Tabu interview on ‘Crew’ and box office success: This is a great phase to be in

As her latest Hindi film ‘Crew’ breaches the ₹100 crore mark and Tabu finds herself at the centre of a string of hits, she opens up about her work and staying relevant to audiences

Updated - April 11, 2024 05:38 pm IST

Published - April 11, 2024 02:37 pm IST

Tabu

Tabu | Photo Credit: Khamkha Photoartists/Special Arrangement

The Hindi heist comedyCrew, which breached the ₹100 crore mark at the box office recently, dispelled notions that post pandemic, only male-centric action dramas could rake in big numbers.

Standing tall at the centre of the film’s success is actor Tabu, who shared the screen with Kareena Kapoor Khan and Kriti Sanon in director Rajesh Krishnan’s film produced by Rhea Kapoor, Ekta Kapoor and Anil Kapoor. “The film had several elements that the audience enjoyed and while working on it, I believed it would do good numbers,” says Tabu.

She should know. Crew is the latest in her series of hits, after Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 and Drishyam 2. She also played the central parts in Kuttey, Bholaa and the Netflix original film, Khufiya. At 52, the actor is quietly showing how a female actor can be age and generation agnostic, and call the shots.

Tell her that a few trade pundits have pointed out that she is the only actor, apart from Shah Rukh Khan and Ranbir Kapoor, to have delivered more than two hits post pandemic and she guffaws, “So I have now become a hero?”

She then pauses and says, “Honestly, this is a good chapter in my career; I am happy and grateful that people are coming to theatres and watching my films. A film is a combination of aspects — it is never only the script, the director or the actors. Everything has to work; if we give the audience something new, they will accept it in any genre and language.”

Faith in normalcy

Tabu

Tabu | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The last decade has seen Tabu reinventing herself. Post director Vishal Bhardwaj’s acclaimed Haider, in which she delivered a sublime performance, the more mainstream films such as Drishyam, Andhadhun and De De Pyaar De, among others, saw her frequently courting box office success. 

Tabu remembers the conversations during lockdowns when the film industry wondered if the audience would frequent theatres again, after being habituated to consuming series and films on digital platforms. “People were making assumptions overnight and it annoyed me. One school of thought became so infectious that the entire film industry began to echo it. I used to wonder if I am the only one who does not agree with their notion.”

She says she urged those who voiced such apprehensions to wait until normalcy returns. “When films began working again at the box office, I laughed and told them ‘maine kya bola tha?’ (what did I tell you?). I think people say what suits them at that point. Those who wanted to coerce you into working more in the digital space said theatres are a thing of the past. Now that films are succeeding, people say don’t think about OTT.”

Reverting to Crew, which has been witnessing girl gangs heading to theatres to soak in the fun locker room conversations between the three female leads as they pull off an improbable heist, Tabu says, “Rhea (Kapoor) was intelligent and smart to get this cast together. Certain scripts can only work with certain actors. The casting can bring in a new element.”

Time for some fun

Tabu

Tabu | Photo Credit: Khamkha Photoartists/Special Arrangement

Crew was written by Nidhi Mehra and Mehul Suri and many of the zinger lines, including Tabu telling Kareena who is indulging in vanity, ‘Bas kar Cleopatra, yeh foundation hai time machine nahi’ (Stop it Cleopatra, this is foundation, not a time machine) hit the mark.

Some of the lines, Tabu reveals, were improvised on set. “Nidhi and Mehul had worked on the writing for four years and were particular about what they wanted. In consultation with the director and the writers, I changed a few words that I felt would not land well and generate laughs. Comedies are always alive on set and things change according to actors since it is not an intensely dramatic script.” She describes how the core team observed the mood on the sets to gauge if the comedy was working. “Accordingly, original lines were retained or changed.”

Tabu wanted the different facets of her character, Geeta Sethi, to come through. “She is fun but there is gravitas to her. She is a former beauty queen (of Karnal), has seen the vagaries of life and has inner strength; to the best of my abilities I tried to bring all that on screen. The relationship she shares with her husband is special and Kapil Sharma playing that part added so much to the bonding.” 

The character is also prone to anxiety, popping pills and wiping away sweat in crucial situations and all this adds to the comedy. The trick was to find the sweet spot that made Geeta appear innocent, vulnerable but daring enough to be part of a heist. “We kept experimenting… we wanted to make her interesting, entertaining and palatable.”

Tabu is no stranger to comedies. Think Saajan Chale Sasural or Biwi No.1. She does not believe that script reading sessions or workshops are a must to break the ice with co-stars and get the comic timing right. “Even if I have never worked with an actor earlier, my training over the years is such that I go on set and do what is required.” She pauses and adds, “I have worked in nearly 100 movies (92 and counting). It is not like we had script reading sessions for all those films,” and breaks into a laugh.

Of late, she has been having a blast playing characters that are not too serious or grim as in Chandni Bar, Astitva, The Namesake, Maqbool or Haider. And yet, in films such as Andhadhun, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Drishyam 2 and Crew, she is central to the drama.

“This is a great phase of a different kind. The responsibility and what I need to bring to the table does not change irrespective of whether it is a serious or a fun film. Today there are new people on sets who are much junior to me, like Aasman Bhardwaj (the debut director of Kuttey) and also contemporaries like Ajay (Devgn). Every film is turning out to be a different experience.”

Writing it down
Wellness coaches and psychologists today advocate the therapeutic effects of journaling to cope with anxiety, and Tabu reveals she had had that practice since childhood. “I would recommend it to everyone. It has helped me express myself better.” She writes about people she meets, things that have moved her and to-do lists. “I use pen and paper, not an app. The connection between the brain and the hand, when we write down our thoughts, makes a difference.” 

She has witnessed a sea change in the method of working in the film industry. In the 1990s, leading women like her would do three or four shifts a day and complete a dozen films each year. “Now we do two or three films a year and there are breaks before we begin our next,” she points out.

Staying relevant

Tabu

Tabu | Photo Credit: Khamkha Photoartists/Special Arrangement

Having been a part of cinema for nearly 40 years (she debuted as a child actor in the 1985 film Hum Naujawan), Tabu has the knack of keeping abreast with changes. “It is tough to point out what has worked. It is a combination of factors — the years of work and the relationship I share with the audience across generations. You are considered relevant only if you can connect with the immediate younger generation.”

Has she thought about how she manages to do it? “It is not like I watch series and movies to know what currently works. Since childhood I have not been the kind to consume too much cinema. Nowadays information pours in through different sources and you can gauge what might work.”

Up next is Auron Mein Kahan Dum Tha, a love story by director Neeraj Pandey, in which Tabu shares the screen with Ajay Devgn for the 11th time. “It is a film I am really looking forward to. Neeraj has done something interesting,” she says.

Ask her if Indian cinema is moving into a zone where actors in all age groups have more scope to dabble with interesting parts and she says, “I think it has always been there.” She has been a part of the May-December romance Cheeni Kum. “Society has changed and so has the taste of the audience. Today new concepts are more palatable to the mainstream audience. Ultimately it all boils down to how an actor is presented in a story.”

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