She is changing the rules that only men can be heroes in Bollywood because in Taapsee Pannu’s films, she is the hero. Taapsee, known for her work in South films, is relatively new to Bollywood but has already turned heads with her power-packed performance in Pink. The Delhi girl gets candid in an exclusive chat with Koimoi over a cup of coffee ahead of her upcoming spy-thriller Naam Shabana’s release…
Naam Shabana, a spin-off is a first of its kind in Indian cinema. How do you feel?
I think the Indian audience will be witnessing a spin-off for the first time. It feels like your hard work is getting paid off. I worked really hard for that small role in Baby. For people, it might be a small role but for me it was a big role at that point. Seeing my work and effort in that small role in Baby, the makers thought of doing this film. The audience also loved me in that small role, which added on to the whole idea of making Naam Shabana. If you work hard, it will never be wasted, doesn’t matter if it is a small role or a big role. Now you know what a small role can do! It’s the first time we are seeing the making of a spy also. Till now, we have seen spies doing their job in films but nobody shows how a spy is made.
What is the film about?
It’s about making of a spy. It’s the journey of this girl Shabana, who goes on to become a spy and how. Why does an ordinary girl from a lower middle-class background, coming from a Muslim family in Dongri become a spy? How she gets selected? Why she agrees to be a part of it? What tests she has to go through? What was her first mission like and how does she conduct it? All these become her journey.
Taapsee Pannu is the hero in this Akshay Kumar starrer film! How do you feel?
(Laughs) The feeling was sinking in since the first or probably the second schedule when Akshay joined us. He had tweeted a picture of him along with with Neeraj sir (Pandey) and me, captioning it as ‘the mastermind, the hero and the cameo of the film’. I was watching it for a good 10 seconds trying to absorb the fact that Akshay Kumar, one of the BIGGEST heroes of this industry has tweeted saying I am the hero of his film! Not to forget the fact that he is also putting his money on me, because he is also the producer of the film. It was unbelievable! While doing this film, I have realized that heroism is not about gender. Now when people ask me, ‘hero kaun hai is film ka?’, I say ‘main!’ They look at me again and ask ‘phir heroine kaun hai?’, I reply, ‘woh bhi main!’ Why should heroism or hero be related only to one gender? I actually feel great that yes, I am the hero of this film!
With your roles in Pink and now in Naam Shabana, you are changing the existing notion about heroes in Bollywood…
Heroism is not about gender I believe. Just like feminism is also not about gender. Chauvinism, which we often relate to men, is also not about gender. Females can also be chauvinistic. When a woman says, ‘as a female I should get this’, I consider that as chauvinism. We need to stop this conditioning that chauvinism means male and feminism means female, hero means male, heroine means an arm candy or love interest of the hero— it’s time for these to change! In fact, things have started changing in the last couple of years. Earlier we used to see only 1-2 female-centric films but now we have at least one such film a month. It will only get better with the support of media and audience I feel.
Do you think you are changing the rules of Bollywood?
I am just following my rules. I am definitely witness to a very big change in Bollywood and I am in some way, a small part of it. I’ll not say I am bringing about the change because that is a collective effort. I cannot bring about a change alone, nobody can. But I am happy to be a part of this change.
We have seen you in serious roles in your last few films like The Ghazi Attack, Pink and now Naam Shabana with Running Shaadi being the only exception. Why are you restricted only to serious films?
That’s why I am doing Judwaa 2. Running Shaadi was a light-hearted fun film, Judwaa 2 will be a full on comedy. I don’t think I am restricting myself to genres. If you categorize films as serious and funny, then I’ll say I’ve done more serious stuff than funny stuff. Even in that serious stuff, one was a drama, one was where I was helpless, like in Ghazi. Now I am doing an action film. So serious also has different categories. I’ve never got those quintessential diva-ish glamorous roles. I’ve mostly been offered hard-hitting, intense, serious films. I think there are only two ways to make it big. Either you do roles opposite big heroes in larger than life films and get noticed or do hard-hitting roles where people will have no other option than to notice you. I definitely want to experiment with genres and hence, said yes to Judwaa 2.
You are doing so many Bollywood films after Pink…
After Pink I’ve signed only one film, Judwaa 2— the rest were signed before Pink.
After Pink, you are being counted among the A-lister actors of the young generation
Noooo I’m not! Trust me, I’m not! I have to still fight that battle. Let’s be very frank. I am someone who has the potential to become an A-lister, say people from the industry but I’m still not there. I don’t know how far will Naam Shabana change this, if at all it does. I think it will take a little while to reach there.
Has the smashing success of Pink changed or affected your life in any way?
Nothing has changed in my world and my life. It has not changed me as a person but it has changed the world’s perception towards me. I am happy because people will not probably ask me for auditions anymore! I am horrible in auditions! I can’t act in auditions. (Laughs)
Is that because you get nervous?
No, not nervous, it’s just that I am not trained in acting. Whatever I act is out of spontaneity. My acting comes from purely reacting to my co-actors and the feeding which my director gives me. But yes, people have started taking me seriously after Pink. They now believe that I can act.
You trained a lot for Naam Shabana. What exactly did you learn?
The physical bit of it was very long. I started off with Baby itself. I learnt Krav Maga and Kudo, because this character’s back-story says that she is a university level Kudo player. Then I learnt basic MMA, Mixed martial arts for all these fight sequences which I do in the film.
You are known for your films in the South and now you are doing Bollywood films. Would you like to continue doing the two together or choose any one?
I will continue to do both because I feel it is stupid to uproot you from an industry, a market that you already have a good name in. Why will I not continue to work in a market, which has already accepted me? I definitely want to cater to that audience of mine and I have also learnt the languages now. So there is absolutely no reason why I should stop working in the South.
Why did you choose this role in Naam Shabana?
I didn’t choose it, beggars are not choosers! (Laughs) On a serious note, I really liked the fact that it’s an unconventional role. Whenever we think of action or spy, we imagine glamorous characters, who are very well dressed. Girls are supposed to be the arm candy for the spies. If the spy is a girl, she is always prim and proper in pants, boots, makeup etc. Shabana is very ordinary in front of them; she is a girl who you won’t even give a second look but she will turn out to do such head-turning things! There is nothing larger than life about her but the stuff that she does is larger than life! That is very intriguing!
Didn’t you wear make-up in the film?
No, I didn’t. In fact, in some scenes, I had to do makeup to look rugged. Sometimes, my eyes needed to have dark circles as a result of not sleeping the entire night. I took make-up only for such scenes.
What is next after Naam Shabana?
Judwaa 2 is releasing on 29th September. I’ll start shooting for it 10 days after Naam Shabana releases. I am doing a couple of other films which I can’t name now. Also, I am doing a yet-untitled Telugu film.