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Sunday, November 28, 2021

The role Tabu said was to ‘die for’: When she played Shahid Kapoor’s mother in Haider

On Tabu's birthday, we revisit her stellar work in Vishal Bhardwaj's Hamlet adaptation, Haider. Tabu and Vishal recently announced their third collaboration together as a director-actor duo with Netflix's Khufiya.

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi |
November 4, 2021 11:14:59 am
tabuTabu in a still from 2014 film Haider. (Photo: UTV Motion Pictures)

“Zeher khubsoorat hain aap (You are intoxicatingly beautiful),” says Shahid Kapoor’s Haider to Tabu’s Ghazala at one point in Vishal Bhardwaj’s acclaimed feature Haider (2014). And that line encapsulates both the actor Tabu, and her beauty (she is ageing backwards). In a career spanning over 30 years, Tabu has done a variety of roles. From her earlier ‘masala films’ to her second innings as an artiste with incredible potential, Tabu has been there and done that. The leading lady, the one-off comedic role, the many intense character-driven performances — Tabu is one of the most complete actors to have graced the screens of Indian cinema. Her collaboration with musician-filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj has been especially fruitful, which has given them two successful projects in Maqbool (2003) and later, Haider.

tabu in haider Tabu’s performance in Haider was one of the highlights of the movie. (Photo: UTV Motion Pictures)

Both the aforementioned movies are a part of Vishal’s Shakespeare trilogy — Maqbool (adaptation of Macbeth), Omkara (adaptation of Othello) and Haider (Bhardwaj’s interpretation of the Bard’s Hamlet). If Shakespeare was one entity (many academicians have claimed him to be a combination of several authors) and if he were alive, he would have probably said Hamlet was one of his most dense, comprehensive and intricate plays. Bhardwaj not only set it up in an Indian context of the perpetually politically charged Kashmir, he brought up an excellent cast on board to complete his ambitious dream.

Enter Tabu (and of course, a host of other talented performers including Shahid Kapoor, Kay Kay Menon and Irrfan Khan). But Haider, for me, was a mother-son story. A love story, almost blasphemous as it may sound on the surface. It was about Haider’s troublesome relationship with his mother Ghazala, who often smothered him with unbearable love, and then did dangerously toxic things (like threatening to take her own life) to seemingly get him ‘out of harm’s way.’ In the original text too, Hamlet was said to possess a nearly unnatural kind of love for his mother, which scholars have since then termed as ‘Oedipus Complex.’ According to this Freudian term, a son essentially wants to become his father so much that he even harbours the thought of one day killing him to take his place.

Tabu shares an excellent chemistry with Shahid in the film, the tension between their characters is electric. Their relationship almost seems tangible, too real, despite its obvious flaws (and because of them as well). While there are many memorable sequences featuring Tabu in Haider, one that best highlights her place in the narrative is interestingly the one where we hardly hear her speak. The actor is sitting motionless in front of a large mirror, Haider comes and applies a little scent on the side of her neck and gently kisses her, complimenting her beauty. Then it is mentioned how he would become jealous as a child if Haider’s father touched Ghazala even a little. Haider makes the audience’s discomfort more pronounced when he says, ”Ab to unke bhai aapko chhoote hai, ab kya karun main?’ (My uncle touches you, what do I do now?).” The whole act says a lot of things about the uncomfortable, abnormal dynamic the two share. Tabu’s expression is of a person who is shocked at this near revelation of her son’s feelings for her but is trying her best to keep a lid on it. She stares into the mirror blankly as Haider kisses her on the neck, aware but also slightly nonplussed about the situation.

Tabu had accepted this frisson in an interview to Indian Express. “He (Vishal Bhardwaj) cast me as Shahid’s mother because he wanted the oddity of the relationship to come out which wouldn’t have come across with a regular aged mother and son combination. Haider shares a love/hate relationship with Ghazala but it’s a very passionate emotion. You almost feel odd that these two are mom and son. Haider’s predicament is that he doesn’t know what to do with his mother—whether to love her, hate her, believe her or kill her,” she said. She also described the role ‘to die for’.

Shahid Kapoor had once said during an interview with Film Companion that no one could do what Tabu did in Haider. “It’s about people recognising who she is and giving her opportunities, and cinema reaching a stage where it deserves her. When people think who can do this, it is only her. She is the only one who can do stuff like this.” And isn’t that the truth? Because even today, seven years later, it is difficult to imagine who else would have fit in Ghazala’s shoes as easily, as gracefully as Tabu did.

You can watch Haider on Netflix.

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