In an exclusive interview, Taapsee Pannu opens up about her struggles, films and life in Mumbai

The actor consolidates her position  in Bollywood with hits like Soorma, Mulk and Manmarziyaan. She opens up about foraying into acting and her life beyond work

Ayesha Tabassum Published :  21st September 2018 09:17 AM   |   Published :   |  21st September 2018 09:17 AM

Taapsee Pannu

In an industry where even star children find it challenging to get a firm foothold, the ‘outsider’ Taapsee Pannu has established herself as a formidable artiste. This year has been an eventful one for the 31-year-old actor with three of her films being big hits at the box office. From Soorma, a sports biopic, and Mulk, a social drama, to Manmarziyaan, a love story, the actor played distinct roles with perfection, delivering impressive performances.

It has been eight years in the film industry with 30 films since her debut with the Telugu hit Jhummandi Nadam (2010), and the Delhi beauty who is currently working on her next film Badla, has come a long way. “I knew nothing about my job when I started. I was aware and I was quite open about this fact. I learnt from my mistakes and have now started making better choices. I really wanted to do all the films that I have done in the last two years. It’s been a gradual growth but it has been in the right direction,” says the actress referring to her 2017 films like Naam Shabana, The Ghazi Attack, Judwaa 2 and this year’s releases that garnered good numbers at the box office.

Manmarziyaan, her latest film in which the actor plays Rumi, a carefree Punjabi girl who is caught in a love triangle, has been appreciated by fans and critics. Her role particularly has earned her compliments even by the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, who sent her a handwritten congratulatory note and by Karan Johar who tweeted, “@tapseepannu holds the strings of her layered character like an absolute veteran! Bravo!!!! (sic).” Rumi’s character is quite unlike the actor’s roles in earlier films. Even though it may appear that Rumi is closer to Taapsee’s real life personality — straight-forward and frank — the actor has a different take on it. 

“I was cast in Manmarziyaan because Anurag (Kashyap, director) firmly believed that I am Rumi in real life but I begged to differ with him. I think I am way more mature, sensible and controlled than Rumi. Anurag was sure I was the one for the role. He didn’t even give me the script after the first narration because he wanted me to be spontaneous,” shares the actor. The only thing that Taapsee has in common with the character is her lack of restriction. “There is no filter attached to our personalities, we do what we think. But I use my brains before talking, unlike Rumi.”

Acting by chance
As a validation, Taapsee reveals that she never wanted to be an actor. A qualified engineer, the youngster had set her mind on doing an MBA and pursuing a career in marketing. An all-rounder, she excelled in academics and in co-curricular activities. “I was a jack of all trades and never a master of one. I used to represent my school and college in sports, public speaking and dancing competitions. I also took up modelling assignments to earn some extra pocket money. Though I had poor attendance, I always managed to get good results.” In fact, when she completed her engineering degree, Taapsee bagged a job at Infosys but she never took it up. “I got into engineering because I loved maths. But I knew I never wanted to do a desk job. I just wanted to prove to my parents that I could get a job,” she reveals. 

However, her MBA dreams were shelved because Taapsee couldn’t get the required marks for admission in colleges of her choice. “I scored only 88 per cent. So I took a year’s break to prepare well for my next attempt. But being the hyper-active person that I am, I didn’t want to just study. I was getting a lot of movie offers because of modelling but I refused initially. I was not passionate about acting. I wasn’t even a movie buff. I decided to take up one offer just to take a break from studies,” she says and before her first film, Jhummandi Nadam, released, Taapsee had signed three more films.

No godfathers
Even though she has no theatre or acting school background, Taapsee has managed to impress audiences with her effortless portrayal of roles. Though in South Indian films she will always be remembered for her song-and-dance sequences, in Bollywood, Taapsee has delivered powerful performances in social dramas like Pink and Mulk, and in a thriller like Naam Shabana. The actor candidly admits, “It’s only after my first film that I decided to take this profession seriously and work on myself as an actor. I started learning the craft from my directors and co-actors because I didn’t know how to act.”

Even Taapsee’s choice of films has changed over the years and the actor admits it’s because she started looking at scripts differently and big names were no longer the criteria to act in a film. “I didn’t have anyone to guide me with which films to choose and what image I needed to carve for myself. So I started listening to stories like audiences would and I chose to work with filmmakers who could get the best out of me,” offers the actor.

Fashion forward
Taapsee is one of the those actors who has had few instances of fashion faux pas. Her appearances for the promotions of her films stand as a testimony. The actor who has been spotted wearing creations by designers like Pankaj and Nidhi, Sahil Kochhar, Gaurika Sharma and others, admits she was never conscious of what she wore before she entered the industry. “I would always wear a t-shirt or a shirt with jeans and no accessories. When I entered the film industry, I was expected to dress like a diva. So I tried to fit into the ‘diva’ space and it totally backfired,” she confesses. In the last few years, Taapsee’s style has certainly evolved with every film, and the actor gives credit to Devki Bhatt, her stylist.
“Devki is my sister-in-law. She works out of the US. She is, in fact, a pharmacist and not a trained stylist. But she enjoys styling and understands fashion. Devki and I follow one mantra, my personality must shine through my attire. So we decided on a slightly quirky but simple style quotient. I wear clothes by upcoming designers and unknown brands. But you will never catch me in some bizarre outfit,” says the Mumbai-based actor.

Long innings ahead
Today, after back-to-back hits, Taapsee has established her position in the industry. But the actor agrees that she too has experienced nepotism when someone else was picked over her. “Nepotism does exist, and I have also been through it when I lost a film to someone. But I didn’t grieve over it. Instead, I was very vindictive about it, I was productively vindictive. I worked more on my strengths.  So I knew nepotism existed and this would happen. But the fact that I don’t belong to a certain family or have a certain surname helps me because I am under no pressure,” signs off the actor decisively. 

On prepping for roles
I have never been to any workshops for my films except hockey training for Soorma. I am a trained Kathak dancer, my first performance was when I was an eight-year-old, so dancing is something that I enjoy in films too.  

On her dream roles
I want to play a role in the X-Men films or in  the Avengers franchise.

On fitness
I am not a gym fan. I play squash for my fitness.

On her personal space
I am a Delhi girl, so when I moved to Mumbai it took a while to find a place. I rented a place for two years and only after that I started hunting for a property. My house has been done in a shabby chic theme in European style. My sister and I looked up ideas on Pinterest. We shopped for things from Spain. I have started posting pictures of my house on my app for my fans.

On trolls
Trolls don’t deserve my sympathy. I think my haters are making me famous because I get to use my humour a lot more on social media. I believe the more trolls I get the bigger I am.

On feminism
Feminism is about equality. Don’t deprive me of an opportunity because I am a woman but don’t give me a reservation because I am a woman. Reservation should be based on the situation, not on gender. 

On me-time
I sleep when I get time. I can sleep up to 10 hours. If I get two days off from work, I travel.

On relationships
I will never be with an actor. I want to come back home to a life which is not about my profession. I don’t talk about my relationship because that shouldn’t overshadow my work. When I get married, I will surely make an announcement.