Bollywood: Tabu on Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 conquering the box office and the love of UAE fans

The versatile actress shares her thoughts on the triumph of her horror comedy despite all the challenges the pandemic threw up.

Photo: Prabhat Shetty
Photo: Prabhat Shetty

Enid Grace Parker

Published: Tue 14 Jun 2022, 3:59 PM

Last updated: Wed 15 Jun 2022, 8:51 AM

She’s always been an elegant, commanding presence on screen, through a diverse range of roles — whether as a reticent immigrant homemaker in Mira Nair’s spirited screen adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake (2006); a tough police inspector in the popular thriller Drishyam (2015), or even a resilient bar dancer in Chandni Bar (2001), Madhur Bhandarkar’s gritty glimpse of Mumbai’s seedy underbelly.

These are just a few of the films that Tabu has impressed both critics and fans with, in the span of her over three-decade career in the Indian film industry.

Now, the Maachis star is riding a new wave of success, with Anees Bazmee’s horror-comedy Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, currently running in UAE cinemas. According to recent media reports, the film is ‘ruling’ the Indian box office in its fourth week of release and crossed the 100-crore mark in record time.

Cinema buffs have for the most part lapped up this engaging yet at times convoluted tale laced with slapstick humour, where two strangers (Ruhan and Reet — played by Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani) meet at a hill station, eventually landing up at an abandoned ‘haveli’ said to hold captive the evil spirit of Manjulika (Tabu); Ruhan becomes ‘Rooh Baba’ — a charlatan medium — who claims he can communicate with spirits. What happens when he accidentally unleashes the vengeful spirit that’s been locked up for years? And what secrets is Anjulika (also Tabu), hiding?

Clearly, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 — a standalone sequel to the 2007 hit Bhool Bhulaiyaa — has turned out to be a commercial triumph despite having received mixed reviews. And what most fans and critics unanimously agree upon is that Tabu shines in her first ever double role.

In a Zoom conversation with City Times, the stunning actress thanked her legion of fans for giving Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 the thumbs up, calling the experience “so gratifying”.

Why does she feel people are loving the film so much, across borders here in the UAE as well?

“Because it’s entertaining, and makes people feel some kind of excitement,” she responded, adding that movie-watching was a “science on its own” and that much could be deciphered about the experience a film gives audiences based on its level of success. “What a successful film is doing ultimately, is giving people an enjoyable experience; they like what they see and are just having fun. Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 is making them feel something that gets infectious, gets them talking about it.”

As someone who has been lauded for her versatility on screen, what was the appeal of taking on Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, which can probably best be described as a crowd-friendly ‘mass’ entertainer? “The first thing was that Anees Bazmee (No Entry, Welcome, Singh is Kinng) was directing it. I have huge respect for what he has done, and for what he has achieved as a writer-director. He’s an amazing writer. It was (also) the first time a double role was being offered to me.

“And that’s what made it so exciting… I knew this was going to be a ride for me and an experience which could be very challenging but rewarding also. I knew that I would have a completely new experience doing Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2.”

Millennial stars Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani have both heaped praise on their illustrious co-actor in recent interviews, to which Tabu responded that it was “always fun to work with new people because they are fun on the sets”.

A long and challenging journey

Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 has seen its fair share of challenges pre-release, primarily due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Bollywood. How does she feel now that the film is finally out?

“When you’ve made such a long and challenging journey with a film and it’s gone through so many ups and downs… Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 has actually seen three stages of the pandemic! We started before the pandemic started; we had to shut because of the lockdown. Then, we restarted in the second wave, then shut down; we restarted when the third wave was on, and finally we actually started last August and we managed to complete it.

“You just feel that a very difficult, challenging and tedious journey has come to an end; your relationship with the whole project is complete when the film releases. When the film does well, you really forget all the challenges that you faced!”

She admitted she was glad the film made it to the big screen, unlike others that had to go down the OTT route during the pandemic.

“I don’t think there was any doubt that we were going to come on the (big) screen. I don’t know if there was ever any conversation about Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 on OTT; it would have been really disappointing. OTT is a fantastic platform for a certain kind of cinema, sure — and of course Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 will be on OTT at some point or the other, and I’m sure people will enjoy it there also. But the kind of scale that the film has, it would have been really unfair if it wouldn’t have hit the big screen,” Tabu said, adding that the impact of a film like that was different in a cinema because of its ability to engage viewers completely — “it takes you into that world”.

“I think it was made for the big screen and I’m so glad we got it into theatres and people are going in such numbers to watch it,” she said, also thanking UAE fans who had patronised Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 in local theatres. “The strength of a creative person, artist, or film people comes from the fact that people go and watch their films, and if people are watching in large numbers, it means they are liking your work. Fans who have not watched it yet must do because they will be completely entertained — I can guarantee that!”

A ‘sucker for voiceovers’

We wrapped up an engaging chat with a question about a creative pursuit that seems close to Tabu’s heart — voiceovers. Apart from being in the spotlight for her work as an actress, Tabu is also increasingly being recognized as a voice artist; she collaborated with Audible for Thriller Factory in 2019, and most recently narrated the Hindi audiobook adaptation of popular graphic novel series The Sandman.

She commented happily that she was “a sucker for voiceovers”.

“I love doing voiceovers, since forever,” she said, adding that many years back, her director friends who also made commercials would call her to do voiceovers for them; she also stepped in for other actors from time to time.

“I remember Shabana (Azmi) auntie was travelling once and she had to re-dub one line from Fire; she called and asked me to do it. I started actively doing voiceovers; I’ve done a few commercials, like the new Google Pay ad.”

She recalled how excited she was when Audible approached her for Thriller Factory because it was “a new area for me to dabble with and to explore and be creatively engaged with.”

Being a big fan of the medium, she actively sought out more work. “I told Audible that I would love to do something more extensive — then, when they conceived The Sandman, they came to me and it was too exciting. I love that there is no hair and make-up involved; there is no camera looking at you.

“You are just sitting in a room on your own.. it’s very challenging, it could be very tricky, and it requires a different kind of faculty and skill altogether. I had the chance to really sharpen that faculty of mine because you are narrating and expressing everything only through your voice. So I love it, and I would love to keep doing it.”

More news from