No filmi background, no formal training in acting, no famous last name either. As Shoojit Sircar once said, ‘She is unpolluted by the Bollywood stardom culture’. Taapsee Pannu has made a mark in the industry on the merit of her performances. While she has worked in massy entertainers like Judwaa 2, she has also received critical acclaim for her performances in hard-hitting films like Pink and more recently, Mulk. In a candid chat, Taapsee speaks about what makes her such a fierce, honest and no-nonsense actress. Excerpts…
With each performance, you’ve evolved as an actor. despite the fact that you’ve not received any formal training in acting…
I am aware of the fact that I don’t know the nuances of acting, and I do not pretend to know the job or the craft well. I have always been open to learning and I’ve learned it all on the job. Another fact is that I don’t have the fear of losing anything.
‘I THINK FEMINISM IS ALL ABOUT EQUALITY AND NOTHING ELSE’
You see, I started from ground zero and I’ve already seen the lowest point. So, there’s no pressure at the back of my mind to protect a name or to wonder, ‘Will I able to get up if I take a fall?’ I can’t live life with these thoughts. And that fearlessness makes me the kind of personality that I am. It reflects in my job as well, because on set, I am there 100 per cent. I get into each character that I am playing. I argue with my filmmakers if I need to, and if I don’t know something, I always ask. So, it works for me, as a person and as an actor.
In an industry where there’s constant pressure to be and look a certain way, and to curate each post on social media to make it look like your life is picture perfect, how difficult is it to be yourself?
Honestly, I feel that I live each and every moment of my life. People try to pass every day thinking ki ‘chalo, ye abhi aisa kar lete hain, toh future accha ho jayega’. There’s no point of thinking, ‘Let’s hustle right now or stress now, to ensure tomorrow will be better’. No, I don’t believe in that funda. I feel that we need to live each and every day, only then is our life worth living. Otherwise, you are dragging yourself and trying to survive. So, I live my life. And that’s why I come across as a person who is outspoken, bindaas and nononsense. I tell people this all the time. Is it really too much to be yourself ? Is it a big thing that I’m being myself in the industry? I don’t think it is… It takes big courage to realise that at first, but when you do, it is some other feeling. You feel on top of the world, because you are not going to be standing there and doing things to validate yourself, or doing things because others like it. You do things only because you like it. When you do that, people will automatically like you. The same goes for social media. I don’t post pictures to get approval from others. I share a lot of real pictures of mine, which are far from perfect and isn’t imperfection what makes us human?
Is being real, relatable and true to yourself what you strive for in your work as well? For example, what compelled you to do a movie like Mulk?
I grew up in a family where I was always taught to stand for what is right. There’s a line in Mulk — ‘Jo sahi hai woh toh kahenge’. As an Indian, I have a certain sense of responsibility and I owe that to my nation, in a way. I mean, if I am right I have nothing to fear. What will happen to me? Coming to Mulk, it received critical acclaim and love, and the kind of messages I keep receiving on social media even today is humbling. I’ll be very honest, when I chose Mulk there was no one standing beside me. Even my own team was doubtful about it, and asked me questions like, ‘Do you really need to do this film?’, ‘It’s not that you have not proven yourself to be a good actor, or that you will not get other opportunities to prove yourself’, ‘I don’t think you will get a release for this film’, or ‘How will people react to it?’ To all these questions, I just replied, ‘People might not react to Mulk positively, and that’s the nerve we want to touch’.
Yet, a lot of celebrities feel comfortable maintaining silence on subjects like the #MeToo India movement or other pressing issues. Is it because they fear a backlash?
Precisely. Even before the #MeToo movement started in India, I was asked — ‘Would you like to talk about it?’ Some said that ‘outsiders’ in the industry go through sexual harassment in Bollywood, and I’m sure that is the case, since women have come out and named their perpetrators. Fortunately, it hasn’t happened to me. Had it happened to me, this movement would be the perfect opportunity to speak out and name and shame the perpetrators.
However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t stand by the bravehearts who have experienced sexual harassment. I am part of the CINTAA committee that ensures justice is served. I mean, not just the film fraternity, women in all spheres have gone through some or the other type of harassment in their daily lives. I didn’t go through that in the industry, but in normal life, when I travel by public transport, I experience the ‘gaze’. Even now, I feel the pervert gaze in public places and that in itself is so heart-wrenching. My mom and dad still call me after 8 pm to check whether I’ve reached home safely or not. If I am in Delhi, I still have an early deadline. They are concerned, as any other parent would be for their daughter, considering the world that we are living in. Thanks to the #MeToo movement, at least some clean-up has happened in the industry, and I completely support it. I am a feminist and unabashedly proud of it. I think feminism is all about equality and nothing else.