Taapsee Pannu has been riding the crest of success in recent years. After two well-received films last year — Badla and Saand ki Aankh — she is all set for her first release of the year. Thappad, directed by Anubhav Sinha, in which she plays Amrita, a woman who files for divorce after her husband (played by Pavail Gulati) slaps her, puts the spotlight on domestic violence.
When we meet her in Mumbai, she is in the middle of gearing up to get into the skin of the protagonist she plays in Thappad — her second film with Sinha, after Mulk (2018) — which is out on February 28. Pannu, who is on the sets even though she’s running a temperature, says it is no big deal to be working when one is unwell. “I will deal with it. I have worked really hard to reach here, where I am the leading face of a film. And there’s money riding on me. The fever will go, but this time won’t come back,” she says. In this interview, she talks about Thappad, her work ethic, and why female actors need to demand recognition of their work. Excerpts:
Is professionalism the new keyword in Bollywood?
Professionalism is as important as what you display in front of the camera. I may not be the most talented person around, but I know that I am the most professional. I value everyone’s time and energy. What we (actors) don’t realise, is that when you leave one spot vacant, so many others are waiting to take that spot. Professionalism is what will keep you going in the long run.
Tell us more about Thappad?
Thappad is about gender dynamics in an established relationship. We have set patterns — if it’s a woman, she is supposed to be understanding, supportive, etc., and if it’s a man he will have leeway in a lot of things. The film has eight women in it, and we look at this one incident through their (individual) lenses. The incident shakes Amrita, the character I play, out of the monotony of domestic life. I am a very submissive housewife. But things start to change, in a subdued, yet assertive way. I stand my ground as the average Indian housewife might. We, as women, are wary of upsetting the order of things, we want everyone to be happy.
What made you pick Badla, in which you play the antagonist?
My role was supposed to be played by a man, and I was meant to be the character that gets killed. I asked for the flip after reading the script. Right at the beginning of my career, I was told that, as a female actor, I can never come back (to playing leading roles) after essaying a negative role. The only actor who did that was Priyanka Chopra, who played the antagonist in Aitraaz (2004). And not everyone can be Chopra.
At the same time, I lost another role, as (the filmmakers) didn’t have the budget for a female-led film. It eventually went to a man, but it’s not like the box-office collections were out of this world. In Bollywood, a woman-led film can be shot and produced in the amount that a male actor gets paid for one film.
You’ve been vocal about many issues, including the recent instances of violence in educational institutions in India.
We have to speak up, but we need to do it smartly. I have a large audience. They are diverse, their opinions and tastes differ widely. Mujhe sabko saath lekar chalna hai — from the far right to the far left. If I also start behaving like an extremist, then what’s the difference between me and those who troll? I want to be inclusive and I want the other person to think and, maybe, have a dialogue.
Were your comments on Saand Ki Aankh regarding your and Bhumi Pednekar’s casting instead of older actors, and on Badla referring to equal pay, blown out of proportion?
I met Neena (Gupta) ma’am after that. We both have worked in Mulk. I have huge respect for her. Someone else took those words out of context. For Badla, I had said that if a female actor’s work in a film is equal to the male star, she should get equal credit. In Badla, I worked as much, if not more, than Mr Bachchan. But it will always be called an Amitabh Bachchan film, which I think is unfair.
How is Bollywood doing in the post-#MeToo world? Will anything change?
People are still figuring out this new world order. They are wary and aware that they will get into trouble if they act a certain way. I have never faced this, or else I would have been able to add more to the movement. We have been living with these (sexist) mindsets forever. It will take time, it won’t change a few years of awareness and conversations. Anything that changes overnight, will also bounce back to what it was, overnight.
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