Tabu brings her unparalleled talent to the Dune prequel, adding a new layer of complexity to the beloved franchise

The casting of Tabu (52), one of the finest actors of Hindi cinema, in the Max prequel series Dune: Prophecy has generated considerable interest among fans of the Dune franchise, and followers of the actor’s illustrious career that started with her first leading role of a spoilt millionaire's daughter in the 1991 Telugu film Coolie No. 1. Over the last 33 years, the child actor of Sagar Sarhadi’s Bazaar (1982) and Dev Anand’s Hum Naujawan (1985) has come into her own. Known for her selectivity, she chooses roles that resonate with her and allow her to showcase her wide-ranging talent. Having delivered performances in films across genres, Tabu has consistently pushed boundaries and redefined what it means to be one of the leading ladies in Indian cinema.

In the late 1990s, Tabu played a variety of roles in commercially successful films, including Prem, Border, Thakshak and Biwi No. 1. However, it was her collaboration with director Gulzar in Maachis (1996) that marked a turning point in her career. Her portrayal of a young woman drawn into the militancy in Punjab showcased her ability to delve deep into complex emotions and portray them with raw honesty. In Priyadarshan’s Virasat (1997), written by Kamal Haasan, Tabu played a village belle and a dutiful wife, while in Hu Tu Tu (1999), she a gaali-mouthing tomboy, in Astitva (2000), she was a revelation as a middle-aged woman grappling with her desires. In recent years, she has delivered outstanding performances with her trademark grace in films like Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Drishyam 2, Khufiya and Crew.

Recurring role of Sister Francesca

In Dune: Prophecy, Tabu plays a recurring role of Sister Francesca, the Emperor’s former lover whose return to the palace “strains the balance of power” in the capital. The series, originally titled Dune: The Sisterhood and commissioned in 2019, is inspired by the novel Sisterhood of Dune (2012), written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. The Dune universe was created by Brian’s father and acclaimed author Frank Herbert. Dune: Prophecy, set 10,000 years before the ascension of Paul Atreides, “follows two Harkonnen sisters as they combat forces that threaten the future of humankind, and establish the fabled sect that will become known as the Bene Gesserit.” The six-episode series will be released this fall; the release of its teaser in May saw fans struggle to spot her.

Frank Herbert’s Dune series, originally published as two separate serials in Analog magazine in 1965, is a landmark of science fiction. Set in a vast interstellar empire, the story revolves around the desert planet Arrakis, the sole source of the vital spice melange, a drug that extends lifespan, grants heightened awareness, and fuels interstellar travel. Herbert was an agnostic and his Irish Catholic maternal aunts, who attempted to force religion on him, became the models for the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood of Dune. Frank Herbert ascribed to no single organized belief system, but instead drew from many. He was attracted to Zen Buddhism in particular, as can be seen in Dune, where there are wordless truths and “Zensunni” and “Zensufi” belief systems. Though he would not study Zen in detail until he met Alan Watts in the 1960s, he was exposed to it in his childhood.

He happened to have Nisei friends, second-generation Japanese who were born and educated in the United States. Some of them held Zen Buddhist beliefs. He also knew Coast Salish Indians, and would come to know and respect their religious beliefs. This worldview would become central to his only non–science fiction novel, Soul Catcher (1972). In Dune, we meet Paul Atreides, the quiet and observant son of Duke Leto Atreides, who governs Arrakis. Heir to the House of Atreides, thrust into the treacherous world of Arrakis, where Melange, a psychedelic drug often referred to as ‘the spice’ and a valuable resource, fuels intergalactic politics and religious fervour. Paul, trained from birth to rule, must navigate a web of betrayal and danger, learning to harness the power of the desert and the Fremen, its fierce inhabitants, to fulfill a destiny he never sought. In Dune Messiah (1969), Paul’s ascent to Emperor brings unforeseen consequences, a messianic following, and a struggle to balance power and prophecy; as his visions become a burden, he grapples with the weight of his choices and the growing unrest within his empire.

Children of Dune (1976), another book in the series, shifts the focus to Paul’s children, Leto II and Ghanima, twins born with extraordinary abilities. Facing threats from within and outside their family, they navigate a complex political landscape while grappling with their own destinies. In God-Emperor of Dune (1981), Leto II, having undergone a radical transformation, rules as a God-Emperor for millennia, his reign a carefully orchestrated plan to ensure humanity’s survival, but his methods are controversial and lead to a rebellion. In Heretics of Dune (1984), humanity is scattered across the galaxy, the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood plays a key role, their genetic manipulations and machinations driving the narrative as they clash with a new force, the Honored Matres. Finally, in Chapterhouse: Dune (1985), the Bene Gesserit face their ultimate challenge against the Honored Matres, a war that will determine the fate of humanity and the future of the universe itself.

Sisterhood of Dune

In 1984, Dune was made into a motion picture directed by David Lynch, and it has recently been produced as a three-part miniseries on the Sci-Fi Channel. Earlier this year, Dune: Part Two, the highly anticipated sequel to Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 epic, was released. It completes the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction novel — science fiction’s answer to The Lord of the Rings, which has sold millions of copies. The film delves deeper into the complex world of Arrakis and the escalating conflict between its inhabitants. The film picks up where Part One left off, with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), seeking refuge among the Fremen, the indigenous people of Arrakis. Paul embraces his destiny as the prophesied messiah, Muad'Dib, and unites the Fremen tribes to wage a war against the oppressive Harkonnens and reclaim control of the spice-rich planet.

Dune: Part Two explores themes of power, destiny, ecological exploitation, and the clash of cultures. It delves into Paul’s transformation into a messianic figure and the ethical dilemmas he faces as he employs his newfound power. The film also highlights the ecological importance of Arrakis and the consequences of unchecked resource exploitation. It received widespread acclaim for its stunning visuals, immersive sound design, brilliant performances, and faithfulness to the source material. Critics praised Villeneuve’s direction, Greig Fraser’s cinematography, and Hans Zimmer’s evocative score. The film was a box office success, grossing over $700 million worldwide.

Sisterhood of Dune explores the aftermath of the Butlerian Jihad, a war against thinking machines. We see the rise of the Bene Gesserit and their breeding programme to create superhuman individuals. In another book in the series, Dune: Messenger (2013), we are introduced to Spacing Guild, the organisation that controls interstellar travel due to their reliance on spice-induced prescience for safe navigation. Dune: Mentat (2014) shifts to the origins of the Mentats, human minds trained to perform complex mental calculations, rivaling computers in efficiency. Sisterhood of Dune plunges us into the motivations of the secretive Bene Gesserit and their long-term genetic breeding programme aimed to create the Kwisatz Haderach, a prophesied being with immense power, who appears later in the original Dune series. The prequels provide context for the aversion to technology in the Dune universe. The Butlerian Jihad's devastating consequences create a society reliant on human capabilities honed to a razor’s edge. The prequel trilogy expands the Dune universe by introducing new factions, historical events, and technological advancements that shape the world of the original series.

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