanted to attend one of Naseer's workshops at NSD and he's always refused, saying I would distract his students. I've always wanted to attend an acting school but I've never been able to, so this was very enriching.
Also, while I've worked with Omji [Puri, in Maachis], I've never worked with any of the others. Irfan Khan is brilliant and this was a great opportunity to connect, learn and just observe their different attitudes to the craft.
How does it feel to be M F Husain's new muse?
I didn't wait for him to finish reading the entire script. Meenaxi -- A Tale of Three Cities is an experience that you interpret.
I have fond memories of working in the film. It's an eye-opening experience work with somebody like Husainsaab who is so passionate about his craft. Just being his voice of expression in Meenaxi has thrilled me no end.
He's very giving -- whether in terms of creative space or even budgets. I've looked through his eyes and understood how much he loves the three cities -- Jaisalmer, Hyderabad and Prague -- we shot in.
Meenaxi was a lesson in liberation. It taught me to be a free spirit and understand the pleasure of my work by being different people, just like Meenaxi is.
What about Vishal Bhardwaj?
He is so gentle that I can't relate to him as my director at all. But he's very clear about his instructions and his script. He knows why he wants a particular line said in a way and why he wants a particular word stressed and nothing can change that.
Also, he is extremely meticulous and professional. Unlike a lot of other sets, you don't have to rack your head. You just have to act. He's already done all the work for you. The call sheets are ready. You know when to get into makeup and what comes next. It's a great atmosphere. He is very sensitive to the needs of an actor, which is what makes working with him such a picnic.
Tell us some more about Hawa and your first Bengali film?
I did Hawa to understand what ghosts and the supernatural are all about. I don't believe in them and wondered how I could essay a part in a project I don't necessarily understand. I play a mother with two children holed up in a haunted house.
In Abar Aranyer, I play a loner called Amrita. The story unravels the reasons for her silence and her aversion to violence. I dubbed for the film myself; it was easier than dubbing in some of other languages I have worked in [laughs].
Some of your co-actors like Reema Sen (Hum Ho Gaye Aapke) in Jaal or Sandhya Shetty (Bas Yun Hi) in Meenaxi seem to be in awe of you. How do you react?
Honestly, all this appreciation makes me feel nervous. I don't know how to react.
Did you plan the releases?
One never can plan. I just did my work and enjoyed shooting for all my films. How the audience reacts to it is really not in my hands; I will only know when they see the film on a Friday. I hope the strike gets over quickly so that they can see me on screen.