Indulge Christmas special: Read our exclusive interview with Taapsee Pannu on the year that was
IT ALL STARTED with Badla, a mystery thriller that saw Taapsee Pannu sharing screen space in equal measures with Amitabh Bachchan. Then came Game Over, a psychological thriller that was shot simultaneously in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, where she shouldered the film and displayed a doughty performance yet again. The next was an absolute commercial blockbuster, Mission Mangal that featured an ensemble cast. She capped the year with Saand Ki Aankh, which saw her performing the role of over a 60-year-old shooter daadi from Haryana.
Not only did each of these films see her taking on different roles, but they also saw her taking up projects that varied in screen space, genre and the various labels that exist in the world of Indian cinema such as two-heroine film, multi-starrer, art film, and so on. Now, Taapsee has signed over half a dozen films, has become first choice of many filmmakers and will be seen shouldering many of these films. As she looks ahead and gears up for 2020, she sat down for a chat with Indulge. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: How has the year 2019 been for you?
It has happily flown by. I had shot for a lot of films, and I had four releases this year — Badla, Game Over, Mission Mangal and Saand Ki Aankh. I tried to choose very diverse roles and films, to see if my selection is in sync with the audiences, and if they are ready to see me for the entire length of the film because in most films, there is a big star always dominating the screen space. I wanted to know if they are ready to accept me shouldering a film, and the response was quite validating. I know I can now take a step ahead, and challenge myself more in 2020.
Q: How important is diversity to you while choosing a film? Tell us your favourite pick from these four films, and why.
It is a very conscious thing to not repeat because I am a person who gets bored very quickly. I don’t even repeat my holidays. This personality trait of mine reflects in my work as well and, thank god, people are coming up with diverse scripts! It is a perfect time to be an actor. My favourite pick would be Saand Ki Aankh, it was the riskiest film. I didn’t know if the audience will accept women in their 60s as heroes of the film, and if they will accept us enacting those women on screen. It was not fitting in the conventional commercial space, so we were very unsure, and I stepped out of my comfort zone in every possible way.
Q: Coming to Saand Ki Aankh, congratulations on the Best Actor Critics Choice (Female) award that you won. After that, you also wrote a post on social media stating how Tushar Hiranandani (director) will not have to answer why he took you and Bhumi Pednekar to play older characters. Could you elaborate on the same, and lay it to rest, once and for all?
There is a fact that roles for women aren’t written that well, and it is only in the recent past that we have started receiving well-written roles, so I understand where a person is coming from when they say this is my age group, or this is my role. I understand that, but having said that, if I get a chance to play a 60-year-old or a six-year-old or a man or a transgender, the roles where I don’t fit in conventionally, I will still do it, if the script is as good. I am a greedy actor who wants to take up a good script and a challenging role. If I am not able to justify that script, I am happy to take all these allegations, but not when you are questioning me without even seeing the film. Besides, I don’t think anybody except the director is allowed to say who should do the role, and there are so many times that it has happened in the past, be it Saransh or Mother India or so many films in Hollywood. Honestly, if I would have seen someone in my position, I would have appreciated that person’s guts to do it.
Q: How do you feel the year has been for Indian cinema? What were some of the positive changes that you saw?
I think it has been really, really good. The box office has been on fire since the beginning. It began with Uri and it will end with Dabangg and Good Newwz. In between, there has been not just diversity in the subjects, but it saw everything from potboilers and conventional commercials to content-driven films. We also saw that a nice marriage of content and commercial aspect today ensures that you are going to have footfalls. Earlier, people would wake up to a good film when it would come on OTT platforms or on television, but this year, these films have seen a good result on the box office. A point in case is Badla, it didn’t have any comedy, song or fight sequence or anything conventional going in its favour. In fact, a lot of things that are there in the film go against conventional commercial cinema — be it two people sitting across a table and talking to each other for a maximum number of minutes in the film, or the antagonist being a woman, or a murder mystery that has a lot of talking... And yet, look at the result (made on a budget of Rs 10 crore, it made over Rs138 crore at the box office). The response was overwhelming.
Q: Taapsee, do you believe in making new year resolutions? Did you make any for 2019, and were you able to stick to them?
I used to believe in them. It is a kind of a nice milestone to begin something new, not that it has to be done religiously (laughs). For 2019, I thought I will not waste food. Sometimes, we over-order or end up wasting food at home, so I tried my best to pack it and give it to someone. But many times, I faltered when I was in a rush, and wherever I could, I tried... And, what are your resolutions for 2020? I want to try and be my fit best. It is not about getting thinner, but getting strong from within, as I have seen a lot of people having health issues, because they end up putting work before their health, and I have seen some horrible instances of people breaking down, health-wise. I don’t want that to happen to me.
Q: You also tried your hand at stand-up comedy this year with Amazon Prime’s One-Mic Stand. How did it happen? Tell us about your experience.
It just came my way and, I gave it a shot thinking what’s the worst that can happen, it is not like I will stop getting work. The experience was very nerve-wracking. I have a decent sense of humour, but it is not like it will match with the general sense of humour, as I have a very dry sarcastic humour. If I start talking in it, it takes a while for people to understand if it was a joke or I meant it. So, I was very scared, especially because I was going to be on stage with 250 people in the room and ensuring that everybody is laughing at a joke that I thought in my head was funny, was challenging. The audience was very kind and laughed at all possible jokes, so I was really happy at the end of it, but I wouldn’t do it again because the nerve-wracking time that I had before that was too much to handle.
Q: What else would you like to explore in 2020? Any business ventures?
I have sky diving and bungee jumping on my bucket list, which haven’t happened yet. Businesswise, I really want to stabilise my badminton team, because it is relatively new. And, investing in sports, apart from cricket, is not something that gets you good returns, at least immediately, so it is a very risky venture, business-wise. My wedding planning company is already established, my sister is handling it, and we have been running in profits since last few years. There are a few ideas, but I will move on to them only after this is settled.
Q: You have a lot of films coming up — Tadka, Rashmi Rocket, Thappad, Haseen Dilruba and Jan Gan Man. What else is there in the list?
It is a crazy lineup! I had said yes to six-seven films, which are so different from each other, and I had such good scripts that I couldn’t say no and now, I don’t know how it is going to get adjusted in my calendar, as there are only 365 days, and then there are some new releases as well (laughs). I know they will happen somehow, as I am not letting them go to someone else, as I have worked really hard to be in this position where people are ready to wait for my dates, and I am not so easily replaceable. I have reached this point where I am the first person to hear a script, and the first choice of directors. And, I don’t want any of these to slip out of my hands.
Q: Does it not take a toll on your health?
I actually have a very good work-life balance, because I don’t think acting is my entire life, I don’t treat it like that. I know it is my job, I go to work and I come back home to a normal life. I don’t let it affect my personal life. They vboth are equally important. I take small breaks after every project, and if I get two days off, I leave for Delhi to meet my family. Then, I also have businesses, which I have started parallel to my acting profession. They help me divert my attention and rejuvenate.
Q: What do you consider as your biggest achievement in 2019?
The fact that I have had a lot of people saying that if Taapsee is a part of the film, we have a producer or a studio to back this project. They felt that their film can be mounted upon my shoulders, which is a very happy feeling, because every actor wants to work and have their own audience. The fact that there are people ready to put money in my film, the fact that I could ask for a flip of gender in Badla and the producers agreed, the fact that Rashmi Rocket was a one-line idea that I heard in Tamil and I reached out to a friend who was ready to produce that film, and to buy that idea and make a full-fledged script because I liked the idea and wanted to be a part of it — that was very validating.
Q: What’s interesting is that you continue to work parallelly in the South Indian film industries. Is this a conscious decision?
Yes, it is a conscious decision to keep doing films in South Indian languages, because that’s where I started. One may call it a sense of gratitude that I have for that industry because they taught me — a person who wasn’t even a movie buff — the abc of films. And, at no point, I want them to think that I used it as a stepping stone to get into the Bollywood as I had no plan. There weren’t any steps in my mind, I was taking everything as it came.
Q: Three changes you wish to see in 2020.
Cleaner air and water. I really wish another step is taken towards gender equality, not just about pay parity but getting an equal chance and not getting shunned away because you are from a particular gender. Lastly, I really wish the whole negativity that is breeding around social media or in life, in general, where only negative comments get more attention or clicks, goes away. We need to start to channelise our energy on something positive otherwise we are just going to kill ourselves and everything around us with negativity.
Q: Lastly, tell us about your new year plans.
I have plans to go to Mauritius with my sister and a couple of friends. But, I have to book a place for that first (laughs)!
Cover Photo: Sathish Yadav
Location courtesy for Cover photo: The Park Mumbai, Juhu
Stylist: Devki Bhatt
Assistant Stylist: Mohana Sree
Hair and Make Up: Kyana Emmot