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Tapsee Pannu is having a great year. She’s received praise for her performances in the Diljit Dosanjh-starrer Soorma and Anubhav Sinha-directed Mulk, while her next film, Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. She spoke to us about her learnings from her five years in Bollywood, making her peace with nepotism, and receiving flak for doing Judwaa 2. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Anupama Chopra: What’s the struggle of being an outsider? You said that there are actors who have refused to work with you because they don’t think you’re an A-list star. How do you process that? 

Taapsee Pannu: That used to happen a year or so back, after Pink as well. Lately its been changing a little bit but its not like, ‘She should be the first choice’. If the recommendation list has ended then my chance will probably come but it’s still not the first one. And it is a struggle. People say that nepotism doesn’t exist or does exist. I mean it’s okay and it exists. I knew about it when I entered the film industry, and that I’m going to have to make my way through it.  Yes, sometimes it hurts when a role goes from right under your nose because someone just called up and said, ‘Please take my daughter or relative.’ That does happen and it hurts for a bit but then you can’t sit and grieve for long, you have to move ahead.

Like, I’ll give you a lot of examples – a magazine cover, where they still don’t think I am capable enough to be on the cover page. It took me five years to sit across a table with you to give this interview. How many times will I have to prove that I can do a good job? And there are so many others who probably even before their first films get this honour. Yeah, it is not fair, but it’s not like I didn’t know about it. I knew about it and signed up for it and I am working my way through it, and happily so.

Sometimes it hurts when a role goes from right under your nose because someone just called up and said, ‘Please take my daughter or relative.’ That does happen and it hurts for a bit but then you can’t sit and grieve for long, you have to move ahead.  

AC: Do you read what’s written about you?

TP: I used to before but now I don’t. Now I only read reviews when I do films like Mulk, and Pink. When I’m doing a Judwaa, I don’t.

AC: Speaking of which, I don’t know if you said this in connection to Judwaa but you did say in an interview that there are times when I say to myself, ‘Do I compromise and do something that’s for the betterment of my career?’ What is that struggle like? Of saying ‘okay this is a project that will perhaps take me five steps further but doesn’t speak to my capabilities as an actor’. 

TP: So I don’t remember when I said this. Maybe I would’ve said it when I was shifting genres, changing gears. If I said with respect to films like Chasme Baddor  or Judwaa, then honestly so because you need to do certain films to get into a certain bracket of actors so that people can come and see the films you eventually want them to see. It’s like a barter. So that’s what I do.

AC: So one for them and then one for you?

TP:  And I don’t mind it because I enjoy dancing and I enjoy looking beautiful, every girl does. So I don’t mind doing that once in a while so that I can get an audience that will come and watch a Mulk later on. So that’s kind of a barter for you, the day when films like Pink, Mulk, Baby, Shabana start crossing that golden 100 crore mark, I won’t have to do films for the sake of getting an audience anymore. Then it will be purely my choice.  

AC: I’m a big fan of David Dhawan, I’ve loved his movies from Aankhen. But what bothered me about Judwaa 2 was the underlying misogyny in it. It just bothered me that you would refer to a middle-aged woman as a ‘khattara gadi’. How do you in your head get around that? Or do you just see it differently?

TP: So, I’ll tell you what, it depends on how you perceive that character who’s saying these things. So you perceive that character as a hero, or a villain or not really a heroic person. It depends on my perception. I’ll give you another example on the same lines. After Sanju released or Soorma released and Mulk released, and I went for a couple of interviews and they were like, ‘How does it feel that they were celebrating this guy who was a drug addict, and who slept with so many women?’ I said, ‘You are the ones who made that a 350 crore film, why are you asking me that right now?’ It depends on the perception of the audience, we are not saying that this person is a hero and you should follow and be like this person. It’s not a Mulk where we are trying to portray a real picture. So as an audience it’s up to you, you want to take that person as a hero and celebrate him or he’s just a funny man who shouldn’t be taken too seriously. So it’s up to you where you draw the line.

AC: So is there a tangible impact of a Judwaa 2 on your career? Can you see things change drastically?

TP: Yes, I do. Because just before, people were about to stereotype me saying she can only do these intense and intelligent roles, here comes Judwaa and everyone was shocked. Of course, I still get hate messages for doing that film. But then I tell them that make my Mulk and Pink a 100 crore film, I won’t do such films then. So until then, I will keep doing it.

AC: If there was one thing you could change about Bollywood, what would it be?

TP: I just hope soon things become fair and square for people from the outside. I meet so many people who have their own baggage, they need to live up to a certain name, and I totally understand that. But it takes so many films for us to even build an image. So at least I should get a fair meeting and not be told on the phone, ‘Sorry this won’t happen because so and so is already in the queue.’ So it is getting fair, otherwise I wouldn’t have been sitting here right now. But we still have to go ahead.

AC: Did you ever think of walking away and just giving it all up?

TP: I did shed a tear. Not howled, but wondered how it could happen to me. And it happened not at any early stage but after the dates were discussed. That broke my heart. And then you read in the papers that people are saying nepotism doesn’t exist – let’s accept it. There’s nothing wrong in it. Even I would try to push my kid in whichever field he wants to. It’s okay. But just gracefully accept it.

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