Tapsee Pannu: 'I bagged Naam Shabana because of my 20-min role in Baby'
It can’t get any better than this for actress Tapsee Pannu. A geeky software engineer from Delhi with no acting ambitions, she's now making the right noises in Bollywood, after being a top grosser down South (Telugu and Tamil film industry).
Tapsee left a mark with her spunky debut in the remake of Chashme Baddoor, wowed us with her intense act opposite Akshay Kumar in Baby, and further stunned everyone with her performance in critically and commercially successful Pink. And now she has five back-to-back releases this year, with celebrated filmmakers like Shoojit Sircar, Neeraj Pandey and David Dhawan.
Her romantic comedy, Runningshaadi will hit the screens this Friday, followed by The Ghazi Attack (Telugu and Hindi), Naam Shabana (with Akshay Kumar and Manoj Bajpai), Tadka (an adaptation of Malayalam blockbuster Salt N' Pepper) and mainstream commercial Judwaa 2 with Varun Dhawan. “Some of my films had got delayed and now when people see the number of films that are lined up for release, they believe that I have been working very hard for last three years,” says Tapsee.
Confident, headstrong and independent, Tapsee, however, knows how unpredictable the industry is, and she is already getting nervous about it.
“I hope they keep giving me work otherwise I will have tough time finding good films and good roles. That stress will come, maybe by the end of this year. Even half of my films work, there will be a kind of pressure on me to keep delivering something different. I don’t think I will shy away from that pressure because it will keep me excited about my job. It will keep me on my toes and make my life more adventurous. Otherwise I can sit and relax with whatever is coming my way,” she says, further adding, “I asked Shoojit (who has started work on his biopic on revolutionary Udham Singh) — why can’t I play Udham Singh? Then, I told Neeraj Pandey that I want to play a psycho villain. I keep putting such crazy ideas in their head so that I can collaborate on something crazy with them again.”
She continues, “The sad part is we have to keep proving ourselves with every film. I have had three releases so far and all three have been box office successes but I am still not considered in the supposed ‘A’ list. It will still take time because I am an outsider. I don’t have a five or three film deal with a production house, I am nobody’s daughter or sister from the industry and I am not even dating an actor. Nothing is going in my favour apart from the fact that I have few credible names who have given me good films and that is how I am still surviving in the industry."
Tapsee's wishlist includes directors like Mani Ratnam, Imtiaz Ali, Rajkumar Hirani and Vishal Bharadwaj.
Few years back, Tapsee became a household name in because of her south films, and while it was an overnight stardom for her, Bollywood has been slow yet steady. “In South, they give love to all their heroines and I got immense love too soon with my first film (Raghavendra Rao directed Telugu film Jhummandi Naadam, 2010). But Bollywood works differently. In South, a lot of importance is given to glamour and how commercial you are, whereas here we need to have a strong presence on screen as well,” says Tapsee.
She adds, “Here, too, I started my career with a commercial film (Chashme Baddoor), and I am glad I did that because had I started my career with Pink or Baby, they would have shoved me aside, saying I belong to the genre of parallel cinema. Now people perceive me as a commercial actress who is also doing performance-oriented roles. It’s a good mix.”
David Dhawan had directed Tapsee in Chashme Baddoor, so can Judwaa 2 be called an extension of their association? “It is like a “huge” extension (laughs). Judwaa 2 is one of the biggest films this year and it feels good when a filmmaker repeats you. David Dhawan, Shoojit Sircar and Neeraj Pandey, all three of them have repeated me, and when such credible names believe in you, then you feel like a good student. It makes me feel that I am going in the right direction,” says Tapsee.
Talking about her co-star of Judwaa 2, Varun Dhawan, Tapsee had once said that she never had the hots for him. Laughing out loud, she says, “I still don’t have the hots for Varun. Few times, at social dos when I would find myself a misfit, I had Varun come and ask me that why was I standing alone in a corner. He’s a very nice guy and I am extremely excited to work with him.”
Tapsee had played the main protagonist in Pink, a brave film that addressed the condescending attitude, and inequality towards women. So how does she look at mainstream commercial films, which at times is accused of normalising sexual harassment and eve-teasing in the name of 'love'?
Says Tapsee, “Yes, there have been such films where heroes were part of harassment and eve-teasing but change is the only constant. I do agree that it inspires in a wrong way and cinema is a pretty influential medium, no denying that, but we should also stop blaming cinema and start drawing inspiration from good films as well. When we do films with good message sadly nobody absorbs that message. Why always blame the film industry? I am doing Judwaa 2 and I would definitely not want a guy chasing or stalking me in the film. Obviously, the script and characters will change with time. We have become more cautious of what we portray.”
Naam Shabana — which is a prequel or spin-off from the 2015 film Baby, with Tapsee in the lead reprising her role as Shabana — is something totally unexpected, says the actress.
“Naam Shabana was like a bonus I got after Baby. Earlier, it was never on the cards. I literally forced myself in the film [Baby]. I told the casting director to help me meet Neeraj Pandey for an audition and look test. It was at the last moment they got me into the film and it was just a 20 minute role. My character was noticed and due to the response it got, Neeraj Sir started thinking, and that is how he wrote a new film," she informs.
"After a month or two of Baby’s release I got a call that they were scripting a film on the girl’s life and two days after the release of Pink, I was shooting for Naam Shabana,” says Tapsee, further adding, “It was not because of Pink (Shoojit's the creative producer) that I bagged Naam Shabana. Neeraj and Shoojit’s films were going parallel, both independent of each other. I got Naam Shabana because of Baby and I got Pink because of Runningshaadi."
This Friday (17 February) will see the release of Tapsee’s first romantic comedy, Runningshaadi, a film about a couple who set up a company that helps couples run away and get married.
“I just had to come and be myself on the camera for this film. My character Nimmi is Tapsee unplugged on camera. I didn’t have to do any workshop to get into the character,” says Tapsee, who feels that in the midst of several hard-hitting films, release of a rom-com is perfectly timed.