It was a remarkable meeting of East and West this evening at SFU Woodward's when Canadian author Yann Martel joined Indian film actor Tabu as part of the Indian Summer festival.
Tabu, best known to North American audiences for her role in The Namesake, will play the mother in the film version of Martel's novel Life of Pi, which is being directed by Taiwanese icon Ang Lee.
"The mother's character is loving," Tabu told the audience at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. "She's a very strong woman. I think it was very easy for me to play her. It didn't feel like she was very, very different from who I am."
Tabu sees similarities between herself and the mother in Life of Pi.
Martel said he worried that the mother's character might be too masculine, but he wanted to make her strong. He also pointed out that the mother's pain in the novel didn't elicit nearly as much sympathy from readers as the suffering of animals.
Yann Martel discusses the mother's character and the suffering of animals in Life of Pi before Tabu talks about lessons learned filming The Namesake.
Tabu is a household name in India, having appeared in more than 70 movies. She has won seven Filmfare best-actress awards.
The moderator, Indian Summer Arts Society cofounder Sirish Rao, asked if she ever has any privacy.
"With people having their cameras and their mobile phones, you cannot have privacy anywhere," Tabu replied politely in her soft-spoken Indian accent. "Even in the aircraft people are shooting you—anywhere—or watching a movie and coming out of a theatre. So it's a menace nowadays, I must say. Technology has made life easier, but at times, it's really, really annoying."
Tabu says technology has become annoying because it robs her of privacy.
At the same time, she acknowledged an upside to fame. "You cannot deny the pleasure of being acknowledged and recognized for your work—and appreciated," Tabu said.
One member of the audience asked if she's noticed any changes in Indian cinema. The actor commented that some things have changed for the better, but said she couldn't say that movies are superior to those created in the past.
"The films that are made now are more targeted toward the younger audiences, I feel, who are more aware and who are more exposed," Tabu replied. "I don't know if it's necessarily a great thing. But there has been a huge change."
Indian films are being targeted more often at young people, according to Tabu.
She added that India is experiencing a major transformation, which is being reflected not only in movies, but also in books and television.
"So I'm just watching the change happen in front of me," she remarked.
Tabu also discussed playing the role Ashima the mother in The Namesake, a 2006 film adaptation of the 2003 novel by Jhumpa Lahiri.
The actor revealed that she received a call from the director, Mira Nair, telling her to come to New York in 15 days to start filming.
Tabu had already read the book and had pictured herself playing Ashima. "It was really uncanny that Mira called," she said, adding that the experience altered her life, exposing her to new friends both on and off the set.
She mentioned that it led her to find a second home of sorts in the United States. From a professional point of view, she learned that it was different to emote in English. Normally, her movies are in Hindi, though she has acted in numerous other Indian languages.
"When you're expressing in a language that you're not used to expressing yourself in, there's a part of you that remains detached from that emotion," Tabu stated. "It's almost like you can watch yourself experiencing that emotion, but you have not become that emotion because you're not thinking in that language. It was really interesting to experience that as an actor in my craft."
Tabu describes growing up and acting.
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