Tabassum Fatima Hashmi (born 4 November 1971), known by the mononym Tabu, is an Indian film actress primarily working in Hindi films. She has additionally worked in other regional films in different languages including Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali and Marathi. Regarded as one of the most accomplished actresses in India, Tabu has often played troubled, complicated women in a range of characters, from fictional to literary, in both mainstream and independent cinema, as well as some American productions. She has won two National Film Awards for Best Actress and six Filmfare Awards, including a record four Critics Awards for Best Actress. In 2011, the Government of India awarded her the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour of the country.
Tabu’s first credited role came as a teenager in Dev Anand’s Hum Naujawan (1985), but her first role as a lead was in the Telugu film Coolie No. 1 (1991). In 1994, she received the Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut for the Hindi action film Vijaypath. The year 1996 was key for Tabu, as her performance as a young woman affected by the Punjab insurgency in Gulzar’s Maachis won her the National Film Award for Best Actress. Moreover, she won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress – Telugu for the romance Ninne Pelladata and gained commercial success with the comedy film Saajan Chale Sasural. In 1999 she played supporting roles in the top-grossing Bollywood films of the year—the comedy Biwi No.1, and the family drama Hum Saath-Saath Hain. Further acclaim from critics came her way during these years for her roles in Virasat (1997), Hu Tu Tu (1999), Astitva (2000), and Chandni Bar (2001), the former three winning her Filmfare Critics Awards, and the latter earning her a second National Film Award.
Tabu’s literary characters were in films such as Kandukondain Kandukondain, an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, as well as a role based on Lady Macbeth in Maqbool, an adaptation of Macbeth. Her first international project was Mira Nair’s adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake. For her starring role in Cheeni Kum (2007) she received a record fourth Filmfare Critics Award, and she took on fewer film projects over the next few years. She played a prostitute in the Telugu film Pandurangadu (2008) and appeared briefly in Ang Lee’s adventure film Life of Pi (2012). In 2014, she starred alongside Salman Khan in Jai Ho and garnered critical acclaim for playing the Gertrude character in Bhardwaj’s Haider. She won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress for the latter. Tabu went on to star in the ensemble horror comedy Golmaal Again, and continued to receive praise for playing a police-officer in Drishyam (2015) and a murderess in Andhadhun (2018). The latter ranks among the highest-grossing Indian films. She is reluctant to discuss her personal life in the media.
Early life and background
Tabassum Fatima Hashmi was born to Jamal Hashmi and Rizwana in a Hyderabadi Muslim family. Her parents divorced soon after. Her mother was a school teacher and her maternal grandparents were retired professors who ran a school. Her grandfather, Mohammed Ahsan, was a professor of Mathematics, and her grandmother was a professor of English Literature. She did her schooling at St. Ann’s High School, Secunderabad. Tabu moved to Mumbai in 1983 and studied at St. Xavier’s College for two years.
She is the niece of Shabana Azmi, Tanvi Azmi and Baba Azmi and the younger sister of actress Farah Naaz. She speaks Telugu, Hindi, English, Bengali, Marathi, Spanish, little bit of French, Tamil and Malayalam.
Tabu did a small appearance in the film Bazaar in 1980, and later in the film Hum Naujawan (1985) at the age of fourteen; she played Dev Anand’s daughter in the film. Her first role as an actress was in the Telugu film Coolie No.1, co-starring with Venkatesh. In December 1987, Boney Kapoor launched two major films; Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja and Prem. In Prem, Tabu was signed opposite Sanjay Kapoor. The film took eight years in making and it was the biggest flop in Boney Kapoor’s production career. Tabu’s career took off well after this film, in spite of the long delay.
Tabu’s first release in Hindi as a leading lady was Pehla Pehla Pyar, which went unnoticed. She came into prominence with her role in Vijaypath, (1994) opposite Ajay Devgan, for which she received the Filmfare Best Female Debut Award. This was followed by many films that did not do well at the box office. However, in this period she appeared in a successful movie Haqeeqat(1995).
In 1996, Tabu had eight releases. Two films Saajan Chale Sasural and Jeet went on to be hits; both were within the top five films of that year. Her other significant film, Maachis, was critically acclaimed. Her role as a Punjabi woman caught in the rise of Sikh insurgency was acclaimed; she went on to win her first National Film Award for Best Actress for her performance. The same year saw her major blockbuster films down south. She starred in the Telugu blockbuster Ninne Pelladata, opposite Nagarjuna, a film which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu. The critically acclaimed Malayalam period epic film Kalapani directed by Priyadarshan with Mohanlal and Prabhu Ganesan in the lead roles, brought her laurels for her acting from all across South India. She also debuted in Kollywood through the highly successful Tamil film Kadhal Desam, directed by Kathir, with Abbas and Vineeth.
Tabu’s first release of 1997 was Border. The movie was about the real life events surrounding the Battle of Longewala during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. She played the role of Sunny Deol’s wife. Her role was small, but the film went on to be the biggest hit of 1997. That year, she also starred in the critically acclaimed film Virasat. The film was a success at the box office and Tabu won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Performance. The same year saw her feature in Mani Ratnam’s Tamil political drama Iruvar which had an ensemble cast including Mohanlal, Aishwarya Rai, Prakash Raj and Gautami. She acted in Chachi 420 (1998).
In 1999, she starred in two successful multi-starrer films; Biwi No.1 and Hum Saath-Saath Hain: We Stand United. They were the first and second biggest hits of that year respectively. She received good reviews for Hu Tu Tu, which won her another Filmfare Award.
In 2000, the actress starred in Hera Pheri and Astitva. The former was a box office success whilst the latter was critically acclaimed. Hindustan Times critic Arnab Banerjee wrote of her performance: “Tabu is brilliant and once again proves her mettle as an actress. The mind-blowing range of emotions she displays, her exquisite face and her subtle quiet dignity with which she handles her character, will take her far in her film career.” She received her third Filmfare Critics Award for Best Performance for Astitva. Down south, Tabu had two releases in Tamil, namely Kandukondain Kandukondain, a multi-starrer blockbuster film directed by Rajeev Menon; and Snegithiye directed by Priyadarshan, along with a Malayalam release Cover Story. Original Malayalam version of Snegithiye, which is Raakilipattu was later released in 2007.
2001 saw her star in Chandni Bar directed by Madhur Bhandarkar. Her portrayal of a bar dancer met with unanimous praise, and she won her second National Film Award for Best Actress for her performance. Critic Taran Adarsh said: “Chandni Bar is Tabu’s film all the way and there are no two opinions on that. Her performance deserves the highest marks and of course, all the awards. Her work is flawless and the impact her character makes on the minds of the viewer is also due to a tailor-made role”. Another critic mentioned: “if there is one actress who can carry a film on her shoulders, it is Tabu. As usual, she sparkles”.
She has acted in a number of Telugu movies, many of them very successful, such as Coolie No. 1 and Ninne Pelladutha, the latter being one of her most famous and popular movies. She further continued to star in films such as Chennakeshava Reddy and Pandurangadu with Nandamuri Balakrishna, Andarivadu with Chiranjeevi and Aavida Maa Aavide with Akkineni Nagarjuna. Tabu made a reentry into Telugu movies after a long hiatus with the film Pandurangudu in 2008.Her roles in Telugu movies largely focused on glamorous roles.
In 2003, Tabu starred in an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The actress played Nimmi based on the character Lady Macbeth. The film, titled Maqbool, was directed by Vishal Bhardwaj and premiered at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival. Maqbool was a box office failure, but was met with huge acclaim. Tabu’s performance opened to much appreciation; critic Ron Ahluwalia said: “Tabu shines in a dark role. The most versatile actress in Bollywood takes to villainy like a second nature. She is menacing and seductive, but keeps an innocent look on her face, making her even viler. The way Tabu delivers her taunts is simply perfect. Her gradual insanity is heart-wrenching and her final outburst is easily the highlight of the film.” Another critic said: “Tabu is fantastic in a complex role. Her performance in the film is worthy of awards. After Chandni Bar, this is another role that will be remembered for a long, long time.”
She had a supporting role in Fanaa (2006), with Aamir Khan and Kajol. The film went on to become the fourth biggest hit of that year.
In 2007, Tabu starred in her first Hollywood film The Namesake, directed by Mira Nair. The film was a big hit overseas. She also starred in Cheeni Kum, in which she played a 34-year-old woman who falls in love with a 64-year-old played by Amitabh Bachchan. Critics were generally positive towards the film; Taran Adarsh said: “Tabu stands on her feet despite a formidable co-star’s domineering presence. She’s excellent.” Though the film was moderately successful in a domestic but it performed well overseas, especially in UK and US.
She started off 2009 by being featured on the cover of Vogue India’s January 2009 issue.
In 2010, Tabu portrayed the lead role in the romantic comedy film Toh Baat Pakki!, which earned huge publicity as it marked Tabu’s return to Bollywood after three years. However, the film was a commercial failure. Her next release of the year was Khuda Kasam opposite Sunny Deol, a film long-delayed. Her other film Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai, directed by B. R. Chopra, got indefinitely shelved owing to the plagiarism issues. She made a comeback to Malayalam cinema in 2011 with her brief song appearance in the multi starrer film Urumi, directed by Santosh Sivan. The song “Aaranne Aaranne” featuring Tabu alongside Prabhu Deva and Prithviraj Sukumaran was declared a chartbuster of the year.
In 2012, she featured in her second Hollywood film Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee. She played a supporting role as the mother of the protagonist. Her next and only release in 2013 was David, a Tamil – Hindi bilingual film, starring Vikram in the lead and directed by Bejoy Nambiar. The year 2014 saw her comeback to mainstream commercial cinema with the Salman Khan starrer Jai Ho, a remake of the Telugu film Stalin, playing the elder sister role to Khan. The film evoked mixed responses and was a successful at the box office. Following this, she teamed up with her Maqbool director Vishal Bhardwaj for his adaptation film of Shakespeare’s Hamlet titled as Haider. In this, she played the mother role to Shahid Kapoor’s character. The film was a critical and commercial success, and Tabu’s performance as Ghazala Meer was critically acclaimed, with the New York Times saying that the film should have been titled Ghazala, rather than Haider. Her next venture saw her teaming up with actor Ajay Devgan after a gap of 16 years. She paired opposite him in Nishikant Kamat’s murder-mystery film Drishyam, which was a remake of the successful Malayalam film with the same title. Her performance of a strict police officer investigating her son’s murder case received rave reviews and unanimous praise. This was followed by a cameo appearance in Meghna Gulzar’s directorial Talvar. She then starred in Abhishek Kapoor’s Fitoor, an adaptation of Great Expectations, opposite Aditya Roy Kapoor and Katrina Kaif, in which she essayed the role of Begum Hazrat, based on the character of Miss Havisham. Although the film did not do well at the box office, she received positive reviews for her performance.
Breaking from her mould of serious cinema, in 2017, Tabu starred in the fourth franchise of the comic-caper in Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal Again. She played the role of a ghost buster and drew many praises for her performance, with The Indian Express saying that her inclusion to the film is an “unexpected pleasure” and she “lifts” the film. The film went on to be one of the top grossers of the year.
Her first release in 2018 was the Mukul Abhyankar’s thriller film Missing where she paired opposite Manoj Bajpayee. Though her portrayal of a petrified mother role was praised, the film under-performed at the box office.
She reached the peak of limelight through the Sriram Raghavan’s black comedy film Andhadhun in which she played the parallel lead alongside Ayushmann Khurrana, and drew huge laurels from the critics for her portrayal of Simi. The Hindustan Times lauded Tabu asking, “Has there ever been a femme as fatal as Tabu?” Popular film critic Rajeev Masand praised Tabu’s portrayal mentioning that, “the film’s towering performance comes from Tabu.” The Firstpost called Tabu, “tremendously gifted, whose chameleonesque talent is put to great use here.” It further read, “The manner in which Simi/Tabu switches from one emotion to the next to the next, at one point her face and voice conveying completely different feelings, is a sight to behold.” Actor Vicky Kaushal praised Tabu calling her ” a goddess who is in a league of her own”. Actress Kangana Ranaut said in a press interview, “I think last year, Tabu ji gave an amazing performance in Andhadun. I am floored by what she has done.” She featured in a cameo role in Rajkumar Hirani’s biopic Sanju starring Ranbir Kapoor released in mid June.
In 2019, she appeared in Akiv Ali’s romantic comedy film De De Pyaar De opposite Ajay Devgn and Ali Abbas Zafar’s thriller film Bharat co-starring Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif.
In 2019, Film Companion ranked Tabu’s performance in Haider and Andhadhun among 100 Greatest Performances of the decade.
As of September 2019, she has made her comeback in Telugu films after a decade by starring in Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, a project of Trivikram Srinivas and Allu Arjun. She has also starred in a family entertainer titled Jawaani Jaaneman (2020) co-starring Saif Ali Khan with whom she has acted after 20 years.
Blackbuck hunting controversy
In 1998, Tabu was charged with poaching two blackbucks on the outskirts of Kankani village in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan during the filming of Hum Saath Saath Hain along with co-stars Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre and Neelam Kothari. A lower court charged her with the others under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the IPC. She had filed a revision petition before a sessions court which discharged her of Section 51 (causing harm to wildlife) of Wildlife Act and both of 147 (punishment for rioting) and 149 (unlawful assembly of persons) of the Indian Penal Code. The Rajasthan state government then filed a revision petition before the Rajasthan High Court at Jodhpur which again added Section 149 against her, which had been dropped earlier. In December 2012, the Jodhpur court summoned her along with all the accused for commencement of the trial with the revised charges on 4 February 2013. Although Tabu was acquitted in the blackbuck poaching case on 5 April 2018, the Rajasthan High Court issued her with a notice, challenging her acquittal on 11 March 2019.