Taapsee Pannu: setting a relentless pace

Taapsee Pannu   | Photo Credit: Tejinder Singh Khamkha

As a celebrity, Taapsee Pannu understands that she has a platform and is not afraid to make her opinions known. But there’s a life rule that she adopted early on, which continues to be an integral part of her social media strategy: hate the sin and not the sinner. “Sinners keep changing. Someone who you might never have thought would commit that sin might do it, but the sin is going to be the same regardless,” she explains. At a time when silence has been the mantra for many of her contemporaries, this Sikhni from Delhi isn’t afraid to stick her neck out. “I have always been an opinionated person, even when I was younger,” says Pannu, who has tweeted about the farmer protests and, more recently, on giving writers due credit for their work. “But I am also not someone who has an opinion on everything. I speak about things that really affect me. I don’t have extreme views on things because I do listen to the other side as well.”

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The Hindu Weekend spoke with the actor on a weekend evening recently: Zoom-ready, without a speck of make-up, and tucked away in what she describes as the ‘Indian corner’ of her Mumbai apartment. Interestingly, while other outspoken actors have had to pay a price for their candour, in Pannu’s case it’s become an integral part of her brand. “My standing instruction to my team is to not engage with a brand if they seem concerned about my social media presence. Most of my brand associations go way back to my early Hindi films like Baby [2014]. They come to me because of my image and my social media presence is an integral part of that. Brands that want a clean or fake image just don’t come to me,” she adds with a shrug.

Taapsee and Anurag Kashyap on the sets of ‘Dobaaraa’

Taapsee and Anurag Kashyap on the sets of ‘Dobaaraa’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Taking instability head on

Pannu has come a long way from her early years — projects in Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Hindi — where she was mostly a decorative afterthought. In the second half of her 11-year showbiz career, she has seemed more sure-footed. The game changer was Pink (2016) and she’s followed it up with some eclectic choices such as Naam Shabana (2017), Mulk (2018), Badla (2019), and Thappad (2020).

Pannu means business
  • Apart from her day job as a storyteller and a side-hustle as an ambassador to multiple consumer brands, Pannu is also a budding entrepreneur. She is the team owner of Pune 7 Aces, a badminton franchise that plays in the Premier Badminton League. Along with her sister Shagun, she also owns an event management company called The Wedding Factory. (At present, the duo is giving us FOMO with their holiday posts from Moscow.) And, she’s hands-on with both businesses. Here are three maxims that guide her as a businesswoman.
  • * “I choose businesses that will never face a recession.”
  • * “I don’t like outsourcing everything. The business should be such that you can handle it completely if the need arises.”
  • * “It should be an extension of your personal interest. If it’s not, you will not be able to stick it through the lean periods.”

While her career has been on the ascent, the 33-year-old hasn’t forgotten the ephemeral nature of fame. “It can end any time. This is the most unstable career anyone can have. It doesn’t take time to switch from success to failure. I’ve made peace with it and have learnt not to get too attached,” she says.

For someone who has been on-the-go for the last five years, the pandemic-triggered downtime has been a welcome respite. But it has also thrown a spanner in her well-planned schedule. “I am going to have five releases this year because only Thappad released last year,” she says.

When the first lockdown was announced last March, Pannu was shooting Haseen Dillruba in Haridwar with Vikrant Massey, while training to play a Gujarati track athlete in Rashmi Rocket. In the brief period between the two waves of the pandemic, she completed filming for the Tamil spy thriller, Jana Gana Mana, and the Hindi films Looop Lapeta (the Indian adaptation of Tom Tykwer’s 1998 breakout German film, Run Lola Run), Haseen Dillruba, Rashmi Rocket, and Anurag Kashyap’s Dobaaraa. “We had just shot 10 days of Shabaash Mithu [a biopic on Indian women’s cricket captain Mithali Raj] when the lockdown happened again. I am ready with my 2021 quota of films.”

A still from ‘Looop Lapeta’

A still from ‘Looop Lapeta’   | Photo Credit: Sardar Singh Virk

‘Not a seductress’

Her first release for 2021 is Haseen Dillruba, a thriller love triangle directed by Vinil Mathew, that drops on Netflix on July 2. With her trademark candour, Pannu shares that she wasn’t the first choice for it. She had collaborated with the film’s writer, Kanika Dhillon, on Manmarziyaan, and had first heard about the idea while on the shoot. “I had told her [Dhillon] to consider me whenever she was ready to narrate,” she says. Pannu then left to film Saand Ki Aankh, and by the time she returned, the script had already been narrated to someone else.

“Then one day, I got a call from [co-producers] Colour Yellow. They wanted me to come to their office, listen to the narration, and give an answer right there. This was what had happened with Manmarziyaan as well. I’ve done Badla, which is a classic murder mystery, but this one is unique because it’s such a cocktail of a thriller and an intense love story, and there’s comedy too.” Pannu was quick to sign on, but reminded Dhillon often enough that she wasn’t the first choice! “I don’t blame her entirely, though”, she says after a pause, adding, “This character is a seductress and I am probably not the first name that comes to mind when there’s sexuality at play. But it was meant for me so it came to me.”

Taapsee in ‘Rashmi Rocket’

Taapsee in ‘Rashmi Rocket’   | Photo Credit: Tejinder Singh Khamkha

Pushing limits

Haseen Dillruba is the rare film among those that Pannu has spent the last year making that isn’t intensely physical. Rashmi Rocket, Looop Lapeta, Shabaash Mithu, and Jana Gana Mana required her to be in peak physical form. That she had to shoot these films consecutively is a “sad coincidence”. “The first two really took a toll on me physically. My leg muscles in particular, because I was running a lot between November and February,” she says, pointing out that it was “proper running, because I haven’t used body doubles”. Not being someone who gives up easily, she pushed herself to the limit and then realised she could end up with permanent damage. “I had to tell my directors that I couldn’t do more than a particular number of running shots in a day.”

Taapsee training with coach Nooshin Al Khadeer for ‘Shabaash Mithu’

Taapsee training with coach Nooshin Al Khadeer for ‘Shabaash Mithu’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The relentless pace she has set for herself is because she believes that female actors don’t have the luxury of doing one film a year. “For a film like Rashmi Rocket, I would have ideally wanted one-and-a-half years, of which I’d take a whole year to transform my body into that of a sprinter. But as a female actor who’s paid very little, I can’t sustain myself for that time working on only one film,” she says. “If you compare even within the same genre, female-driven films get about 10% of what a male-driven one would be given. From the first call of negotiation, the line that they start with is ‘It’s a female-driven film’, so that everyone [in their heads] cuts out a certain percentage of their salary.” While a lot has been done to address this wage disparity, there’s still a long way to go.

As she starts a new decade in the business, Pannu hopes that someday soon she’d be able “experiment more” without the pressure to have multiple releases a year. “An actor becomes a star when people blindly trust his or her choices. When I achieve that status, I’d want to become more choosy — make the canvas bigger, but reduce the quantity.”

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 3:27:11 AM |

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