On Top Of The Game

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From being the ‘baby’ in Arrambam to being a rocket scientist in Mission Mangal and turning a shooter for her latest Saand Ki Aankh, Taapsee Pannu has a quality about her that is very convincing. The pretty lass, who is arguably one of the busiest actors currently, also happens to have a matter-of-fact personality that makes her very convincing in person too. We felt for her in Pink, rooted for her in Mulk, had a squirmy time seeing her in Game Over and felt inspired by her in Saand Ki Aankh. We got an opportunity to chat with her recently and here’s how well we got along with the brilliant Tapsee Pannu.

Photography: ABHISHEK VERMA

Stylist: DEVKI BHATT

Assisted by: MOHANA SREE, NEHA SARKAR AND PULAK SHARMA

Hair: SEEMA MANE

Makeup: SANIYA SHADADPURI

There has been a gradual shift in the kind of movies that you work in. Now, when you sign a new project, the audiences have high expectations. Is Pink a reason for this shift?

Yes. Pink gave me a sense of direction of what is expected out of me; this is how the audiences like me. It pointed me to the right path.

Was the shift from commercial movies difficult?

No, it happened very organically. When I started acting in Hindi, I realised my potential as an actor as far as language control was concerned. When I first started acting, I was working in languages I did not understand properly. I was acting according to instructions. Somebody would tell me ‘this is happy line’ or ‘this is a sad situation’ and I would emote accordingly. I did not know the language and I’m not a trained actor. I cannot make it look real; I was not good at making the lines my own. But when I began acting in Hindi, I started realising how I can improvise and how I can add to a character. That realisation came when I acted in my mother tongue and that changed me. It helped me change my choice of films and I started choosing films that interested me rather than because people are advising me or because there is a big actor or director involved.

Which was the most confusing part of your career?

Choosing between what should be done and what I wanted to do. There are certain types of films that you have to do as an actress because they are big films. Every actress who made it big did it that way. The definition of a top heroine is ‘one who acts with big heroes’. This is still the norm. It is not about what role she is doing or what kind of film she chooses; it is about who she acts with. I have thought if I should do those films or stick to roles and films that interested me. I’m not from a film family and I do not have a lot of friends in the film industry. But after Pink, I realised my calling. I decided to do films that make me happy. It’s ok if I do not become a popular heroine; I can happily live with that. But I will make a niche for myself where the audience will come to watch me; not because I’m with a big hero.

I did not use glycerin during the entire filming of pink!

Have you ever regretted signing a film while you were shooting for it? How did you handle it?

There was a time when I was forcing myself to go to work every day because the reason why I said yes to the project was not because I loved the story or my character – I signed that particular film was because it was a big movie and people said it was always good to be part of a big film. I would get up in the morning with no excitement to go to work. I kept thinking, why am I doing this job? Why am I not doing engineering, or marketing or something regular like that? If I’m not enjoying it, why am I doing it? At that time I realised this was not working for me. From that time onwards, my happiness has always mattered the most. I’m ok doing small films, with no big names attached, as long as I’m happy working on that subject. Nowadays, I’m mostly happy every day because I do the kind of films I want to do, I have an audience who likes my work – they don’t come and watch me because I look sexy, or because I look a certain way. They watch me because they feel I can choose good films or because some of them feel that I can act well. They’re watching the movies for the right reasons. So I’m happy.

What according to you was the most defining scene in Pink?

Two scenes really moved me, but both have no dialogues. One was when my character comes into the house and slaps her friend for accepting in court that we had taken money. That scene had no dialogues and I didn’t even meet my co-actor that day before shooting that scene. The director came into the van that day and told me that I had to walk into the room and find where the friend was – he was not going to let me know where she was sitting – and slap her straight away. He just explained the scene and asked me to perform it as I thought fit. I had no idea of how to do this scene. But I had psyched myself into believing that I was Minal Arora. I sat for half-an-hour in the van, not thinking of how to go about the scene, but working myself up thinking ‘this has happened to me.’ The scene was set, I was told on the walkie-talkie that I could walk out. The camera was already rolling. I had no preparation – I walked in, looked for my coworker, performed and we took only that one shot. It came as it was taken in the film.

The second scene is when Amitabh sir winds up his case and is giving the final statement saying ‘no means no’. After that, I hold his hands and say thank you. That scene also was not written like that. The director said to me,“ Right now, this is the only man standing for you. This is the only person who is supporting you and he has given it all in the court to help you. How will you thank him?” I just held his hands and started crying in real. I have not used glycerin in the entire film. These two scenes really touched me inside when I was performing.

One memorable scene from Mulk?

When I was offered this film, I was the first actor to have read the script. Director Anubhav sir made me sit in the office, gave me the script and told me, “read it here right now and tell me if you want to do it or no.” I myself am very sensitive towards this topic. I also belong to a minority – I am a Sikh. I can understand how it would be if I was targeted in any way or if I feel something wrong is happening. I could feel what a person belonging to a minority will feel. The character – Arthi Mohammad; ‘Arthi’ is a very typical Hindu name and adding Mohammad to that name – just the name had so much weight. Everyone in that film came on board because they personally felt for that topic. We worked for half the money and made sure the film was done and I’m so proud of it. It is one of the films that I will show my children, with pride. Shooting the final scene was very moving for me. The final statement that I gave, was a 2-page-long dialogue. When the cameras began rolling, I finished the dialogue in a single take and the entire set stood up and began clapping.

Before, I did not how to choose films and was taking suggestions from people. When I worked on a project in Hindi, I figured out what I am capable of!

Was it easy to essay the role of Rumi in Manmarziyan?

It was difficult, though Rumi as a personality is very similar to me. The character closest to my personal life is probably Rumi. But, one major difference between me and Rumi is that, I am very clear in what I want and what I don’t want. Rumi is confused. I don’t relate to that confusion. But then, that was to be my challenge – in convincing the audience. Some people love me for it, some people hated it, but I’m happy I could do that part to my level best. Rumi did stay with me for a long time and will always be one of the most memorable characters, I’ve portrayed.

Game Over is a Tapsee movie. The movie depended only on you. Did the pressure get to you?

Initially, I was very happy. I was happy when I read the script; I was happy when I was acting. Since the time the posters released and the promotions began, I became stressed. Everybody made me realise how much of a big deal this was. The biggest pressure came when I saw my name on the poster. In Hindi, it is not a practice to print the actor’s name as a marketing factor. The poster had ‘Tapsee in Game Over’; this is not usually done in Hindi. I was 100% happy with it, but also nervous. It is good to feel a bit of heat at this point but initially, I hadn’t felt nervous at all.

How did Tapsee gain wisdom and learn the art of saying no?

By making mistakes. I’ve become whatever I am through all the mistakes and the lessons they taught me. One credit I’ll always give myself is that I never repeat a mistake. I make mistakes – I’m a normal human being. But I learn from them and don’t repeat those mistakes. Today if I have clarity in what I want, it is because of the mistakes I’ve committed in my personal and professional life.

Choosing between what should be done and what I wanted to do was difficult!

RAPID FIRE

Vintage A. R. Rahman or modern A. R. Rahman? Rahman is always Rahman, no matter what era.

TV or Netflix? Netflix, because you can choose what you want to watch. In TV, you have to watch whatever the channel is playing.

Favourite series on Netflix? A series called You. I am very inspired by that story. I wish I could play that character!

Hide-and-seek or PubG? I like playing games like hide-and-seek or even the 90s video games. I don’t like the newfangled stuff like PubG!

Old Nokia phone or an iPhone? I prefer an iPhone now.

Sehwag’s first ball sixer or Dhoni’s last ball sixer? Last ball sixer, always! The climax always has to rock.

Dosas or pizzas? Dosas

Mario or GTA? Mario, any day. That game is a personal favourite.

Shakthiman or Deadpool? I don’t want both! Iron man…

Postcards or WhatsApp? Handwritten letters are the best.

Have you ever gotten a love letter? What I got was a scribbled note on a torn half-page, that somebody had put in my school bag.

Madhavan or Vijay Deverakonda? In the 90s, I was too young to have a crush on Madhavan. Vijay is a colleague, I don’t have a crush on him. I’ll choose whoever will act with me next!

Love marriage or live-in? I’d prefer to live-in for a while before getting married but I love marriage too.

 

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