“Someday, I want to play Captain Marvel,” says Taapsee Pannu as we chat about film, fashion, family and more…
She defines herself as, “unpredictable, inquisitive and stubborn.” This 33-year-old actress is unapologetic about who she is, what she believes in and what she stands for! Taapsee Pannu is a lot of things — a good actress, a vocal social activist and a proud feminist — what she isn’t, however, is someone who responds to troll attacks. The actress has been at the receiving end of incessant criticism by a top Bollywood actress and her sister recently, but it has left Taapsee pretty unfazed. In her career that has spanned over a decade, the actress, who debuted in the Telugu film Jhummandi Naadam in 2010, now has over 36 releases in three languages to her credit with many like Aadukalam, Pink, Naam Shabana and Thappad earning her countrywide reputation. We catch up with the talented actress and sports enthusiast who has close to 10 upcoming releases in her kitty, a week after her latest release, Haseen Dillruba (that released on Netflix on July 2) to talk about her choice of films, the way she deals with trolls and why she doesn’t see herself as a glamorous actor.
‘Haseen Dillruba’ is an interesting film to say the least — we don’t know many other films based on Hindi pulp fiction — why did you choose the film and tell us how you prepared for your role?
There were lots of reasons for me to do Haseen Dillruba. The first is that romantic thriller as a genre itself hasn’t been explored very much in Bollywood and Hindi pulp fiction is definitely something that I haven’t seen on screen before. It was therefore very exciting for me to portray such a character. What also worked for me was that Rani Kashyap (my character) is not someone I identify with on a personal level, nor was it a role I had done before. I haven’t played someone who uses her sexuality to her advantage; who is so aware of her beauty and her enamouring presence — it was pretty new for me.
Rani Kashyap was such a different role for you. How do you keep yourself from being typecast? You seem to have perfected the formula?
I’m glad you say so. A bunch of critics felt otherwise after watching Haseen Dillruba. There was a reason I wasn’t the first choice for the film. I don’t think people see me as a glamorous actress and the role called for someone like that. I am by no stretch of imagination the ideal actress for a role like Rani, but that’s exactly why I chose to do it. I want to put myself in those uncomfortable roles that are not natural to me.
You seem to be choosing films based solely on the merit of their script these days?
At the end of the day, it is the story that makes me decide — was I all ears, involved and engaged while hearing the script or reading the script? Did it make me feel like I would spend time and money to watch this on screen? It’s pretty clear for me: script before everything else. Audiences today are so intelligent and they really root for a good film. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says, if the audience likes a film it will work and I think that only happens if they connect with a script. That makes me always look at a script from the perspective of the audience.
From your debut in Telugu, to now several films in multiple languages — you’ve taken each of the industries in your stride. Was this intentional or did it just happen?
It was definitely not planned and this trajectory happened simply because I wanted to make the most out of every opportunity presented to me. I am unashamed to say that I have made a career out of the formula: go with the flow. I started my journey in the South and then moved to Bollywood and I learned my craft over the years and I’m still learning. I’ve learned from my mistakes as well and believe me; I made a lot of them in the beginning. I’m sure I’ll make mistakes in the future too, but I have taught myself not to repeat those mistakes again.
You’re known for being vocal about causes — often attracting trolls from within the industry too. How do you deal with it?
It really depends on my mood. If I am in a mood to engage then my sarcasm is on point, but if I am not in a mood to engage because I am busy or for whatever other reason, I just let it pass. Through the years, even before I was an actor, I have never let anyone get to me if they didn’t matter to me. I don’t care enough to get into mudslinging or stooping down to their level and I don’t think they realise it, but they just increase my relevance by constantly bringing me into the limelight.
We’re all fully aware of your acting prowess, but what is it that keeps you occupied in your free time, when you aren’t acting?
In my free time, I like to live a very regular life and I use my experiences from my regular life as inspiration for my characters in films. I am an early riser and I try to play a sport everyday or I work out. And then I come back home and spend time with my family. I live with my sister, so we do hang out a lot together. I have a bunch of friends who are not from the film industry and we hang out, eat out or watch films together. I am a very people’s person and I love spending time with my social circle. This really helps me stay more attached to reality and helps me ground myself.
You’re often praised for your down-to-earth looks. Not saying that you aren’t glamorous when you want to be. So, what do you do to ensure you look your best?
I realised quite early in my career that I am no diva and so my concentration has always been on looking relatable. My biggest strength is that I look ordinary and today that relatability is the hero.
You stand up for all sorts of causes — what are the ones closest to your heart — causes you wish you had more time and energy for?
Gender equality. Equality is what I want to work towards. Not one upmanship.
What does fashion mean to you? How would you define your personal style?
Fashion is temporary, style is eternal. You can use what is in fashion to suit your style, but never change your style to suit a fashion trend. My personal style, surprisingly, changes with each film I do. The characters I portray on screen have this strange impact on me. My wardrobe starts changing after every film; I kind of gravitate towards the styling and look of that character. At the core though, my sense of fashion is agile: clothes that allow me to move around freely. I will never be comfortable in clothing that just helps me look great in a picture. It better make me feel good too.
What is the advice you’d like to give to young girls growing up in India today?
You have just one life. Live it the way you want to. Make your mistakes, never repeat them and learn from them. It’s okay to make mistakes. There is a better tomorrow only if you don’t give up. Life is not a bed of roses. You will and should go through your own set of struggles. If you get things too easily, you might not be able to appreciate them and yes, there are no free lunches.
What is that one role that you wish you had done?
You might laugh at this one, but I have always wanted to play an Avenger. Someday, I want to play Captain Marvel!
Who do you think you would have been if you weren’t an actor?
I would have been an MBA postgraduate and would have been doing a job in marketing. I was really working towards that, but it didn’t happen and this career did. But I guess, life is what happens to you when you’re busy making plans.
In 2021, what is your hope for the representation of women in cinema?
I am just hoping that in 2021, women are allowed to be. They can be good, they can be bad and they can be ugly. A huge part of feminism is the right to choice and I hope women, in cinema and everywhere else, get that right to choose to do what they want to do and be what they want to be.
If you could be someone else for a day, who would you choose to be and why?
If it’s just for a day, an athlete! I have been working on a film where I play an athlete and I realised their daily schedule is just too strenuous for me. If I could be an athlete for just one day, I’d manage — but I don’t think I’d be able to lead that life.
What is the one life mantra you swear by?
I have two actually: never say never and live fully everyday and don’t just survive.
Finally, tell us a little bit about your upcoming projects?
I have a lot of them, but just for 2021 I have an upcoming film in the South, Rashmi Rocket, Looop Lapeta and Dobaaraa.
‘Haseen Dillruba’ is streaming on Netflix.
TAKE 10 WITH TAAPSEE
What’s your spirit animal?
I think I am a Lioness. I am a Leo. I can’t run away from it, can I?
Your guilty pleasure?
What’s your happy place?
What do you always wake up to?
Sunrises. I really love them.
What do you end your day with?
A glass of hot water.
Five must-have wardrobe essentials?
A white shirt, denims, a cotton sari, a jacket and a shrug.
Five make-up essentials you swear by?
A blush, mascara, an eyebrow comb, some lip colour and a good moisturiser.
Your favourite holiday destination?
If you were a cocktail you’d be a...
A martini. Because it’s simple.
Your favourite film of all time?
Chak De! India.