The fortunes of four large families are at the centre of the BBC's A Suitable Boy, which explores the rich culture of India during a momentous period in the country's history. The cast of the drama includes some of the biggest acting talents to emerge from Bollywood. But who is Tabu, the actor who portrays Saeeda Bai in A Suitable Boy?
Tabu's other credits include the third-highest-grossing Indian film of all time Andhadhun, as well as Biwi No. 1, Hu Tu Tu, Chandi Bar, and Vijaypath — the latter of which bagged the actor a prestigious Filmfare Award.
She is also widely recognised for her portrayal of literary characters in Kandukondain Kandukondain and Maqbool, which were released as adaptations of Sense and Sensibility and Macbeth, respectively.
Back in 2007, Tabu appeared in her first Hollywood release, The Namesake, which was a film directed by A Suitable Boy's Mira Nair and, five years later, she landed the role of Gita Patel in the Academy-Award-winning Life of Pi. In 2011, the actor was also awarded the Padma Shri — the fourth highest civilian honour in India.
Tabu's latest gig can be enjoyed throughout the six-part BBC drama A Suitable Boy, in which she plays courtesan and musician Saeeda Bai. Set in the early 1950s, the series is centred around the character of Lata Mehra, a young university student with a traditional Hindu background, whose mother sets out to find her a supposed suitable partner.
Speaking to the Independent, Tabu touched upon the journey of her Suitable Boy character, who she credits for representing a historical part of Indian culture. “The journey of this character is sexy because there is romance, there’s love and passion," the actor explained. “Courtesans are part of India’s history. Saeeda represents a part of the culture that was prevalent at the time.”
The BBC show is recognised as the first all-Indian period drama on western television, and commenting on the show's depiction of Indian culture, Tabu told the Independent: "We have seen glimpses and flashes of Indian culture, but A Suitable Boy is part-fiction, part-inspired by real life and what was happening at the time of partition."
"That’s what makes it interesting. It is not just a historical documentary but a story of people’s lives and how they were being changed by historical events," she added.
A Suitable Boy airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. on BBC One.