In a year where hyper masculinity ruled box office, one woman wore the crown. Twice. Tabu, one of the most celebrated artistes of recent times, delivered two consecutive successes with horror comedy Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 and thriller Drishyam 2, collectively netting more than Rs 350 cr in India– making her the only Bollywood star to achieve the figure in 2022.
Perched on a couch in her living space–with a happy, excited energy enveloping her–the actor pinches herself on being reminded of her golden run. She insists her phenomenal year is a result of team effort and her own desire to never get complacent. “I can’t calculate my career, but I can’t sit on my past laurels either.”
In an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, the actor opens up about her idea of success, her growing fan following, and what is it being like Tabu.
How do you look at 2022 for you?
Eventful, challenging, tough, because I was doing four-five films at the same time. I worked really hard in the last one and a half years, and all of us in the team of the films. There was COVID, routine testing, then people getting COVID. It was a scenario we weren’t accustomed to. But I was enjoying my work— from Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Khufiya, Kuttey, Drishyam 2.
I feel the happiest with Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 and Drishyam 2’s success because we worked really hard for it. Bhool Bhulaiyaa was physically very challenging for me, I did everything possible an actor can do: from romance, dance, action, horror, double role to a ghost! The first time I heard one line of the film, I knew the film belongs to Anjulika- Manjulika. In fact, Manjulika had the ‘hero’ entry in the film. It’s exciting to experience all of this in your career.
While Drishyam felt like my own home ground! Back then, not many films were made in this space, especially with established names. I didn’t even expect there would be a sequel. But the Hindi adaptation was done so well. I expected it to go big, but this has exceeded my expectations. I think my choices have worked for me.
Is there something about success that you learnt early in your career?
It’s a gamble, you can’t take it for granted and can never be sure of success. Especially in the movies, where so many factors come into play. Some people make calculations and predictions that have come out true for them but I’m very, very scared of those calculations and to take success for granted, to think that it’ll happen again. That’s when destiny surprises you. You have to celebrate success and everyone who has been a part of it, be grateful and gracious. I can’t rest on my past laurels either. Be happy but move on to the next.
How do you celebrate your success?
It’s when my friends call me from all over the world, my relatives and my family watch my films, send me photos of themselves standing at the theatre. I’ve a friend in Dubai, Chandrika, she runs a beauty salon. So, she will take all the 50 girls to the theatre, cheer for me and send me videos! These are the things which are most important to me.
Recently at an event, Kiara Advani said you were the ‘golden girl’ of Bollywood. That’s also the larger sentiment– that this year belongs to you.
My God (Long pause). It was very sweet of Kiara. I feel fortunate, happy that people are giving me that place, saying those things about me. I feel honoured that they are really celebrating me. I feel there’s this genuine love and affection for me. It just fills my heart with so much gratitude.
Where does this sense of security, this Zen-like state come from?
Must be my personality only. People who have known me for years have known me to be like this. I don’t think I’ve changed at all. I’ve held on to my fundamental endeavor to do good work and be better at it. It’s an anchoring factor in me, and it’s impossible for me to let go of.
Are you aware that a lot of young boys and girls are your ardent admirers; they call you ‘queen’, ‘icon’, ‘goddess’. It’s fascinating that they’re revisiting your earlier works.
It makes me feel exhilarated. I would love to meet all of them and appreciate their love and give them my love. It makes you feel like your whole journey has meant a lot to people. Thanks to all these filmmakers for making those films and for giving me a place which led me to find my own space, with work which has reached out to people. Some of my films, like Namesake and Maqbool were perhaps ahead of their times so now when people revisit, I can imagine them connecting to those films.
Something wonderful also happened this year which surprised people: you were spotted at Karan Johar’s 50th birthday party. Normally, one doesn’t see you at such gatherings.
(Laughs) See, for two years I don’t think anyone was partying, so I wasn’t alone. Karan is a very, very old friend; I’ve known him since before he became a director. I always attend any party he invites me to. I enjoy going to his parties.
At this stage of your career, what are you looking for?
It’s not that I want to reach a certain place. That was not my goal, ever. I just want to reach a certain place in the film that I’m doing. I can’t do long term planning. For me my growth is not just linear but, in all directions, wherever my work takes me. When a film is offered to me, I look at what is going to be the experience, what is it going to establish for me in my career.
Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 is a good example, I had never done anything like that, never worked with Anees Bazmee, a director I really admire. It’s fun for me to explore myself in new spaces. It’s also a blessing to work with people who you’re comfortable with, for over 25 years. Whether it’s with Ajay Devgn, Vishal Bhardwaj and so many others. I feel like this is my playground and I’m going to go have fun.
A character of a ghost would not excite many actors because what really could be the scope of performance.
And to look like that!
But it’s as if you don’t look down upon any character.
I don’t, I have never. For me every character is an opportunity for self-discovery. I enjoy the process of doing a film, to go on sets, figure out my character, collaborate and bring it to life. It’s a different chapter when a film releases and becomes a hit. But creating that final chapter is what you work towards from day one. The filmmaking process is what gives me most joy, it is what fuels me the most.
What is it like being Tabu?
There’s never just one part of you operating at any given point of time. You’re many people in the same lifetime, playing many roles. What you identify most is what you’d put your energies in. When I’m at work, I go with energy that I’ve to be on time, do the scene properly, that I shouldn’t forget my lines, I’ve to do action and so be alert so that I don’t break my jaw!
When I’m not acting, I’m just chilling with my mom, dog, family, friends, in my building where I have lived for so many years. That’s my comfort zone. I also want to get back to writing now. I love it but haven’t written for a while.
A film script? Or a diary?
No, not a script. I write stuff… About stuff. I write a lot. I’ve also restarted my singing! I’ve been learning Hindustani classical for a long time. I do all those things. I love it, it’s my space. It keeps me happy.