Taapsee Pannu: Until my solo films cross 100 crore, I've to keep finding newer audience
Not willing to be just a fly on the wall, Taapsee Pannu says interesting characters add a spring in her walk like Manmarziyaan, and why #MeToo movement didn't work in Bollywood
At a time when actors opt to do one film a year, this is your fifth in 2018. Are you exhausted?
When you have interesting characters coming your way, fatigue doesn't even feature in the scheme of things. I'm on my toes and there's a spring in my walk. I have slogged to get these parts. Manmarziyaan is the last movie of the year.
Your film Mulk was widely appreciated. Were you surprised by the response it received?
It released with three other movies [Fanney Khan, Karwaan and Vishwaroop 2] and had a polarising subject, but I expected it to work. I am not 'conventional' in the regular terms, but I am not an indie or off-beat actor, call me new-age. Mulk was a massy film and I chose it because I am a commercial movie-watching audience. My choice of films is based on my middle-class mindset — will I spend Rs 200 and two and a half hours on a film? I am not a cinema student. I am a Hindi movie audience and prefer a paisa vasool movie any day. Like me, people's idea of what is gratifying at the theatres has changed too. It no longer means singing and dancing around trees. A film needs depth to be enjoyed by the conscientious thinking society. I may be politically unaware, but the subject of Mulk was not alien to me. It's the hard reality of our times and showing it on screen is bound to get people to the theatres. The film was a brave subject and I was sold on the intention.
You've clocked five years in Bollywood this year; do you now have a fair judgment of the dynamics of the movie business?
If you talk math, I can tell you whether a film will profit or not after the first screening. The game and its rules aren't something I am thorough with. I learnt acting on film sets. I understand what people expect of me and have stopped underestimating my audience. I am getting a hang of how to choose scripts. When I started off, I was hapless, direction-less, had no idea whom to seek advice from or find solace in, but I am not confused anymore.
Taapsee Pannu and Abhishek Bachchan in Manmarziyaan
Do you feel you have regained the fans you lost with Judwaa 2?
I have regained, sure, but it's not like I wouldn't submit myself to a film like that again. Until my solo films cross Rs 100 crores, I have to keep finding newer audience. Once they like me in massy films, I can plead my case with the ones that don't belong to the same palette.
How did you emotionally agree with the inherent sexism in Judwaa 2?
On set, I had a ball of a time. It's a film I'd watch for fun. When someone wants to relax and not use their brains, such movies are a respite. For instance, Mulk had a heavy subject, so much so that I would come back after the shoot and watch Gossip Girl. It rejuvenates someone who gets consumed by work 12 hours every day. Hard-hitting content will lose impact if not for such films. Acting can be mentally exhausting. After a long schedule of Manmarziyaan, I brought the character of Rumi home with me. I was aggressive and ready to punch anyone. My sister was petrified of me.
Are actors allowed to snap?
[Laughs] I am an instinctive actor. If someone is slyly taking pictures of me, I won't apologise for breaking their phones. Come up politely and ask, I will oblige.
What is Anurag Kashyap's version of a love story in Manmarziyaan?
It is a story where a woman's feelings matter as much as a man's. Rumi might not be socially acceptable, but she has the spine to not care, which is aspirational. She is a lot like me in many ways.
Despite such empowerment of female actors, why didn't the #MeToo movement work here?
As a culture, we are different from the West. Imagine a set up like Oscars where artistes openly criticise political honchos. Here, if we speak up against a regressive social norm, stones are pelted at our homes. Women here are vulnerable and affected by what people think because that's how we are conditioned. But I am hopeful; things will change. Speaking up in this society is a test of a woman's strength and her spirit. Gender inequality is my biggest problem with this industry. I have an issue with the lesser footfalls for a female protagonist film. A-listers don't agree to do movies when female actors have meatier roles. Till date, I struggle to get actors to star with me. When I am open to doing small parts in big films, I think actors too should be alright with it [like Akshay Kumar in Naam Shabana]. The bloated male ego is punctured by women faring well, so women aren't downright dismissed anymore. The response now is — we will see.
Next on the plate
After Taapsee Pannu's Pink, Sujoy Ghosh's Badla (2019) will be her second film with Amitabh Bachchan. She credits the directors and the script for the success she has achieved in Bollywood. "My directors and their scripts are the heroes of my life. I don't waste time looking at who I am paired opposite." After trying and failing to score films opposite A-listers she wisened up. "I wasn't cool with being just an arm candy."
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