When Tabu asked me to read a Scroll interview, seven times

There are some interviews you remember for days. Some you want to forget immediately. And some, which you can’t shake off your even after months.

That was my interview with Tabu. This happened sometime in late January this year for her movie Fitoor.

The reason why I hold this particular interview really close to me is because for the first time I felt the celebrity in front of me wanted to challenge and knock me off my comfort zone.

I went prepared with a set of questions, including those which are “important” and “headline worthy” stuff. To my surprise, in an interview which would last nearly 24 minutes, most of my questions, including the “important” ones, were over by 10 minutes.

I did panic a bit. I knew I had 15 more minutes to go with an artist who wouldn’t just settle for any random question. What happened then, was exciting, fun and an absolutely unforgettable conversation.

Here, the full transcription of the interview:

So Fitoor, how’s it looking like. How confident are you about it.

Actually I am so happy with the whole experience that I am not even thinking whether I am confident or nervous. (Laughs) mujhe toh lag raha hai picnic he chal raha hai (I feel picnic is going on). It’s one of the rare films where you’re not (says in a heavy voice) anxious or stressed. Lot of others are there to share my responsibilities (laughs).

What was the first reaction of yours when you were offered Fitoor. Where you on board instantly or took time to figure it out..
No no it was on because we didn’t have time. There was a set standing, I knew the role, the character, Abhishek had spoken to me about it so everything fell into place.

So did you read the script, or did he narrate you the film?
No no, then he sent me the script. So I had two days to do all the work…

So you had two days to get into the character?! How difficult was that?
Don’t ask! (giggles) We were fighting, discussing, I was colouring my hair with the right shade of red, trying costume. So do din may sab kar kay chaapna tha humko (We had to do everything in two days and be ready).

Wow. Okay. From the trailer it looks like the character is very intense and something which is also very (pause) emotionally consuming, if I can say. So how was it for you to do the character?

To do the character or?

To do the character. It looked very ‘heavy’ if I can put it that way.
Actually ya. She has a very heavy aura around her. She is living in her own world. She has no sense of time, stuck in a time warp, that’s why you see her dressed her like that. Almost in a costume, in a house which exists somewhere in the no-man’s land, cut away from the world. She does not want to interact with anybody. When you see the film you will understand so much about her. It’s difficult for me to explain. I am sure you know the character from great expectations. But this one has an extra layer if drama which is Gattu’s addition.

How was the entire experience of filming?
You know the entire experience was so short. It was like… khatam (over). May be because I wasn’t there from the start, I came only at the end in the whole scenario so mtv tally for me the association started only that time, in June, and my work was only on one set, for one schedule, and then one schedule in Poland and I was done with the whole film.

Haha. You were not in the inception stage of the film so..

Ya. Also physically, the entire work happens on the set, the house. But physically for me it was just one chunk. So it was a great experience like that (giggles)!

It didn’t feel difficult or heavy. I’ve known Abhishek for a long time. I don’t know how it would’ve turned out if we didn’t know each other.

It’s common knowledge that Rekha was initially supposed to do it…
(Raises hands and signals ‘cut)

You don’t want to? Okay.
Yeah, lets leave her out of this.

Coming to another question. Haider and Fitoor, both are adaptions of great literary works. Does it become easy for you as an actress to portray the role because it has already been written and fleshed out? Does that help you?

I didn’t know anything about these characters till the scripts came to me. I have not read these books.

Okay. So but then
Ya say

Has there been a conscious choice in your films where you are looking for author backed roles.
Not really. They have come to me. I don’t know why all book adaptations come to me (giggles).

Life of Pi for that matter…

Life of Pi, Nanesake, Maqbool,

Yes that too. All the book adaptations!
So I must become the poster girl for adaptations of books. (Pauses and thinks) Because I have not made my own thing about them, I go by the script and whatever brief my director or writer gives me about the character.

Is it also then, a conscious choice from your end that you want to associate yourself with a certain kind of cinema? For example, Haider, Fitoor or even a Drishyam for that matter which is more niche than the regular cinema.
That is now?

Ya. But is that what you’re aiming for?

Now?

Haa. That you do not want to associate yourself with the absolute commercial cinema.
Aisa kuch nahi! Aisa bolna bhi mat aur aisa sochna bhi mat mere baarey may (start laughing)!

If I am doing a certain kind of cinema that does not mean I hate the other kind. People will talk about only what is working and they get stuck with that.

I am the last person who has any judgement about any kind of cinema. Least of all commercial cinema because I am a product of commercial cinema.

Yes. I remember reading your reviews that you actually love watching a film like main hoon na, in which you had a small appearance too.
Ya because that’s entertaining for me. What has helped me is my success in commercial cinema. It has given me a platform for others to cast me in their films. If I did not have the commercial success then I wouldn’t be able to do the smaller films that I did.

There are lots of people who think, perhaps Tabu has disdain for commercial cinema.
Woh notion hai logo Ka I don’t know why they forget that out of the 80 films I’ve done, 70 have been commercially mainstream. If you see my work in Telgu films you’ll be like (makes a funny face and laughs).

Mujhe toh kabhi koi problem Nahi laga. Koi film offer hoti hai, aapko accha laga aapne kar liya. Par iska Ye matlab nahi ki aapko dusri cheez achchi nahi lag rahi hai. Hai na? If you look an apple, does that mean you hate an orange?

So people will only talk about what is working. Arey waah Haider and all very good. They get stuck with that, thinking ye nahi karna chahti hai.

Personally as an actress you don’t have any…
(Cuts in) Neverrr. Personally as an artist I never do any discrimination. If I am offered a Golmaal 4 I’ll run and do it.

You did Jai Ho as well..
So how can people make these assumptions about me.

Also, since we were talking about Namesake and Life of Pi, both are Hollywood films. Do you have a Hollywood dream, fascination? We see priyanka and Deepika as well.
Dream kabhi Nahi tha so I’ve done two biggest Hollywood films so ab kya karu? (Laughs)

So no such fascination?
Aisa matlab… (Pauses) see, whatever comes, you make it your… It depends on the experience you have na. I had great experience doing both these Hollywood films. And I am okay being content with just that. And if its great work, I’ll work anywhere whether its Telugu films, Hindi films, Malyalam films, Bengali films…

Golmaal 4…
Golmaal 4, Hollywood Bollywood whatever. So I am not stuck.

You were part of some of the most influential movies. Maachis, Chandni Bar, even Cheeni Kum, Maqbool, they broke barriers. But these dates there are a lot of debates happening within the industry that you cannot make a Cheeni Kum or a Chandni Bar today considering the regulations we have in the censor board which are very rigid…

(Signals cut with a smile)

Do you… Again… Nothing?
Mujhe mat poocho.

Okay then. Haider had a backdrop of Kashmir and Firoor too looks to have the same. Is there an apprehension from you that this is a tricky subject you are treading on. When Haider released, there were people who has problems with the way the army was projected.

We are not saying anything about Kashmir, or the political situations. It’s a love story.

Do you feel in today’s time people have become a little insensitive with the…
(Signals cut with a smile) don’t take me there, I am not going there (laughs).

I just wanted to ask you in general.
Cut cut cut cut.

Okay. What are the kind of roles you want to do after Fitoor?
I want to do an action film.

Hah.
Ek dum dhamakedaar, Out and out action.

Do you have a script in mind?
Not at all. People should think of me and cast me in an action film.I have never done an out and out action. I’ve done action in ‘Maa tujhe salaam’, that action of kicking and punching but not the out and out.

Are we talking of something like a ‘Kill Bill’, which is kind of a women oriented…
(Cuts in) Everybody has asked me this.

Really?
Ya. I have said that in my Scroll interview also.

Oho! It is already out there!
Then!!

Dammit. Arey nahi nahi, because wo pattern aisa hai ki Tabu is doing a certain kind of films. So that’s the common question that what next.
Ya what next. And action bolte he, Maine bhi dus jagah kill bill bola hai, so usko utha kay phir wahi puchte hai.

Okay chalo theek hai. Any upcoming projects we should be looking forward to?

Missing is complete since a long time now. Don’t know when it’s coming out. Should hopefully come out soon.

Also, if you would like to answer this; There is an issue within the industry that many actresses are complaining about, pay disparity…
(Signals cut). Read my scroll interview na. Please read my scroll interview na.

Ya I mean…
Please read my scroll interview na. Please read my scroll interview na.

(Both Laugh)

Please read my scroll interview na.

No mam I mean..
Please read my scroll interview na… (Laughs) Please read my scroll interview na, then you won’t take the trouble of asking me all this.

But then if you can..
Give me your email id.

Umm justin…
J-u-s-t-i-n (she spells it). You are from Goa Justin?

No mam. I’ll shock you. I am a Rao!
Telugu?!

Well not really. This is the MP wala Rao, because my grandfather was a Hindu

Ah

And my grandmother was a catholic.
Aaah!

And they both had a love marriage way back in the 1950s.
Fantastic!

So I am a product of love stories and Bollywood that way.
Justin? (Signals to complete my id)

(I give her the complete Id, she asks me curiously about how PTI actually functions while she sends me the mail)

Achcha this is one personal question that I wanted to ask you. This is NOT in scroll

Okay (excited)!!!

I am so sure about it!
Lets see!

Lets see! Okay here: you’ve been in this industry for…
Many years

Yes many years. Do you have any plans to perhaps pen your entire journey in a book.
I have just got an offer and I’ve refused (laughs out heartily)

But why? And this is not in scroll!

Because my journey has just begun (laughs out cheerfully). My life has just begun according to me. I don’t know how, where its going to be.

But it will be very interesting for readers to read from your perspective about the things you have seen and the journey you’ve had so far. Of course it has just begun, nobody is doubting that.
I can give one hour talks on this but I’ve to be paid a lot! (Laughs).

But this was not in scroll right?
No.

Yes!!!

(She claps)

Finally I got something which is…
No you should ask what I have said about the pay parity question. Then you will be glad you didn’t ask.

But then you are not telling me (puppy face)
See it!

It’s in this phone, the email id (I point towards the phone which is recording the conversation)
I’ll read it to you.

But then you’re not giving me the quote no mam (giggles)
No no no. That’s what I am saying. You see, that I’ve made fun of all journalists

Ouch
For asking me the most..

Ridiculous?
Predictable questions that they ask to everybody. (Grabs her phone and starts reading) ‘Are you reclusive? Hyderabadi? Sindhi? I laugh at these things.’ I’ll read it out to you.

‘Is it all right to talk about your craft’, ‘it is quite boring,’ I say.

(Both laugh)

‘I protest the one kind of perception created for anybody. Blah blah blah blah blah. The films I’ve acted in were not made by me, they were not my creation…. I just did my part…. Most journalists who come to me with the label of ‘reclusive’ haven’t even looked up the meaning of the word in the dictionary. They think it is a tribe or a community from Hyderabad. Like, are you Hyderabadi? Jatt? Sindhi? Reclusive? I laugh at these things.

(Reads a few more lines from the interview as I giggle sitting there).

Wait, wait. I’ll come to that.

(Keeps scrolling for the particular point) Shit I am so sorry ya.

No no it’s okay.
‘Will your action drama have a female protagonist?’ She asked me

Ha there we go
‘Oh God you asked me that. Now you will ask me about pay parity and feminism’ so she didn’t even ask.

Hmmmm!
So…

Mam I hope I didn’t make you angry or something
NO!!! Am I looking angry?! (With a smile)

Nahi bas, woh thoda sa..
Padna interview ye

I will I will…
Then you will understand what kind of person I am.

Matlab ab toh I can understand, people asking you the same thing again and again.

Acha ek swaaal puchta hu
Please puchiye

Which I’ve read, and you’ve said in one of our interviews only, that filmmakers have been lazy in the portray you.
Okay…

Do you feel a lot of the filmmakers have not been able to tap your full potential yet?
Absolutely. I don’t think I’ve tapped my full potential, forget the filmmakers…I think a very minuscule part of my potential has been tapped.

Why is that?
Ummm I feel that may be it’s not true. May be I feel that now when you have a different understanding of your own potential, of yourself. I feel I could’ve done things in so many different ways.

I’ve got to do a lot. But I feel there is a lot which can be done also. Of course everybody thinks and feels like that.

I think Vishal Bhardwaj has really explored the actress in you.
Yes!!! He has allowed me to do it. I got a chance to do it with him. I didn’t even know what was in store for me in ‘Maqbool’ or the kind of film he was going to make. I was just too excited to play this character which was unusual for a Hindi cinema heroine to do at that time.

Vishal sees in me something which not everybody else is able to. Just to get that from a director that ‘Oh my God heis visualising me like this’, it makes your work different. You look at yourself the way a director looks at you. Its very effortless. He didn’t ask me, he doesn’t brief me. It’s like a playground. He knows me too well! Both the films he wrote for me, with me in mind.

Acha ek last sawaal
Ok

Ek dum seedha sa, don’t know if its there in Scroll
Aha!

You’ve worked with Katrina in Firoor. How do you think she has evolved as an actress over the years?
I am very fond of her. She is one of the best that people I’ve worked with. Though we have worked only for three days with each other, we had very few scenes together, but I have fond memories of those days.

I always have this feeling of wanting everything to go well for her. I think she is one of the most hardworking actors I’ve known. The kind of involvement, attention, time and effort she puts into her work is really admirable and endearing. She’s had a long journey in Bollywood.

Thank you so much for talking to me mam.
Thank you, Justiiiin.

I hope I didn’t trouble you much.

At this point my recording stops. But just so you know, the answer to that question was a big NO from her, in her own style.

Before leaving the vanity van I informed her that this is my first job, perhaps even my biggest interview, and I will remember this conversation for my entire life. Tabu have me a huge smile and said she will too.

Thanks, Tabu. I did read the Scroll interview btw.

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