From working down South to going where she really belongs, Bollywood, Taapsee Pannu is ready for an interesting year in films.
TAAPSEE PANNU is relishing the thrill of playing on home ground. No longer does she have to wait for a translator to help decode her dialogues in Tamil or Telugu, or grapple with an unfamiliar accent. The independent Delhi girl is finally coming into her own, and her latest movie, Pink, has a lot to do with it. Admitting that her character is a lot like herself— someone who stands up for what she believes in, the spunky Punjaban who never gives up without a fight—she says that Pink is one of the high points of her career.
Produced by Shoojit Sircar and directed by Bengali filmmaker Aniruddha Roy Choudhary, the social thriller has already caused a flutter on social media post its trailer release. For the actress, it comes after the much-feted Baby. In Pink, she plays a molestation victim and insists that it isn’t inspired by any particular incident but by multiple cases in Delhi courts. The minute she heard the story, she had made up her mind. “Pink is closest to Taapsee in real life. There is the same independent streak, even the body language is of a typical Delhi girl. What I understood during the process is the kind of trauma a victim goes through, how they are ‘molested’ once again in courts,” she begins.
Pannu’s confidence reminds me of an observation made by film critic Baradwaj Rangan, when reviewing Mohenjo Daro heroine Pooja Hegde’s recent performance in Ashutosh Gowariker’s epic movie. Comparing it to an earlier one in Mysskin’s ill-fated Mugamoodi, he notes how knowing the language enhances one’s performance. It’s “The Taapsee Pannu Effect” he had termed it, referencing Pannu’s “entertaining turn in Baby after a series of insipid performances in Tamil films”. I bring this up when I interview the actress and she is quick to agree. “Knowing the language really helped. I started loving my job once I began doing Bollywood films. It was nice for once not to wait for your lines. I always told people I knew to act, but only now do they tell me ‘oh, so you can act’.” She continues that she is a director’s actor. “I am like raw dough that can be moulded in any way. Thankfully, I am getting better opportunities now.”
Pannu has three films this year, two in Hindi and one in Telugu. In Runningshaadi.com, her next film with the Shoojit Sircar production, directed by Amit Roy, she plays a loud-spoken Punjabi and in Prakash Raj’s Tadka, a remake of Malayalam film Salt N ’Pepper, she is Nicole, a Goan, who falls for an RJ.
Men and matters
While Pannu debuted in Telugu (10 films), she has worked in most South Indian language films (five in Tamil and one Malayalam movie) and has starred opposite most A-list actors. Radhika Apte, another trending actor known for her projects in the South, was recently vocal about how female actors are treated here, having to play second fiddle to male actors. Pannu doesn’t refute the argument, only admitting that it’s a “male dominated society”. Pointing out that she has only acted with heroes who are all big stars with several years in the industry, she says they have earned that respect. “That is not to say we are treated as inferior. In fact, you are treated like a queen on Tamil and Telugu sets. The minute I get down from my van, they stand up — I would say it’s intimidating, the kind of respect you get from the South.”
Having made her mark in Bollywood with unusual movie choices, is she still open to doing the ‘running around trees’ routine? “I think an actor is an actor as long as you do a range of roles. You can’t stick to doing a particular kind of role. That way, if I had started with Baby or Pink I would have been slotted as an arty actress for life,” she reasons, grateful for the mainstream Chashme Baddoor as her first Bollywood film. “I stand up for all the songs and dances I did. Actually, physically and mentally, Pink did take its toll on me, so there is nothing wrong in balancing it with a song-and-dance role next. It’s important to keep your energy levels up. If a great offer comes, I am game for more South Indian films,” declares the 29-year-old.
Girl in control
While she admits to needing direction with her career, she says her family is still clueless about the kind of films she does. “So my decisions are solely my own and I have no one to blame if things go wrong.” As an actor, she claims to be extremely objective about her work. “I find fault with everything I do. I am my own worst critic.” For every project, she takes a couple of days to understand the character and director’s expectations of her. Having worked with Amitabh Bachchan in Pink, she says she cannot get over how fastidiously he prepares for a role.
In Ajith-starrer, Arrambam, her ditzy journalist role—where she is often heard squealing “baby” at her co-star, Arya—went down well with her fans, even if critics found her a bit too shrill. It is easily one of her most popular roles in Tamil, after Aadukalam. She says a good co-actor is essential to bringing out the best in her. “The kind of energy they bring into the scene is a huge bonus.”
Critics and social media
The actor admits that she is sensitive to bad reviews, “not for a long time, but till maybe the next good review.” Actors, she maintains, are the most vulnerable species in the world, as they are always judged for the way they project themselves on and off screen. Though she fiercely guards her privacy on social networking sites, she admits to rather liking the direct access she has with her fans via Twitter. “I have made a clear distinction between my personal and professional lives. So I might react to a social issue but that’s that. I am not on Snapchat because I think I have a life. I don’t want anyone else to control my life or my time.” Nowhere in an actor’s contract does it say one has to compromise on their personal space, she adds pertly. “It’s like living in a house without doors and windows. This life of an actor will end one day and I want to explore and experience other important things in life.”
Inside her world
So who is Pannu, away from the sets and media glare? Is she an avid reader? Not since she pored through her engineering textbooks (in computer science) is her quick reply. She confesses that she falls asleep when reading any book. Unless it is a movie script. But travel is a way of life. “I like to keep a lot of things going on, besides my profession. Travelling always helps you discover new facets about yourself. It makes you the person you are.” Not claiming to be a backpacker, she loves local experiences when on the go, especially in London, and can experiment with the cuisine, public transport and long walks. Food is her biggest mood elevator. Hunger transforms her into another person, she chortles. She loves everything but gluten and lactose food. She shares other pet peeves:
■ “Having to look good even when I go to the airport annoys me. Why can’t I just wear a T-shirt and pyjamas when travelling? But no, the minute you do that you are judged and written off!”
■ Dancing “helped me shed my inhibitions on camera,” she says, having been trained in Kathak at Shiamak Dhavar’s dance institute for six years.
■ She is spiritual but not religious, and hates superstitions.
By Neelima Menon