There's hardly anything that Tabu hasn't tried her hand at when it comes to portraying different characters on screen, and she so seamlessly make each one of them work, too. Not many people know that she began her career as an actor with a Telugu film, Coolie No 1 20 years ago, which later became the inspiration for David Dhawan's Coolie No 1, again remade recently with Varun Dhawan in the lead role. And since then, there's no genre this Padma Shri awardee hasn't experimented with.
Excerpts from an interview as she enters her 30th year:
Timeless is one word people attach to you, after all these years. How does that make you feel?
(laughs) I don't know how to be otherwise. I take it as a big compliment, I don't feel so much time has gone by.
From Prem (1995), to Golmaal Again (2017), has your reason for taking up a project changed, or you're still the same Tabu who started off three decades ago?
I feel I'm the same person, I don't know how people perceive me now. More or less, my reasons to do a film, or genres have never differentiated. I started my career with films like Prem, then Hu Tu Tu, Biwi No 1 (both 1999), Hera Pheri (2000), Maqbool (2003), Haider (2014), I think it's not been conscious or planned. Whatever the things that came my way, if I liked it and felt okay, I did it, of course provided the role is good and didn't take away from whatever I was at that point. I want to do all genres, sometimes I might not be lucky to get films. It's always been about different experiences with different people. It was not conscious.
International projects such as The Namesake, Life of Pi, or the latest, A Suitable Boy with Mira Nair, too gravitated towards you. Do you feel that you get better roles in the West or there is a difference?
Not much. Fortunately, I've always got important roles in whatever projects that have come to me. Also, the stories were such, with good and important parts. From all the stuff that has come to me, the common thread has been that they were all important, significant parts.
2021 also marks 25 years of your first National Award for Maachis. How much importance do you attach to awards?
It'll not be right for me to say I don't feel happy when I receive awards, everyone does. But I'm sure, at least for me, the relationship you have with awards, and the gratification, it changes or alters over a period of time. When I got the National Award for Maachis, it was something I couldn't believe. I was like how could this be happening for me? I was very young, and in those times, it wasn't so common for young actors, I was just five years into my career. I didn't think, 'Maine itna achha kaam kiya ki National Award mil jaaye!' Somehow, Gulzar sahab (director) told me much later he was always confident. I didn't even know the process. He was very confident and the happiest, also because we did it with so much fun. We were kids, and Gulzar sahab father figure and mentor.
I was getting to discover my creative process with him, and doing such a significant role, I had so much pride in that. Pata hi nahi chala, aur National Award mila. Of course, you grow and are not stuck there. You keep growing and get other awards. Finally, it's your craft and work that will stay. If awards have to happen, they will, and if it doesn't then I really feel it should not make us all competitive or become the reason for comparative projection of people. Of course, there is a lot of value I give to my awards.