In real life, Taapsee Pannu casually balances being cool and sexy with enviable ease and, onscreen, she’s a vivacious actress who’s unlike anyone we’ve seen. We catch up with our girl at the movies again.
You’ve already had five films this year and have a packed schedule ahead. You’re one hard-working person, aren’t you?
I’m just making sure my audience doesn’t miss me much and that they get used to watching me onscreen! Trust me, there’s no other way people will feel my presence. I’ve realised that. The easy way isn’t helping me. I have to work doubly hard to get noticed.
More power to you. What’s next?
There are two more films I’m starting and hopefully finishing this year. One is called Mulkh—it’s a social thriller directed by Anubhav Sinha with an ensemble cast including Rishi Kapoor, Neena Gupta, Rajat Kapoor and Ashutosh Rana. It’s going to be pretty hard-hitting. Then, we’ve got a biopic on the ex-captain of the Indian hockey team, Sandeep Singh, who is also an Arjuna awardee. It’s actually a love story-cum-sports film where both the girl and the guy are hockey players.
Nice! Promotions have become an integral part of the film-making process. It’s rigorous and we know you put a lot of energy into your appearances. Do you ever get tired?
Not at all! It’s been so long since I’ve danced and I think I was missing that in my life. So, I compensated for that not only in the films, but in the promotions, too. Dancing has been my first love and acting was a coincidence that happened along the way. Also, I don’t do things that I don’t enjoy. My sister tells me I have no filter—neither on my face or my tongue. So, whatever is there in my heart and on my mind starts reflecting on my face. When you see me enjoying myself and not losing energy, it’s because I genuinely am.
And it’s contagious! Now, we already know you love vacationing, so where are you off to next?
I love holidays! I think I’ll go to Stockholm next. My last vacation was a solo trip to Norway for four days. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the Northern Lights as it was summertime. I try to visit these Scandinavian countries in the summer because I hate the cold. I’m a beach person and I feel really claustrophobic in the mountains.
Does that mean you’re a solo traveller for life?
I don’t really care as long as I’m travelling. I make a really packed schedule for myself when I travel. There are full lists of things to see and experience. So, you don’t have the time to crib about missing companions or friends.
Also makes it easier to meet new people, doesn’t it?
For someone in my profession, that really isn’t a pull because we’re meeting new people every day. Suddenly, for every project, we end up making 100 new people our family for a few months. But why I make the effort to travel every three months is because it makes me stay in touch with reality. It makes me realise that I’m just one very small part of this big world. It’s easy to succumb to all the fanfare and adulation. So I like to detach and go where nobody knows me. That helps me rejuvenate.
The last time we met, you were just stepping into Bollywood. How have things changed for you?
Life has changed drastically! People have started taking me way too seriously. So seriously that I had to do Judwaa 2 to break that mould! People think I’m only about empowerment, being serious and fighting for things. That’s a good thing in a way because, now, people don’t think that I’m doing whatever everyone else is doing. But what has really worked in my favour is that two years ago, people didn’t expect me to make it anywhere. That’s why every film started coming as a surprise to them and that’s what really helped me get noticed. Now they want to offer me some really interesting roles and, thankfully, it’s not confined to just serious cinema. Also, nobody asks for auditions anymore! I’m very thankful for that because I’m horrible in auditions. I’ve never cleared a single audition in my life!
Makes sense since you’ve already proved your acting chops to the world! You’re one of the few female action stars in the country. How does that feel?
Oh, very good! People calling me the flag-bearer of women’s empowerment or action queen—I really enjoy those tags. Because in the kind of competitive industry that we have, that space was not really occupied where people could see a female doing proper, technical, hardcore action effortlessly. It was considered to be a very offbeat thing for commercial heroines. So, I think if I fill that space and have that image, I want to proudly own it.
We know you do all of your own stunts. Are you ever scared? We would be.
When I started doing action, right from Baby till Naam Shabana, I’ve been training under some really high-level professionals who know how to do their jobs. Thankfully, I haven’t done those large-scale live stunts where I’m jumping off the top of a building. I’ve done very realistic action and that’s why I could do everything by myself. If I had to do some really unrealistic stuff, then I’ll probably need the help of a stunt double because I want to stay alive!
That’s true, your characters are relatable because the action is believable.
We’ve got to thank Neeraj Pandey for that. Action in Bollywood is always a little over the top, but when it comes to Neeraj Sir and even Akshay Kumar, for that matter, they will always make sure it’s real, believable action.
Akshay Kumar is the boss! What have you learned from working with him?
One thing I’m going to take back from him is to keep working. Don’t be like, “I’m going to sit for a month and see what’s best” or “I’m going to take my time.” Don’t do that because you never know what’s going to click, and when. So I’m following his funda of non-stop working and trying to work every day of my life because I’m lucky I’m getting work that I want to do. Not everyone gets the chance to do that. The day I don’t enjoy my work, I’ll be the first one to walk out without anyone telling me anything.
Does that apply to your script or project selection process as well?
When I hear a script, I try to visualise the film and decide if I would go to a theatre and spend my hard-earned money to watch it. Is it worth it? What’s so interesting about it? I always evaluate it like that. And if it passes that test, then I look at what my character is doing or if it’s something I haven’t done before.
What do you find the most attractive in a man? Don’t say a sense of humour, because yours is tough to beat!
But that’s where the challenge is, right? I really like well-groomed men. I’m not a fan of these bearded, rough-looking men. I don’t find them sexy. It feels like they haven’t taken a shower in ages—and that’s not a good look.
What’s the one thing a guy should never do on a first date with you?
A lot of things! But, first off, don’t plan our wedding and children and the next 50 years of our life. That actually happened to me once on a first date. I had to claim there was an emergency and walked out mid-date that time. Other than that, just don’t show up with bad body odour—on a date or otherwise. I’ve come across well-to-do, successful men who seem completely unaware that they smell terrible—is it the protein shakes? Please don’t hug any girls until you’re confident you don’t smell bad!
Duly noted and spritzed! You’ve recently moved to Mumbai. Was that a big change from Delhi?
This city is synonymous with work for me. So, it’s like I’m at work 24x7. People just come here to work and everyone’s hustling all the time. It took me a little while to adapt to Mumbai because I come from a place where we’re slightly more laid-back. And the concept of space doesn’t exist here—people and buildings on top of each other! You can barely see those kind of green patches that you have in Delhi. It did take me a little time to settle in.
PHOTOGRAPHS: NUNO OLIVEIRA
STYLING: NELLY WADIA
MAKE-UP: MANOJ RAJANI
HAIR: SEEMA MANE
PRODUCTION: IMRAN KHATRI PRODUCTIONS