Tabu or not Tabu? That is clearly the question. After seeing one of my favourite actresses fall flat on her face in Anees Bazmee’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 I am pretty sure Tabu is facing an existential crisis.

Here is an actor who has been showered with panegyrics from the day she made her debut at age 12 in Dev Anand’s Hum Naujawan. Formidable is the word. Tabu’s reputation precedes her. She has now come to a stage where audiences and critics in pavlovian percepts are pre-prepared to praise her performance.

If It’s Tabu It’s Gotta Be Good.

This is a very dangerous situation to be in for any actor, no matter how great. Especially one who is clearly bored with her ‘serious’ image. Tabu has repeatedly spoken about how she wants to do ‘fun’ roles, that there is a fun side to her personality that she wants to show us.

We’ve heard and seen that before in actors greater than Tabu like Meena Kumari and Shabana Azmi. Every time Shabana tried to have fun she ended up like fish out of water, for example in the two back-to-back Manmohan Desai films Amar Akbar Anthony and Parvarish. Shabana, who incidentally is Tabu’s aunt, disagrees vehemently with me.

But sorry, I would rather see Shabana in Paar than Parvarish. Likewise, I prefer Tabu in Astitva, Cheeni Kum and The Namesake than in De De Pyar De, Golmaal and worse, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 where she plays the double role of Manjulika and Anjulika: Wicked and Wonderful. It is a tricky cliché that has been attempted before by commercially savvy actresses like Raakhee Gulzar in Sharmilee, Hema Malini in Seeta Aur Geeta and Sridevi in Chaalbaaz.

Tabu is hideously miscast in Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2. It’s a role Shoma Anand would be comfortable in. In the good-sister role, she looks more ashen than angelic, as though she was on a fast for humanity to survive the pandemic. As the bad sister, she gnashes her teeth, laughs wickedly, snarls and snaps at her victims, as though she were a part of a primary-school skit where she mistakenly thought she was the witch in Hansel & Gretel.

Great actors get bored with their aura. They need a change. Tabu is definitely at the crossroads of her career. But she must remember she is not Meryl Streep. Whenever Meryl wants a change in her career she does a Devil Wears Prada, Mama Mia, Florence Foster Jenkins and The Prom.

Streep’s swipes at silliness are sublime. Tabu’s silliness is just plain silly and awkward. In Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 for one sequence, she is required to perform a classical dance as both Anjulika and Manjulika.

The “dance” face-off is enough reason to ban twining for the rest of existence. The problem is, Tabu is bored with her trademark culturally-superior woman’s act—as Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy very clearly shows. She wants a change of image. She probably also wants to make some of that lavish moolah that commercial cinema offers. And no harm in that.

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By akagami