MUMBAI— In the six years she has been around, Taapsee Pannu has made a name for herself as someone who is choosy and does not like to do just any role. And yet, in a way, Hindi cinema has never given this Punjabi actress, who started down South some years before her Hindi debut, her popular due.
But the “Chashme Baddoor” actress could not be bothered. The perky girl, whose output in the last few years includes “Pink,” “Naam Shabana,” “Mulk” and “Manmarziyan,” now feels that people are appreciating her choice of film that are mainstream with a difference. She is especially happy that the producer of her newest film “Badla” respected her wishes and actually got her the principal role in this remake of a Spanish whodunit, whereas the original protagonist was a male!
“That was very gratifying, yaar!” she said, almost in wonderment. “I wanted to do it when the producer Sunil Khetarpal pitched the story to me. At that point of time, even Sujoy Ghosh as director was not locked, and I said I will do it if they gave me the boy’s role instead of that of the girlfriend. Sunil said he will have to discuss that, I have no idea with whom, but they finally agreed. I think they even saw a certain dynamic in Amitabh Bachchan-sir and me coming together after ‘Pink,’ again as lawyer and client, and that gave the whole story so much more dimension, and the layers automatically changed.”
Taapsee said that the director has changed a few more things from the original, making it relatable to the Indian viewer. “He went deep into it and filled up a lot of loopholes,” she let on. “Every character in the film has layers that peel off, exposing another below. I love such layered characters. In ‘Manmarziyan,’ for example, all my layers – rebel, vulnerable, strong, temperamental – were all seen at once.”
The actress denied being intimidated by Amitabh Bachchan even in “Pink.” “I was intimidated only on day one, and that was terrible. And this time even our characters are different. In that film, I was the hapless woman he came in to rescue, here I am Naina, a self-made, strong, sharp and authoritative woman who runs a company in Glasgow, and hires him as a counsel.”
Preening that her experience on the movie was “Kaafi accha (very good),” when asked if this could be matched with Ghosh’s superlative “Kahaani” and short film “Ahalya,” she said, “It’s been a long while since Hindi cinema has seen a proper whodunit and a mystery.”
One reason for the paucity of whodunits could be that in these days of social media, people can give out spoilers. Taapsee agreed, but also pointed out, “In every love story, we know the lovers will unite in the end. The interesting part comes in how they unite. Similarly, I feel it is not important to know the killer in a whodunit. It is about how you came to know it that actually makes it interesting.”
Did it ever rankle that this was a Shah Rukh Khan production and he is not cast with her? With a naughty glint, she replied, “Who knows? He just might be there!”
Mischievously again, she mentioned that for her, doing this film was like slipping from a schedule of “Pink” into this film. Her explanation, accompanied by a cherubic grin: “The director again was a Bong (Bengali), the DOP was the same, and also a Bong, and the sound recording engineer was again a Bong! They would all converse in Bengali, and after a point, I began to wonder if I should learn the language!”
Has she ever felt like taking revenge on anyone in real life? “C’mon, yaar, we are human beings, not Gods! It’s a very human emotion!” she said candidly. “Yes, there was this boy whom I was dating, who broke up with me and then tried to flirt with me on phone two years later. I sent that entire printout to his new girlfriend! At different ages, your concept of revenge can change, of course!”
How does she feel about the fact that she acted in a good film like “Mulk” that underperformed? “Arey, yaar, we have forcefully created a mindset in the audience for years. It cannot be changed overnight, right?” Still, Taapsee, who believes that she can connect with the average audience because she is an average Indian person herself and chooses those roles and films too in that way, tells us that if she can be touched by a script, the audience too will.
She has also decided that she will continue to do one film a year down South, which is where she had her first foray into fame. “I have just done a bi-lingual called ‘Game Over’ there,” she said. “It is a horror comedy.”
But why is she not doing more of the mainstream brand of commercial cinema like “Judwaa 2” in Hindi when most of her films down South are mainstream? “I think people should dare to visualize me in those roles for a change, for I admit there are so many faces out there that are willing and better than me at doing those roles,” she said frankly. “It takes a David Dhawan to have the courage to see me in such roles and not play safe.”
Taapsee has four films due for release this year – besides “Badla” and “Game Over” there is “Mission Mangal” and “Saand Ki Aankh,” which is about sharpshooters. The actress calls the last film her most challenging role.
Finally, what does she have to say about being a part of the first release of Amitabh Bachchan after he completed 50 years in cinema? “I am just lucky to be a part of two of his films in his 50 years!” she smiled. “How many of my contemporaries have had that luck?”