As Tabu slips into the character of Begum Hazrat in Fitoor, the Bollywood adaptation of Great Expectations, she talks about the biggest rumour about her and why she can’t share her writings yet.
You were supposed to be part of Fitoor originally, but then Rekha was cast. Finally, the film has come back to you. How did you prepare for the role of Begum Hazrat?
When I stepped in (after Rekha walked out of the project), I had to work on my look, almost at gunpoint! I had just two days for it. Gattu (director Abhishek Kapoor) wanted this particular shade of red in my hair. In those two days, I had to spend long hours in a salon to get the correct shade of red.
Luckily, the costumes were ready. Since they were so brilliant, we did not need to make any changes. Gattu was stuck on achieving the image of Begum Hazrat he had in mind. Let’s call her Begum Hazrat and not Havisham. Different aspects about her character — emotional, psychological and others — had to blend.
You have portrayed several literary characters in films such as Maqbool (2003), The Namesake (2006) and Haider (2014). Do you have a process?
I don’t know the text, neither do I feel the need to go back to it. What is depicted on the screen is mentioned in the script, that is what I follow. The directors give me inputs and I play the characters the way I understand them. Since I usually don’t prepare much for a role, it is more of an organic process for me.
How have you managed to straddle both the commercial and parallel cinema spaces so successfully?
By having the understanding of both the spaces as well as life. It also comes from not being condescending or judgmental towards any kind of cinema. Hardcore blockbusters like Vijaypath (1994), Prem (1995) and Sajan Chale Sasural (1996) are part of my early career. Along with these, I started acting in movies like Maachis (1996), Virasat (1997) and Kaalapani (1996). Then I would take up something like Biwi No 1 (1999) or Hera Pheri (2000). I was also doing everything possible in the Telugu film industry. When you are starting, you don’t intellectualise your choices so much and you try different things. My foundation has been very solid and that has helped me a lot in charting my life’s path. Read: Filmmakers haven’t tapped my full potential yet, feels Tabu
How have you evolved as an actor?
My first film was K Raghavendra Rao-directed Coolie No 1 (1991) in Telugu. He taught me some very basic things, which have stayed with me. One day he took me aside and pointed out towards Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad and said: “Buy yourself a piece of land there and make yourself financially secure. Work for your creative satisfaction after that. He taught me not to mess up with my money, always be presentable, punctual and do my work and enjoy life.” I have done three films with him and he is one of my closest family friends. When we meet, the only thing he asks me is: “Are you enjoying your life?” If I say “no”, he would respond, “What a waste” (laughs). Read: I would love to be in ‘Golmaal 4’: Tabu
How do you divide your time between Mumbai and Hyderabad?
The is the biggest rumour and longest ongoing lie about me. I have not gone and stayed there even for one month. Because I built a house there, people took it for granted that I live there. When I go to a party, people ask me: “Have you come to Mumbai to attend this party?” I have a house in Goa too and no one says that I live there. Some people have created this perception. Sorry, Mumbai has to suffer me forever.
You were one of the first Bollywood actors to feature in major international projects. Do you think you should have invested more time in having your foothold in international cinema?
I don’t know if I wanted to invest that kind of time abroad. That would have meant letting go of my foothold here and being away from home and comfort zone. I am really spoilt. Both The Namesake (2006) and Life of Pi (2012) were offered to me over the phone since their directors were keen on having me on board. I believe it should work like that. Fortunate Tabu trusted me for ‘Fitoor’: Abhishek Kapoor
Directors like Gulzar and Vishal Bhardwaj have kind of adopted you.
(Laughs) I like this. Good that they have adopted me. Now, I can plan my retirement. I don’t know what it is about us that works well. Usko samajhne jayenge toh bhi samajh nahin payenge (We can’t figure it out even if we try). It has been a long association, since Maachis. It was Vishal’s first movie as a music composer and my first with Gulzar saab. That apart, the debut film of Bosky (Meghna Gulzar), Filhaal (2002), was with me. So was Vishal’s directorial debut, Maqbool. With them, I got to explore my range.
You also write. Have you ever thought of writing a script?
Several publishing houses have approached me to write about my journey, films and career. I can’t get around to doing it. I don’t show what I write to anyone, barring a few friends.