Much like her character Rumi in Manmarziyaan, Taapsee Pannu cannot be tamed. “I haven’t listened to my dad ever,” the actor claims as she reasons why it is important to argue with her directors until she is sure about her character. But is there a price to pay for such forthrightness in an industry which doesn’t lend ears to its female voices? In an interview with indianexpress.com, Taapsee talks about her rise in Bollywood and how success has made her more audible to people.
Q. With Manmarziyaan, for the first time, you are saving you heart and not the society or the country.
(Laughs). Yeah, I am saving my heart which does not seem to be saved at all. I am wearing it on my sleeves literally. But I am not a tennis ball between the two guys. It’s my play. It’s a girl’s point of view in a love story for a change. In Hindi love stories, what happens is there’s a poor girl and her parents take decisions for her and she goes from one love to another. Here, there is no pressure on the girl. It’s her heart. She decides, ‘Oh this one’s nice, now that’s one nice.’ If she is getting heartbroken, it is not because of someone else. It’s because of her own self. It’s purely a girl’s play.
Q. You and Anurag had a lot of fights during the course of the film regarding your character. But he also admitted that you are one of the rare actors in Bollywood who are straightforward.
It takes too much time, effort and hard work to sugarcoat things, make up stories and carry those stories forward. Because I am very lazy, I am honest. So, I just say it out there because I can’t have backlog of things later.
Q. But is it difficult to argue with your director?
That’s my first warning given to all my directors that I will ask a lot of questions. So, I tell them, ‘Either you convince me or get convinced by me.’ You are not going to force me to do anything. I haven’t listened to my dad yet! I do not listen to anyone. I do what I feel like doing. So, you have to make sure you convince me for whatever you want me to do. So, that’s the argument point always be it with Anurag or Sujoy or anyone. It’s been like that. With Anubhav sir also, every time we have had arguments, sometimes they have been for a minute, sometimes for hours. But you have to discuss it with me because if I don’t feel it, I will not do it efficiently and it will show on screen. So, what’s the point?
So, that’s why Anurag and I have had long arguments, fights but we also love each other a lot so much so that don’t get surprised if you see a lot of films coming up in future with me and Anurag sir. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we announce it (referring to Womaniya) officially because then we will know when we are exactly starting it.
Q. Is it important for you to empathise with your character, in this case Rumi, when you can’t relate with her on a personal level?
I have to. I have to force myself to relate to her. I have to psyche myself out. That’s why I think I am becoming a mad woman with every film because I have to brainwash myself into different roles. That really psyches you out. Also, you have to go on with the gut feeling that your director knows what he is doing. But it works both ways. I can’t do anything hoping the director will manage and also it can’t be that I take control in my hands and think whatever the director does will not be convincing. One thing is for sure, do it honestly from your heart. Don’t just mouth the dialogues, it will show.
Kanika, Anurag and I used to have a lot of discussions about the scenes I had issues with, and all those in which I wasn’t getting to know the mindset of Rumi. Every individual is different, No matter how close Rumi is to me, she will do certain things that I don’t approve of. But if I have to play Rumi, I have to be convincing and that will only happen if I honestly believe her.
Q. Were you always this direct in your conduct or it was only after you got a strong footing in the industry that it enabled you to be honest with people?
I have always been honest but it depends where I show my honesty. In front of media and industry people, it started coming out when I realised which direction I am going in, and that happened post Pink. So, that is when I started gathering confidence slowly. When your gut feeling resonates with the audience, you get more confidence. I used to say the same things earlier but nobody paid heed. I don’t blame filmmakers because there are so many people who come and go every single day. They don’t have to listen to me and think that she is going to make it big.
I got a call from some producer who told me that he saw a photo of me post Baby, and it was a photo from a look trial of a film that never took off. A director had shown him that photo, saying that I was suited for the role but the producer told him he wasn’t convinced about me. And now, he told me he feels thankful to God that there are actors like me in the industry. So, of course, things change with success.
Q. But for a woman to speak her mind in a sexist industry is never easy. Have there been times when you weren’t taken seriously by filmmakers because of your gender?
Not lately at least. Maybe in the beginnings. (Like) I said yes to a film and there were some scenes which were very well written and one of them was an introduction scene. They changed it later. When I I told the director this was not what he narrated to me, he said, ‘The hero and I discussed that there would be a nicer way to shoot it.’ I said, ‘But you did not even tell me,’ and he replied, ‘Oh! Was I supposed to tell you?’ It was a South film. It happened in the beginning of my career. A lot of such small things happen which make you feel that you are not as important but then you have to make yourself irreplaceable.
The day you become irreplaceable, things will change and how! I have seen that. I might not have done the biggest films but I have done films in which people value my presence. And I tell my manager that I would rather do a film where they value me than do a film just to force fit myself, so that I am counted as a big heroine.
Q. Did you have to do films in Bollywood to fit in?
No. In Bollywood, whatever I have done till now, I chose them in full senses thinking that let’s try this or that. None of them I had to do forcefully. That mistake I made only in South, So, I learnt from it and did not repeat it here.
Q. In a recent interview, you said you want be known as a relatable actor than a star. Aren’t there days when you want to be a star?
I will agree I am a star the day audience walks into a theatre believing that if there’s Taapsee Pannu, we will spend our hard-earned money on the film. Before that, I don’t think anyone is a star. For me the definition of a star is someone people can blindly bet their money on. That day, I will call myself a star.