It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it was Tabu who paved the way for women-centric films in Hindi cinema, at a time when actresses were struggling to grab roles which did not require them to just look gorgeous and add glamour to a film, roles beyond regular song and dance routines. The two time National Award-winning actress entered the 3rd millennium with a powerful film like Astitva (2000) and followed it up with another path-breaking movie like Chandni Bar (2001). With her stirring performances in these two great films, Tabu proved it to one and all that an actress, too, can carry a film on her shoulder if she gets an author-backed role. After Astitva and Chandni Bar, many female-centric films were made, some of them worked while others didn’t. But a lot of the change has already been ushered by then, and the credit, without an ounce of doubt, goes to Tabu.

The actress does not only shine in realistic films but also in comic roles with equal élan. After the huge success of Golmaal Again (2017), Tabu will next be seen in the forthcoming suspense thriller Missing. Also starring Manoj Bajpayee, the movie is slated to release on 6th April. As the film races towards its release date, our Mumbai correspondent, Mohnish Singh, meets the seasoned actress for an interaction.

You have always been very selective about your work. But after the success of Drishyam and Golmaal Again, will you be part of more films?

Depends! Whatever the offer is, if I like it, I’ll do it. If I don’t like it, I won’t do it.

What drew you towards your character in the upcoming film Missing?

It had everything, every emotion possible in a person. And the way Mukul Abhyankar (director) has conceived and drafted the character is amazing. Mukul will be able to tell you more about the character and how he conceived it.

Hindi cinema has changed a lot over the last couple of years. Today, strong women characters are being written for actresses more often than not. Being a pioneer in headlining women-centric films like KaalapaniChandni Bar and many more, what do you think about this change?

It’s good. Isn’t it? I don’t know why it has come about, but I do know why I did those films. I was very convinced about playing those characters. I was very convinced about their contribution to my growth as an actor. I was not afraid of playing those layered characters. I am glad that people have become more accepting of strong female characters that are not just nice women, nice girls, who can have layers and, you know, who can have dark shades to them and they don’t have to necessarily fit into miss goodie roles. I think the audience is more accepting now. They have started accepting women who have layers.

After starring in many commercial Bollywood films, was it a conscious decision to pick non-commercial films which had strong women characters?

I was not waiting for such roles but when they came I recognized them. At that time, I was too young to understand these things (commercial and non-commercial cinema), differentiate things. I had come from Hyderabad. I didn’t even have any clue about what is commercial and what is parallel. As a person, what I wanted to do, what I liked to do and what I wanted to establish myself in, I was clear about that though. My convictions about myself were that the kind of work I wanted to do has to be strong. I followed that. And when they (non-commercial roles) came to me, I did not think twice before doing them because I knew those were the platforms I wanted to express myself through. I knew there was something that I wanted to say through those roles. I wanted to express myself in different ways than what I was doing. Having said that, the quintessential commercial space is also fine for me.

I wanted to something more and I got the chance to do that. I wanted to act in a particular way and not in the way everyone expects an actor to act or perform. I did not understand why it was so difficult for people to allow me that or why was it important for women only to be nice. Why can’t she have dark layers? So when they came to me, I felt so glad and I felt so fortunate that the makers came to me with films like Maqbool and Astitva. Those films just grabbed me and I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to be in them’. I wanted to make myself okay doing this. I did not want to create any space by doing such roles.

Weren’t you ever afraid of doing such films as you played very bold roles in them?

No. I wouldn’t have done them had I thought I would be judged. I wanted to do them as I knew I’ll have a great experience as a person and as an actor.

After Golmaal Again, you are again doing a film with Ajay Devgn which is again a romcom. Don’t you think you are going back to the same zone which you belonged to at the beginning of your career?

(Laughs) There is nothing like that. There is nothing like going back and forth. I feel everything is standing in one place. People make their journey around that place. Ultimately, it’s a circle, you just revolve around it.

My intention has always been to keep growing and to have a good experience while I am working.

What do you like to do most?

I like to have good experience with the people I work with.

What do you fear to do on screen?

Action. When they (the makers) come to me and say to jump from the third floor, I get uncomfortable very easily. In spite of that, I have done such stuff in films like Maa Tujhe Salaam and Jaal. I have been injured many times while doing action scenes and got stitches.

Which scene has been the most challenging one in your career so far?

I think my first scene in the film Prem was really very challenging. I was very nervous that day. In that particular scene, I had to descend from hundred steps, wearing a heavy gown, looking beautiful and smiling, and without looking down. I found that scene very stupid. I was thinking how would I do it? So yeah, that scene has really stayed with me as an experience.

In Missing, you are teaming up with Manoj Bajpayee after a huge gap of 18 years. Do you see any change in him?

Yes. Earlier, he was painfully shy. He used to get troubled very easily and I used to trouble him purposely during the shooting of Ghaath and Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar. I used to like watching him getting embarrassed (laughs). But now he is not that much shy. Now he can tolerate me and my bullshit easily.

Nowadays, a lot of emphasis is given to marketing and promotion of a film. Do you believe excessive marketing can make or break a film?

Promotions can create some sort of awareness. But if the film has no merit, promotions cannot do anything.