Art & Culture

The Enigma Called Tabu! Strong roles, stellar acting and killer performances make Tabu unmissable, always

Biswadeep Ghosh
Biswadeep GhoshMay 22, 2019 | 18:16

The Enigma Called Tabu! Strong roles, stellar acting and killer performances make Tabu unmissable, always

Tabu’s craft transcends the film’s script and works immensely well in both masala and off-beat films

No viewer will fall off his or her chair while watching Akiv Ali’s directorial De De Pyaar De (DDPD), a comedy see-sawing between fun and vapidity, mainly revolving around age gap in a romantic relationship.

DDPD has Ajay Devgn, playing a 50-year-old man based in London. Strangely referred to as ‘buddha’ (oldie), the middle-aged man falls in love with a girl half his age (Rakul Preet Singh) who sashays into his life during a bachelor party in London.


Devgn is reasonably understated in the film, while Singh isn’t bad as the cheerful youngster who gets attracted to a much older married man — without knowing that he hasn’t divorced his wife for the most part of the film.

De De Pyaar De: Tabu is the only saving grace in an otherwise frivolous film (Source: YouTube)

The mediocre film's real rescuer, however, is Tabu, who plays Devgn’s estranged wife and makes her first appearance in the last sequence before the interval. Her character has brought up two children. The elder one is a year younger than her father’s newfound love — and about to get married. Shown as an individualistic woman who crumbles in front of her husband in a moment of weakness — in the best sequence of the film — Tabu outshines the others with a performance that has a lot to write home about.

Tabu's presence in DDPD, somehow, reminds the viewer of R Balki’s Cheeni Kum (2007), a far better film in which she played the romantic lead opposite Amitabh Bachchan. The duo shared outstanding chemistry in yet another Bollywood film about age gap in a relationship, which was impressive, also because of Balki's noteworthy direction.


Tabu’s portrayal in ‘Cheeni Kum’ earned widespread acclaim. (Source: Mad Entertainment Ltd.)

Tabu is one of the most accomplished Bollywood actresses. The person sharing this opinion could be a professional critic for whom watching films is work, or the ordinary film-goer who heads towards the theatre every Friday to enjoy a break from daily routine.

The actress's biggest strength is the ease with which she adjusts to diverse challenges her craft offers. She has displayed a high degree of comfort while acting in masala films, multiplex films with urban appeal and small-budget arthouse films directed at the connoisseurs.

In Gulzar’s landmark film Maachis (1996), she is outstanding as the strong female character in a plot based on terrorism that depicts Sikh insurgency after Operation Blue Star, the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the horrific anti-Sikh riots in 1984.

Standing tall in a well-directed film, she won the National Award for Best Actress.

Gulzar’s film ‘Maachis’, which won her a National Award for Best Actress, was a turning point in Tabu’s career. (Source: Eros Entertainment)

Hu Tu Tu (1999), her second outing with Gulzar, shows her as the daughter of a schoolteacher-turned-chief minister mother who detests what the latter symbolises. Essaying a well-sketched character in a film with rich subtext, Tabu gives one of the finest performances of her career.


Madhur Bhandarkar’s Chandni Bar (2001) has Tabu in the role of a bar dancer in Mumbai who has to bear the brunt of tough trials in her journey through life. Simply extraordinary in the film, the actress won yet another National Award for her performance. 

No account of Tabu would be complete without Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool (2003) — the filmmaker’s remarkable take on William Shakespeare’s grand tragedy, Macbeth. As the mistress of an ageing don in the re-imagined story set in the underworld, who asks Maqbool (Bhardwaj’s Macbeth) to kill the old man and take his place both in her life and the world of crime, Tabu showcased the complex intensity of her character with customary self-assurance.

Channeling her inner Macbeth: Tabu’s complex portrayal of Nimmi, mistress of a don, was praiseworthy. (Source: Kaleidoscope Entertainment Pvt Ltd)

In Bhardwaj’s Haider (2014), which is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Bashrat Peer’s memoir Curfewed Night, she plays a version of Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother who shares a rather tumultuous relationship with her son in the play. It is one of those rare films that held this writer spellbound, partly because of Tabu’s gripping performance.

With other significant films like the hugely successful Academy Award-winning film Life of Pi (2012) directed by Ang Lee, Mira Nair’s The Namesake (2006) and the recent thriller Andhadhun (2018) directed by Sriram Raghavan, in her filmography, Tabu, without a shade of doubt, is among the most important actresses of her generation. The actress, in a recent interview, spoke about what attracts her to the kind of films she acts in, “I look for immersive experiences. I try to find work which engages me. There's a desire, an aspiration to do good work.” She added, ”If there's good work, you attract more of it. That keeps you going. It's like a chain reaction."

‘I try to find work which engages me’, said Tabu in a recent interview. (Source: India Today)

Tabu has found very good work during the course of her career, with several films that have brought out the best in her coming her way. What has eluded her is a much higher number of big-budget commercial films. The actress is viewed as a thinking person’s star — whereas the tag that should have been hers is of a people’s superstar who has also delivered top-notch performances in offbeat films.

Besides, many diehard commercial films she has acted in have been pretty ordinary. Think DDPD, which is mild entertainment that can elicit the occasional smile without offering takeaways that can make us giggle or chortle in the middle of the night.

She can use her craft in a way that it works well for both masala and off-beat films, which is truly commendable. In recent years, she has been seen in Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal Again (2017), a big budget multi-starrer of the classic Shetty variety that millions watched without having any enduring memories later. She was also seen in Abhishek Kapoor’s Fitoor (2016), a bland remake of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations that impressed few.

The actress’s career graph is an indication that the Hindi film industry hasn’t offered her as many meaty roles in big budget films as it could have. Far lesser talents have been the chosen ones instead – getting more popularity and widespread visibility.

A skyrocketing career graph: Tabu’s career graph has been extraordinary, despite not being offered enough big-budget films. (Source: India Today)

Tabu, who is in her late 40s, may not get the quintessential young heroine’s role any longer. What she can be offered regularly are strong character roles in films made by the likes of Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra and even Rajkumar Hirani.

Hindi films have become technically superior, but the industry isn’t overflowing with acting talent. As Bollywood sets out to make more films, Tabu’s presence in some of the projects that target the masses and are produced with big investments, will make the viewer infinitely happier.

Last updated: May 22, 2019 | 18:33
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