Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR
She’s as real as it gets. Taapsee Pannu is sharp, spunky and has the knack of making a mark – as seen in some of her films recently. With ‘Badla’ she teams up with her ‘Pink’ co-star, legendary Amitabh Bachchan again. Donning a black dress, we catch up with the actress in the middle of promotions at Mehboob studio for a rendezvous. Excerpts from this candid chat:
It was refreshing to see a murder-mystery coming up after so long with ‘Badla’. What was your reaction when this came to you?
Usually, in Hindi cinema, murder mystery is a very old genre but lately we’ve discovered so many new genres that this has kind of gotten lost somewhere. That’s why when it came my way, I was very excited because even I hadn’t seen a good murder mystery thriller since a really long time. Usually in thrillers, one incident happens followed by another in linear motion. But here, it’s just two people discussing how the incident would have happened in different perspectives and figuring out which perspective is the right perspective. That’s a very new screenplay which I haven’t seen so far in a murder mystery and I haven’t done something like that in my career before this. Only when people see the film they will realise why I’m saying this. I mean when I say that I haven’t done this before because I’ve been trying to do different stuff always that’s why I’ve been adamant to do this. I happened to come across this film two years back and I was the first one to get signed by the producer while he was simultaneously looking for the director and other actors on board. When I came on board I remember, Sujoy had read the script but he was not sure if he was ready to do it and if it’s his zone whereas I told him this is a typical Sujoy Ghosh script. And a few months later, I get a call saying that ‘Mr. Bachchan and Sujoy have been locked for the film.’ So when I wanted him to do it, he didn’t do it. Now when Mr. Bachchan is there, he wants to do it. I gave him so much grief on this, even now I give him grief for this, but I hope he makes up for it in the future. But this is a perfect cast for this film, and perfect director. And yes, I don’t think anyone can ever think of a better co-star when you work with Mr. Bachchan.
And working two times now with Mr. Bachchan…
I’m lucky. When I say my luck-line is bigger than my life-line, I mean it, it’s there in my hand. So, I’m worked with him again and we are all hoping we re-create the magic of ‘Pink’ again, and hope people love us so much that we come back for a hat-trick!
He is such a deep performer, especially in genres like these where he plays a lot through his eyes. So then, how do you dwell yourself into a certain method accordingly with him?
That’s to my benefit. My life becomes easy when you have an actor like him in front of you. People say, ‘oh you must be getting intimidated,’ but when I look into his eyes, I get a boost of energy to perform because it’s so easy to react. He throws the energy at you and you have to bounce back. With some actors you have to create that energy but with this one, it’s the opposite. You just have to use his energy and bounce it off. That’s why in most of my films I say, that a part credit for my performances goes to my co-actors because their energy makes
How was it getting into this kind of genre or the world which Sujoy Ghosh creates in his films?
When I read the script, I was myself so excited about the idea. When I get excited, half the job is done. Scotland where we shot the film, played a character in itself. We could have shot this film in India as well but we needed a very gloomy kind of a space because the place needs to have a mystery kind of a feel. Glasgow is so gloomy and it added to the film as a character – that’s what Sujoy’s brain decided. The characters in this thriller, have multiple layers – all the characters. But they will only reveal one layer at a time. Unlike a drama like ‘Manmarziyaan’ where I had to be angry, vulnerable at the same time, this character is going to show one layer at a time and how you smoothly transition from one layer to the other is the biggest transition for an actor because you don’t display all your cards at one go. It’s very interesting how the doubt will go on everyone and as an audience, you are sitting like a judge analysing who is lying out of all these. That’s the trick of the director and since Sujoy has written the dialogues himself, it was a huge task because most of the film is across the table between Mr. Bachchan and me. The task is, how will you keep the audience engaged when you are talking so much? It’s quite a challenging task for the director more than the actors in these.
Having come here from the south and starting off with ‘Chashme-Buddoor’, you could have easily fallen into the stereotype of a girl next door or a ‘masala’ film heroine. But here’s you – look at the choices you’ve made!
Most of my films haven’t been the quintessential heroine roles. In the beginning, I didn’t have much of an option. I was not getting those kind of roles because there were girls far better than me to do those kind of roles. I didn’t have an option than to choose a path which may not be conventional for the world, or easy for me, but if I do make an impact – that will be remembered. Because I was one of the first few of this generation to take this kind of path, people acknowledged it and that became my identity slowly and steadily. Now whenever people think that there’s something not conventional, or not easy for a normal heroine to do, they come to me for it. I’m very happy I have some sort of an image or some sort of a take-back value that if Taapsee is there, it can’t be a regular role. If she’s there, it has to be something important to the script. I think that kind of image of mine has formed over the last few years and it’s perfectly fine. Not that I had planned this, I just went by the options I had. But eventually, I started getting attracted to these kind of films and roles because I’m an audience of these kind of films and I resonate with these characters so probably I have done the widest range of characters – like for example, ‘Mulk’ or even characters with grey shades who are not the perfect or ideal like ‘Manmarziyaan’. But they are all characters who I can relate to, at a real level and that’s what’s happening in cinema today. People do see aspirational films and characters but now with the exposure to other content and Hollywood, people do see real, relatable characters. The younger generation has not started getting associated with more of such characters. That’s why people have started liking me, connecting with me. My biggest USP is the fact that I’m an average Indian girl and I’m extremely proud of that. I’m not a diva, I’m not an aspirational kind of a character in real and that has become my biggest strength so that a regular Indian girl can relate with me, and what reflects in my films too.
Do you think, it was ‘Pink’ which changed the game for you?
‘Pink’ has been a turning point and I think every actor has or should have that one film which makes the audience feel that they’ve arrived. It’s not like after ‘Pink’ I’ve not performed at that level but I’ll always be called the ‘Pink’ girl because that was the first time people took my performance or me back home. I’m very happy I have some reference point.
And from there as well, you did raise the bar!
That was a challenge. I remember we were at Mr. Bachchan’s house celebrating his birthday. So writer Juhi Chaturvedi was there, Sujoy was there, Balki sir was there among many others and I remember Juhi telling me that, ‘you’re in a mess now because what this film has done for you, it’s brilliant but you will be pitted against your own film and performance every time. You’ll always be remembered by ‘Pink’ and compared to it, no matter what you do after this.’ So, I thought let me take this as a challenge. People should not say, that was my first and last performance they will remember me for. Even though ‘Mulk’ was in the same genre, my aim was that people have to get beyond ‘Pink’ when they see it and I was happy with the response. I’m happy people are not stuck with it. I could manage to get out of the mess that Juhi was talking about.
Has it been easy or difficult to maintain your individuality or beliefs through all of this so far?
My individuality has stayed. Sometimes I struggle a bit to decide whether I should stick to the kind of films and the kind of life I want to live or should I do the kind of films or live the kind of life which is expected out of me? That battle still exists. But I realised that whatever gives me peace by the end of it – is what matters. That won’t necessarily give me fast-paced success. It will be slow and steady, but it will be solid, and my own. For instance, people tell me I should socialise more, in the movie circuit, it will be nice for me. I would do it but I don’t want that to be driven by an agenda of getting work or getting through these groups. I love to chill with people I work with because there, I know I’m not chilling with them with a certain agenda. I chill with people because I am working with them. So, these are the small resolutions that I make. At the end of the day, I’m Taapsee – this profession is a part of my life, not my whole life and I want to keep it that way.