Ms Representation: The Tabu Effect
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author talks about Tabu and Andhadhun
In Andhadhun, Tabu as Simi is right there in the heart of the film. Filling up the frame with her delectable presence. Her eyes and face doing the emoting, and delivering their best. And it fantastic to see, after a few years, a film that shows her off in the way she so deserves to be seen. It’s as if we have been waiting to see her as a (spoiler alert) diabolical serial murderer. (In one hilarious scene, having bumped off a witness and brought serious damage intentionally the way of another, she asks, her voice shaking, if the man she’s having an affair with thinks she’s a serial murderer.)
In the hands of anyone else this role would not have been convincing. It is Tabu’s presence that makes Andhadhun and Simi easily believable. Playing the younger wife to an older man who used to be famous in Bollywood long ago, Tabu’s role is also a nod to what actually goes on in Bollywood films, where men are constantly paired with women way younger, yes? This should also be read in the context of Tabu, who has been cast in a perfect role that seems tailor-made for her, by Sriram Raghavan, as a trophy wife in 2018. For comparison, Shefali Shah, who is around the same age as Tabu, was cast as Priyanka Chopra and Ranveer Singh’s mother, and Anil Kapoor’s wife in the 2015 Zoya Akhtar film, Dil Dhadakne Do.
That Tabu is a brilliant performer, an actor who can shoulder entire films on those enviable shoulders is known to all of us. But to my surprise, some years ago I learned (through an interview of hers) that she actually prefers commercial cinema to art house cinema. When asked what she didn’t like about arthouse films, she said in the interview, “Well, most of the people can’t or don’t want to pay money. Probably, they come with the presumption or notion that I believe in art more. I don’t know. Maybe they think I have no right to ask for money because they have given me a good role.” This statement offers such an honest peek into the kind of choices actors with talent, especially women, are staring at even when they have a proven ‘track record’ in Bollywood. It also offered an interesting perspective into her personality. Very often, ‘serious’ actors who choose to work in (sometimes ridiculous) commercial films, when quizzed about this dichotomy sneer at their own work or say they did it for money. That’s their choice of course, but when Tabu chose a different way of spinning this, it also showed us the pretensions that exist in our often elitist arthouse cinema-scape. That somehow you must not ask for money for your labour because you are working on something ‘important’.
With Andhadhun decidedly turning out well both critically and commercially, one can’t help but feel like the twain have met for Tabu with her latest cracker of a role.