This edition of Express Adda, held at The Claridges, New Delhi, hosted actor Tabu. In a discussion moderated by Deputy Editor Seema Chishti, Tabu talked about playing dark characters with layers, exploring changing relationships in modern India and what she would like to change about making movies.
On whether it’s easier to make people laugh or cry
Both are equally difficult or easy. I don’t think I set out with the intention of making them laugh, or making them cry. If I think about that then perhaps I’ll lose sight of what I’m doing. The director can have an intention of what he wants the audience to feel but with me it’s always been how well and how truly I can portray the character and how I can make it interesting; how I can do it my way and make it special. So yes, if people laugh and cry in that process, it’s great. I think it’s gratifying to hear that you’ve made people feel an emotion. That’s the ultimate reward for an artist.
On what drew her to acting
I’m still trying to figure out my relationship with acting and cinema. It was never my intention to be an actress. I was always extremely anxious about exams, so I would never go to watch a film when my exams were coming close. My sister was very interested in watching movies, she managed to watch movies and do well in school but I was very nervous because I was terrible at math, in spite of the fact that my grandfather was a mathematician. It was the talk of Hyderabad, ki mathematician ki nawasi aur math mein itni kharab. Movies happened by accident, Devsaab (Dev Anand) spotted me and chose me to play his daughter. My sister was spotted by Yash Chopra to play his lead. Later, I joined college and this time I was spotted by Shekhar Kapur, who was casting for Prem. After my first film, I had sworn never to act because I did not enjoy it. I thought it took me away from school and studies and Hyderabad, and anything that took me away from Hyderabad, I didn’t like. But of course, as destiny would have it, I agreed to do that one film and I got stuck.
On doing challenging roles
While I enjoyed being the quintessential heroine and wearing good clothes and running around in Switzerland, I also knew that I could do more and I wanted to do more. I was just waiting for that chance and when I got those chances, I just leapt at them. It was an honour for me to play those characters in Maachis, Hu Tu Tu and Astitva at a stage when I was too young to even understand them but I think the fact that these filmmakers were coming to me with those kind of characters made me feel good about myself.
On women actors getting more layered roles
I agree that leading ladies are getting to do layered characters. But they (women-centric films) have always been there — you had Mother India, Seeta aur Geeta, Chaalbaaz, Raat aur Din. Women have definitely played much more than eye-candies, but now the difference is that leading ladies are much more courageous to take on layered characters. Also, society is changing, we know that women do not have one-dimensional lives or personalities. So, in that way, it’s also fashionable to have layered characters for women, and also it’s a little boring to have them too nice.
On playing Shakespearean characters
I may have known Macbeth and Hamlet but I did not study them for my roles in either Maqbool or Haider. I approached them the way I approached any character.
In playing Nimmi, who was Lady Macbeth in Maqbool, I was pushing myself into the unknown because I had never played such a dark character before. That was a time when we weren’t getting those kind of characters to play and also, there was fear and apprehension in playing them, but for me this character meant so much. For me, professionally and personally, Maqbool will always be a milestone. It was a beginning for me — and also for people — to start accepting such dark and layered women characters.
On writing a journal
I’ve been asked to publish it but I keep running away from it because I don’t know if it is publishing material. My journal is about things from my journey — it could be about a place I connected to or an experience I had with a particular person.
On a changing India story she would like to direct
Our changing value system, the way we are in relationships, there is a huge shift in that. I think there is a shift in human consciousness and that’s always very interesting — sometimes it can be disturbing or reassuring, but I think it’s human relationships that hold society and the world together and it’s also where there can be disruptions. I think the man-woman relationship has gone through tremendous alterations and changes. The way people look at marriage now, the way the young generation looks at marriage, the way the need for marriage has changed — in some places, it hasn’t changed at all, in others it has totally changed — that’s like an education for me.
On there being no formula for great art
There is no formula for great art. Sometimes it comes out of pain, sometimes it comes out of joy or out of freedom or love. Creativity and art is such a deep field that there is no formula, we will always express what we are experiencing. If you are experiencing freedom, then you express freedom, if you are experiencing pain and repression, you will express pain and repression. If you have happened to go through struggle, then that means that has been your path, but you can’t manufacture a struggle just because you want great art.
On acting in Hollywood
I’ve done two really good films in Hollywood. It was never a pressing desire but it happened organically and when I was least expecting it. I’ve got two great experiences — The Namesake and Life of Pi. The hunger and need is always for good experiences and they could come from anywhere. I have to feel that the experiences are going to be equally good, if not better, for me to do them and not just because it’s Hollywood, or it’s America. I have to like what I’m doing, I have to like who I’m working with. It has to be of some relevance to me, otherwise it doesn’t make sense.
On preparing for a role
I don’t come from a time when we worked on characters or had these discussions. It was not an intellectual process, we were just doing what we were doing. Till I was asked about the process so many times, I didn’t even know that there was a process to it. Humko lagta hai ki jao, camera ke saamne dialogues bolo aur emotion samajh ke, gusse se bolna hai toh gusse se, pyaar se bolo aur aa jao (I thought we just have to go before the camera, say our dialogues, understand the emotions and act). I still do not know if I understand the process and how that one shot turns out because there are too many factors involved. Acting is such a collaborative job. Whatever happens, happens between that action and cut, and there is an energy to it which you cannot put in words.
On what would she like to change about making films
I’d like it if the noise around the work is lesser than what it is. I feel the noise around everything is bigger than what is actually happening. I wish we could do away with some of that at least. Of course, there has to be some of it because we are in a profession like this, but there has to be a balance. I don’t think I would want to be in an environment where you lose sight of the actual work and get completely carried away and all your energy is consumed by just the noise around it.
On the need for a censor board
I am not a filmmaker so I don’t have an answer for that. When I become a filmmaker, I will think about whether we need censorship or not. A film is a filmmaker’s thought and so he has to be okay with (what is cut)… ki aapne mere thoughts ko kitna kata ki main aage jaa sakta ya sakti hun. As an actress, there is no censor within me, so I wouldn’t know.
On a role she would like to play
I would like to act in an out-and-out action film. I’ve done little action in the nineties when I would be jumping and playing a daredevil army officer, and a bad terrorist. I’ve done all that but of late I haven’t, so I would love to do that. I’m inspired by Kill Bill. It’s one of my favourite films.