Tragic as it may sound, Tabu has no work on hand. She may give a hundred interviews on how she is choosy and whimsical about her roles — whimsical, she may be. But the choice of roles are hardly hers to exercise.
In the last two years Tabu has appeared in just two films, and in both she plays mother to actors ten years her junior. Coincidentally, in both Haider and now Fitoor she plays a wacked-out near-psychotic Kashmiri woman whose soul-mate has gone missing leaving her in a state of embittered rage. In both she shares a peculiarly passionate and self-destructive relationship with her off-springs.
While there was a certain incandescence to her part in Haider, in Fitoor, Tabu is plainly smug in her superior skills. She ages to readily look like a harridan and a hag as time passages are achieved through simplistic strategies. Her psychological state of being ruinous as much as being ruined is mostly achieved through dark circles around her eyes and a chalky makeup that makes her look like she has just seen Charles Dickens’ ghost.
Contrary to what you hear, Tabu in Fitoor has not achieved the acme of excellence in her frigidly flamboyant part of a woman steeped in excesses.
It is the done thing to praise everything Tabu does, as though she manufactures quality on the job. But apart from one key sequence there is nothing in Fitoor to suggest she has crossed any special barriers of self-exploration to reach a nirvanic stage of expression. The performance is suffused with smirking smugness. What gives it poignancy is not so much Tabu’s skills as an actor but the fact that we won’t be seeing her in another film in the near future.
By playing mother to Shahid Kapoor and Katrina Kaif, and earlier Salman Khan’s sister in Jai Ho, Tabu has effectually written off her career as a leading lady. From her generation of leading ladies, Kajol continues to thrive. In her last release Dilwale, Kajol played Shah Rukh Khan’s lady love.
Tabu never cultivated any of the Khan superstars as her leading man. The one time she was with Shah Rukh Khan, it was in a special appearance for Mani Ratnam’s Saathiya.
In Bollywood, the harsh truth is that no leading lady reaches the top without forming a sturdy collaboration with one of or the other of the superstars. Sharmila Tagore and Mumtaz had Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini had Dharmendra, Zeenat Aman had Dev Anand, Kareena and Rani Mukherjee had all three Khan superstars as co-stars, Katrina and Priyanka climbed up on Akshay Kumar’s shoulders, and Kajol’s vibes with Shah Rukh held her steadfast at the top.
Tabu formed her own path to walk on. In her best roles one can’t even recall her leading man, which is fairly impressive feat. It was Chandrachur Singh in Maachis, Atul Kulkarni in Chandni Bar, Sachin Khedkar in Astitwam who played a supporting to her main characters. By playing ‘hero’ in her films, she has now reached a stage where roles need to be written for her.
However, the sad part is that no one is doing it for Tabu. And now after two back-to-back matriarchal thrusts, she is now in the danger of being prematurely slotted in the motherly category. If the truth be told, Tabu always carried the burden of existential wisdom in her eyes even as a 12-year old in Dev Anand’s Hum Naujawan. Kajol on the other hand, exudes an air of carefree joy that audiences are spontaneously drawn to. If Tabu is imagined reciting Ghalib’s poetry , Kajol is the girl who LOLs over twitter jokes.
Today when playing the cold-hearted Beghun in Fitoor, we realize what a heavy price Tabu has paid for being a formidable actress. Even as our expectations towards her have risen, her sense of isolating brilliance has intensified.
Looking at Tabu’s career, I know why they say it’s lonely at the top.