Bollywood star Tabu admits she still struggles to come to terms with her widespread fame, despite being in the spotlight for more than two decades
A few minutes later, settling down for a tête-à-tête, you are not hard-pressed to guess that Tabu and the new-age publicity razzmatazz probably don’t go in sync.
There is a quality about her that seems alien amid the hardsell circus. It is an almost reclusive quality, definitely enigmatic.
She doesn’t like the word 'reclusive' defining her (she practically throws the dictionary to prove why it is out of place).
She takes 'enigmatic' with an engaging grin. 'I am amused when you call me enigmatic. If that is my image, it is completely not by intention. I don’t struggle with image. I just be myself and the image gets created, ' she says.
'This is who I am. This is how I have lived my life. This is my temperament, my personality and I wouldn’t want to change any of it. I think it is too late for that, anyway.'
In all these years you also notice she has retained a sense of diligence one normally associates with newcomers. There is wholeheartedness in the attention she gives you, settling into the interview.
It is perhaps the personality trait that has honed her into being the actress synonymous with perfection in modern Bollywood.
'There is no such thing as perfection. So, to me there is nothing like a perfect actor or film, ' she says.
'I believe everything is a process. You start at a particular point and go through the layers. Each time you look back, there has been a change, ' says Tabu, who was in town to speak at Royal Stag Perfect Strokes, an event that saw her address a session pertaining to the subject of perfection in the art of cinema.
For Tabu, good cinema is beyond genre or type. It is something that should reach out to her at the level of a viewer. 'When I watch a film I should feel completely involved in it. That is my definition of good cinema. At some level, the film should elicit a positive response about life within me, ' she points out.
Quite in tandem to her cinematic ideology, Tabu refuses to slot herself as an actor. For an actress unanimously hailed as the best in her generation in Bollywood, she surprises you saying she never prefers sticking to a particular method while handling roles.
'There is no process to my acting. I myself don’t understand what my method is. I read a role, hear out the director, and then execute his demand in the way I interpret it. I feel technicalities such as method and spontaneity in acting are best left alone, ' she says.
Like the actor, the star within her is noncommittal about sticking to definitions, too. Two decades after she got a break in a starring role opposite Rishi Kapoor in the 1994 romantic comedy Pehla Pehla Pyar, she still seems to grapple with that entity called fame.
When I watch a film I should feel completely involved in it. That is my definition of good cinema
'Honestly, I never set out to achieve anything, ' she admits. 'Rather, whatever I have managed has surprised me. Till today, I don’t know how to react to all the fame.'
Two National Awards, international acclaim, the best of roles and plenty of blockbusters, too. At 44, Tabu looks back at a career that would seem blissfully brimming.
What does she work for now? 'I continue to look for a sense of completeness in the work that I do. This means not just good roles and films, but I also look for good people to work with, and a harmonious environment.'
On environment, a lot has obviously changed since she started out in the early nineties. She has seen Bollywood take a turn for the better as well as for the worse.
'A lot has changed since I started out of course, and it does sound like a cliché saying that. In many ways things have taken a better turn, in many ways the industry has become more chaotic.'
Life of Pi thrust Tabu into the worldwide spotlight in 2012, in the stunningly shot blockbuster which was based on Yanin Martel's novel of the same name