In a span of two weeks, Taapsee Pannu has gone from being an under-the-radar newcomer in Hindi films to one of its most buzzed about young actresses, thanks to the spotlight on Pink.
Pannu has done 16 films in Tamil and Telugu, and so is quite familiar with the nature of overnight success. If anything, she has maintained a degree of detachment from it. The 29-year-old, who is also a software engineer and wedding planner, doesn’t even see herself in showbiz for a long time. Instead, as Pannu tells me in the interview below, she would rather be driven by her “happiness”.
Edited excerpts of a conversation:
I recently saw a video of you at a press conference for Pink. You got teary-eyed while speaking and then you got up and touched Shoojit Sircar’s feet. That’s a grand gesture.
I just felt like doing it at that moment. This was a gesture to convey that I’m really thankful. I never wanted to act and had no passion for this industry. I landed here by chance and I did well so I hung on. I don’t refrain from saying that I don’t know much about acting and this is the man who contributed to me looking the way I look in this film. A lot of people kept asking me how I managed to get noticed in a film with Mr. Bachchan – Shoojit sir was the reason. He has been telling me from the very first schedule of the film, ‘You don’t know what magic you’re creating on screen’. This line has stopped affecting me because in every film your director says you’re doing a fabulous job but things don’t always reflect on screen. But with the kind of acclaim I’m getting for Pink, I felt like telling Shoojit sir he was right.
Shoojit has said that he keeps feeding his actors with thoughts through the making of a film so that he can elicit the right emotions from them. What did he tell you before that scene in the car?
He feeds you with so much food that it makes your appetite full! He wasn’t there for that car scene because we had already shot a lot of the movie by then. But he had already prepared me. He just tells you what all has happened with this girl, what are people saying, and where all she’s been felt. Actors are gifted with powers of imagination. When people tell us a story, in our head the show has already started. I’m actually imagining these things happening to myself and that makes me feel emotional and vulnerable. It took a week-long break to come out of this film. I do think this is my best performance till date. I never thought I’d be the kind of actress who can cry without glycerine.
Yet surprisingly, you also said at a speech at BITS PILANI that you don’t want to act forever. You said, “I’ll do it till I enjoy it. I want to start a new life soon.” Why?
This journey did not start with the objective of me becoming a number one actress and still is not about that. I came here because I wanted to try something new and I’m enjoying it. I’m driven by my happiness. Becoming a world class actress has never been my passion. I have so many things to do in this one life and acting is just one of them. I can’t invest my entire life in this. I’m a 100 per cent clear about that.
But hasn’t the overwhelming response to Pink altered that a little. Are you still eager to start a new life soon?
No this success hasn’t changed anything. The Hindi film industry is now waking up to me but people need to understand that nothing changes in my life that much. I’ve seen all of this. My first film in the South (Aadukalam) won 6 national awards. What can be more overwhelming than that? I’ve seen box office success and failure before coming here. So it’s not like I’m on cloud nine now. This is just a bonus. I don’t take my success or failure that seriously. It will all go. I just take myself seriously.
You are a software engineer who loves maths and creates iPhone apps. You left it all to do South films. When you started gaining a foothold in acting, you started a wedding planning business. Do you get bored of things quickly?
Yes. Really quickly! I’ve always been a very hyper-active kid. I was the head girl of my school and the student of the year. I had minimum attendance but whenever I was in class I was a frontbencher. So they’ve always been multiple things in my life and I need to do all of those things to keep myself busy and happy. I don’t like to be in my comfort zone for long. It’s like life has become dead. I’m a very adventurous and unpredictable person. Tomorrow I might just go and start some other business. I actually do have something in mind but I’m waiting to go and do my research on it. Now the wedding season is coming and I’m gearing up for that. I make my publicity team get in touch with these bridal magazines, then I go to meet hotel managers with my sister and my other business partner. We give presentations to the general managers there.
I’m sure they aren’t used to seeing a well-known actress at these meetings.
Yeah sometimes people do get fascinated and entertain us in a better way because I’m there. But it doesn’t mean I get it easy. I still have to go through the process of constantly calling them and confirming that everything is going fine. There are huge monies involved in this business. It’s not that easy. This helps me disconnect and be a normal person. I want a life beyond the movies.
Does having this other life make you a better actor?
Yes, of course. Because otherwise everything is going to look the same and you’ll have nothing from real life observations to pick up from. I like to live a normal life. I don’t like to have bodyguards around me even down South and everyone knows how crazy people are for stars there, no matter how big or small you are. Even in Delhi I travel by Metros. Last night my flight landed in Mumbai at 2 am and I took a normal Meru cab and came home. I don’t have a driver. There will be some attention that you attract but you also get to see life in as normal a way as possible.
You’ve done 16 Tamil and Telugu films in 10 years. In 2011 alone you had 7 releases. That’s a lot of work. And you’re a Sadarni from Delhi with no understanding of the language.
At that time I didn’t understand how to act or even handle this overnight stardom. I was shooting for Aadukalam and Jhummandi Naadam simultaneously. I was one of those rare actresses debuting in Tamil and Telugu cinema at the same time and both films became such big hits. The buzz was so strong about my debut that I signed three films before the first released. I didn’t know how to handle all that attention. I was just taking up films based on what others were telling me to do. Because I don’t like to sit idle, I took everything that came my way without using my brain. I was overworked and I didn’t know which direction I was going in.
You’ve also been vocal about the sexism in the South film industry. You recently spoke about a producer asking you to take a pay cut because the hero’s last film had tanked. You refused because the actor’s paycheque wasn’t reduced.
I’ve faced a lot of these situations. I get really angry. But what can you really do? There have been situations where actors have told me to dub lines differently because they don’t like it. Can you imagine they have asked me to change my lines in my close-up shot? So I’m saying one thing and they’re asking me to dub another line. When I refused, they made someone else dub for that one line. My cheques have bounced and signed contracts have been annulled because the producer’s last film didn’t work. But he didn’t change anything in the actor’s remuneration.
At that time you get really angry and want to shout out and tell the world about how unfair this is. I don’t take names but I do say it out loud so that people who follow me know that this actually happens and that shouldn’t stop you from growing. Your eventual revenge is success. That’s what’s going to make them feel sorry. In Hindi there is a saying – “Chadte suraj ko sab salaam karte hain.” That is true of every industry.
Lastly, Pink is your breakthrough moment of sorts in Hindi cinema. And you’ve set the benchmark pretty high for yourself. How will this impact the choices you make going forward?
Baby itself impacted my choices. When you come into the industry with Chashme Baddoor nobody expects anything out of you. When you deliver even a decent show people accept you and say now show us what you can do. That’s why I did Baby. I wanted them to take notice of what I’m doing. I was extremely careful of what I was choosing because even that 20 minute-role was received so well, that it did build pressure in my head. I took up Pink too after a lot of thinking. I’ve tried to be versatile in my choices – be it changing genres, my look, or the directors I’m working with. I don’t want people to get bored of me.