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‘Chandni Bar’ To ‘Maqbool’: The Journey Of Tabassum, Or ‘Tabu’ As We Know Her

Life is, having no plans! And that’s how this actress says she lives. A woman who walks her own path, lives on her own term – yes, we are talking about the actor par excellence, Tabu.

Not one to be part of the number game, or the so called ‘rat race’, Tabu calls her own shots. Birthdays are not her scene, she prefers taking the road less traveled, reading a good book or penning verses, and sometimes, even creating her own canvas of colours.

An actor who admits the work she chooses needs to be ‘experiential’.

She says, “With every film, I look at stretching my band. It’s not necessary it will happen, but I am lucky it does”.

For her, the connect with a director is far important than anything else. She adds, however, that over the years, her expectation from life, films, situations, or for that matter, her own self, have come down – which has been important. “You are happier when you have no expectations”.

A funny Tabu story which often comes to my mind, is when she was asked how come she hadn’t found Mr right, yet. Her prompt response was “Ask Ajay Devgn. He is responsible for my ‘single’ status”. Apparently Ajay and her close friends in college were so protective about her, they didn’t let any prospective suitor within a mile of her radius.

But audience expectations from her have never diminished. From Maachis to Andhadhun, she has proved time and again, why we need more of her on screen. She, however, makes light of her own talent. “Arre yaar, bas, aisa kuch nahi hai”, is the response you get from her when you start complimenting her acting abilities.

The chameleon like ease with she slips into her characters continue to impact us, even years later.

Tabu was no stranger to the world of showbiz. Related to Shabana Azmi and sister to Farah – who made her Bollywood debut with Yash Chopra’s Faasle, and had dreamt of becoming a star since she was a child. Young Tabussum, on the other hand, seemed happier in school in Hyderabad, than in Mumbai.

Her debut as a child artist was in Dev Anand’s Hum Naujawan, where she played a school girl who is raped, in 1985. Six years later, she did the Telugu film, Coolie No 1.

It was, however, the image of Tabu dressed in an ill-fitted red top and tights, singing Ruk Ruk to Ajay Devgn that gave Bollywood a formal introduction to her. The next six years saw her star in the regular Hindi film fare till Macchis in 1996.

Playing Veera, a Punjabi woman, who is a victim of Sikh insurgency, showcased the hidden depths of talent this actor was capable of.

Soon after, she pushed the envelope and played a village girl, forced to marry a man who is in love with someone else, in Virasat; to a wife who has an affair with her music teacher as she searches for her Astitva.

As she won awards and critical acclamation, she proved she was an actor ahead of her time. Whether it was by playing the bar dancer in Chandini Bar, the don’s lonely mistress in Maqbool, or a woman who makes a new life in the United States in Mira Nair’s Namesake.

For someone who front lined a diversity of roles, she begs to differ when people announce 2018 being the year of the female driven projects. She says this is not the first time you have had women-centric films. From Bandhini to Seeta Aur Geeta to Chaalbaaz to Khoon Bhari Maang – there have been more in the past, than we see now. It’s just that we have not spoken about them. The absence of social media apart, these weren’t celebrated as female driven films, it’s just that we talk a lot more now”.

Extended long breaks from the screen, a norm with her, have thankfully ended; as she brought Gazala to life in Haider, Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Othello, to Lady Cavisham in Fitoor. She reunited with close friend Ajay Devgn in Drishyam and Golmaal Returns. “Arre complain mat karo, I’m doing films. Now you will get tired of me soon”, she jokes.


As she turns 47 this year, Tabu embodies an amazing grace, which is hard to come by, on and off screen.

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