Film Companion’s 2020 Disruptors list features artists who have shaken up things and ignited conversations. Following the release of the list, Anupama Chopra and Baradwaj Rangan spoke to a number of artists from the list including actors Taapsee Pannu, Jaideep Ahlawat, Anna Ben and actor-creator Danish Sait about their choices, the challenges that accompany them and what their biggest learnings from being ‘disruptive’ are.
Anupama Chopra: Taapsee, like Ayushmann, you have sort of created your own genre. These are smartly budgeted films with a message. That, to me, is the Taapsee Pannu movie. How easy is it to sustain this niche that you’ve carved for yourself? Do you find yourself getting enough variety in the scripts or is there repetition?
Taapsee Pannu: Honestly speaking, it is very easy. If you continue keeping your focus on what you have created and you are enjoying it, it is very easy because it’s a snowball effect. After Pink and Naam Shabana, honestly I never had to feel the dearth of good scripts and roles. It’s only lately that I’ve had to say no to a script because I was committed to other projects. But if I had time, maybe I would have accommodated that as well.
Now the struggle is not to get those scripts and roles, it’s how do to grow in this zone. Because, eventually I want to be an actor who attracts an audience to the theatre as well, not someone who just enjoys performing art. I want my producers to make money. So the scale of my films needs to slowly grow.
I’ve said no to a lot of things when I felt it’s repetitive. I’ve said no to a lot of agent roles, I don’t want to do that again unless it’s taking me a notch higher than what I’ve already done. I have said no to countless films on molestation or anything to do with sexual harassment, some with really good directors also. Two days ago, I said no to a film which had a very good producer, very good director, it had a fantastic role for a girl, but that story was something I have already done. So I had to keep that greedy actor in me aside and think of it as a film overall.
Baradwaj Rangan: Taapsee you mentioned, big producer and big director. But when you start getting big pay-cheques, how difficult or easy is it to maintain your voice? Smita Patil, at one point was doing Benegal films and on the other hand was also doing Prakash Mehra films. So how does one maintain integrity with getting this big fat pay-cheque?
Taapsee Pannu: It is easy to maintain your voice because they are taking you for a reason. It’s interesting you spoke about Smita Patil Ma’am, because I have been hearing a lot of comparisons being made between me and her over the last few of my films and that’s just too good to be true. I find it inspirational what she did in those days when there wasn’t a lot of variety of roles.
As for big pay cheques, it’s not only about how big the budget of the film is, it also depends upon how much the film needs you and how much you need the film. When I step into a film where I know I am one of the top choice for this role, I wonder how many out there can do it better than me or worse than me, not just in terms of my performances, but also in terms of selling the tickets. But if there’s a film where I am easily replaceable, they can take anyone else, and there’s nothing I’m adding to the table, then that film will not give me a big pay-cheque. If you take what Judwaa 2 gave me, I earned three times more doing much smaller films. So it is always about how much you need the film and how much the film needs you.
Anupama Chopra: Jaideep do you agree with that? Is that how payments work for you as well?
Jaideep Ahlawat: Well, I am very new to this kind of world, the big pay-cheques and everything else, but I always believe that you don’t choose scripts, scripts choose you. They come to you and they find you anywhere in the world, and it feels like can’t say no to that film because you feel it was made for you.
I’ve also found that, for me, too much planning hasn’t worked. You have to go with the flow and whatever happens will happen. But one thing which Taapsee said is very interesting which is you shouldn’t be replaceable in a film. Whenever I read a script I always ask myself if another actor would be able to do this. Or if you remove this character from the story, will it make much of a difference? It’s always good to have big pay-cheque, but that can’t replace your connection to the script.
Baradwaj Rangan: For you Danish?
Danish Sait: Fortunately for me I haven’t had to really sell my soul, except the brands that I work with. There I am an absolute sell-out, and if there are brands watching this, please do call me. I am available. But in terms of films, I‘ve had a different journey because my first film I wrote it myself and I had to go look for producers. My second film was produced by Mr. Puneet Rajkumar, my maiden series is been produced by Mr. Sameer Nair. The thing with these different producers I have worked with is they wanted me to work with my strengths versus working on the idea that somebody else has brought. I find it hard to translate a vision that doesn’t involve me from the beginning. I did try playing a cop once in a film and I was so bad. My wife in the film is a journalist and she is solving the case, and literally every 15 minutes I enter the film and say ‘all the best’ and leave. I did it because at that time I was thinking that maybe it would be something new to do, but I realised that I am just going to stick to my strengths and build a film from the ground up. It’s fine if I do one in a year or two years, but if I can work on something that’s new and unique, that’s what counts. I am very lucky that way with the Kannada film industry because there’s no pressure because the storytelling is changing so much.