At the time, Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee was still working on a screen adaptation of Martel's book. Lee's movie captured four Oscars for its tale of a boy stuck in a boat with wild animals; Tabu had a small role as the boy's mother. (Her surname is Hashmi, but she's known across India as Tabu.)
The Indian actress is perhaps best known to western audiences for playing the mother of Kal Penn's character is The Namesake, which was directed by Mira Nair.
But her greatest performance just might be in the new film Haider which is a nuanced look at the turmoil in Kashmir.
Directed by Vishal Bhardwaj and based on William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Tabu plays the mother opposite the title character (Shahid Kapoor). His physician father is taken into custody very early in the movie after trying to save the life of a rebel commander.
This is no Bollywood song-and-dance romp. Shot entirely in Kashmir and often in winter, Haider highlights divisions within the majority Muslim community near India's border with Pakistan where treachery abounds.
The enigmatic Tabu plays a central role in the unfolding drama as the linchpin between both sides. At times pensive, other times distraught, and on other occasions quite cunning, she practically steals the film right out from under her costars.
Tabu is so gripping that Indian film legend Sridevi and her daughter Jhanvi reportedly drove straight to her home to praise her after seeing Haider in a Mumbai multiplex.
Like The Namesake and Life of Pi, Haider also features Irrfhan Khan (The Lunchbox, Slumdog Millionaire).
Bhardwaj's film doesn't go into great detail about the history of Kashmir, perhaps because Indian audiences are already well-acquainted with what's gone on there.
After India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, Muslim invaders descended into the Indian-governed area and approached the capital of Srinigar. The prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, dispatched air power on October 27, 1947, which likely prevented the city from falling.
A charismatic Muslim, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, promoted interfaith harmony and defended India's position before the United Nations, according to historian Ramachandra Guha in India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy. Abdullah became prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 1948 after opposing the rule of the maharajah, Hari Singh.
Pakistan, on the other hand, provided arms to rebels to "free" Kashmir.
I was surprised to see a big-budget Indian film deliver a relatively unbiased look at what's still driving this conflict more than 65 years later.
Kashmir remains one of the globe's most dangerous powder kegs with the potential to lead to nuclear war. Yet unlike in other hot spots in the Middle East or the Balkans, there are few films that offer a richly textured depiction of what's happening in this troubled corner of the world.
Bhardwaj's decision to layer Hamlet over such a fraught situation might seem a bit risky, but Tabu's extraordinary talent helps him carry it off.
She'll likely never be nominated for an Oscar for essentially playing Gertrude to Kapoor's Hamlet because few members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will see it. But Haider still offers plenty of reasons why Ang Lee and Mira Nair cast her in their movies. (Haider is still playing at the Strawberry Hill Cinemas in Surrey.)