Did Tabu — who turns 45 on Friday — shoot her career in the foot by playing mom to stars like Shahid Kapoor in “Haider” and Katrina Kaif in “Fitoor”‘ Not really, feels her illustrious aunt Shabana Azmi, who says Tabu’s career is impervious to dips and curves.

In a gender-biased film industry like Bollywood, while leading men may continue playing lover boys until they die (and Dev Anand is an embodiment of the patriarchal proclivities that eternally govern the casting rules of Bollywood), a leading lady seemingly loses her sheen once she gets married or hits 40, whichever happens first.

Where does Tabu’s career go next’

In the past few years, there has been a gradual shift in her positioning from leading lady to ‘character’ actress. In the Salman Khan starrer “Jai Ho”, she played Salman’s sister. Leading ladies in Bollywood don’t do that unless it’s a film like “Josh” where Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan played twins, but were anything but sibling-like in their conduct.

Tabu, a National Award winning talent, also played mother to Shahid and Katrina in “Haider” and “Fitoor” respectively. In “Drishyam”, her only other release during the last two years, she was cast opposite Rajat Kapoor and not the film’s leading man Ajay Devgn.

But these choices will have no bearing on her career, says Shabana.

“Hits and flops will make no difference to Tabu’s career. She is a class apart and will always be the first choice for strong roles of characters her age. She is beautiful in a unique way. She doesn’t look like a manufactured product and she is a versatile actor,” Shabana said.

She added: “People think of Tabu as a dramatic actor, but she also has a keen comic timing and a terrific mimic like her mother. More power to her on her birthday.”

A director who has worked with Tabu and cares deeply for her career, said “she has made brave choices as an actress, but these choices have one after another shut the door on her career as a leading lady”.

Writer-editor-director Apurva Asrani is dazzled by Tabu’s rare appearances on screen.

“I was so relieved to see Tabu in ‘Haider’. She was given one opportunity after ages, and she simply stole the show. It is rare to find writer/directors who create strong female characters,” Asrani said.

He added: “Our industry is known for being sexist since decades. Heroines’ careers used to end when they were 30 and the men played heroes till 55 at least. Clearly, this has been no country for women.

“But having said that, we had Bimal Roy, who created really powerful female characters. We have Vishal Bhardwaj, who has given Tabu some of her meatiest roles. We have Shoojit Sircar who gave Deepika (Padukone) ‘Piku’ and Ram Madhvani who gave Sonam Kapoor ‘Neerja’.

“Don’t forget that Kangana Ranaut has been acting in films where she has the author-backed role. I just had the good fortune of writing her an exciting character in Hansal Mehta’s ‘Simran’. Today, the scene is much better for actresses. Sridevi has made a solid comeback with ‘English Vinglish’ and now readies up for Mom. I am hopeful that more writers and directors will write parts that do justice to a phenomenal talent like Tabu.”

Film critic Raja Sen said: “That the magnificent Tabu finds such rare occasions to dazzle on screen is one of Hindi cinema’s most profound tragedies. Her legacy is assured. As the beholders, the loss is entirely ours.”

By Subhash K. Jha

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