Taapsee Pannu epitomises the new age Hindi film heroine — one who is fearless and self-standing
Taapsee Pannu is fearless, speaks her mind, and has survived this industry on her own terms
Bollywood has, over the years, standardised what its heroines should be; and the stereotypes have largely been handed down generation to generation by those who come from within the industry. No matter how woke our current leading ladies are, there’s a certain code that exists, which never gets broken. You don’t take on the establishment, you build your career on the back of commercial films, you speak up only when everyone else is. Going against the tide then, doesn’t make one popular amongst those that are seen as holding the reins of the industry. And let’s face it, this has always been one hell of a popularity contest for female actors. The sudden influx of non-industry talent in the past decade has been one of the reasons why a lot of this has been changing, and there’s nobody out there who epitomises this new breed of Hindi film heroine than Taapsee Pannu. She’s fearless, speaks her mind, and has survived this industry on her own terms.
With two back-to-back off-beat films of hers getting immense praise, Badla and Game Over, Taapsee Pannu is changing the rules and is on her way to pan-Indian stardom.
In a recent Twitter interaction with Vir Das, she made a self-deprecating dig for not making the cut on the latest season of Koffee With Karan. This immediately reignited the nepotism debate and brought about comparisons with Kangana Ranaut, the self-styled chief campaigner against it in the industry. The fact is that Taapsee couldn’t be more different than Kangana, whose outrage usually comes packaged with self-victimisation and from a place of “not being accepted” by her peers.
Taapsee, on the other hand, is comfortable being an outsider in the industry and writes her own rules. Those who know what she’s like would tell you how free of malice her comment probably was, and how she couldn’t care two hoots about being part of Bollywood’s little cliques.
Her outspokenness is more a function of the person she is, and that she’s not afraid to call a spade a spade. When she was replaced by Bhumi Pednekar in the remake of Pati Patni Aur Woh, she wasn’t afraid to call out the producers for disrespecting her time by blocking her dates. This fearlessness, easily confused with a complete absence of tact comes across in many of the things she brazenly says; things that most actors would think but not say aloud. How many actresses out there would actually go on record saying she does films like Judwaa to balance out her other choices, and give her the ability to do non-commercial films like Mulk? She figures that her work is good enough to make producers still want her, if she wants them first.
Taapsee’s earned her stripes playing multiple types of roles across both Bollywood and the industries of the South. While many others have used South Indian movies as a stepping stone to break into Bollywood, Taapsee’s focus has always been on delivering good cinema, regardless of genre and language. She continues to straddle both industries successfully, working with the best and delivering high quality content. She speaks about the roles she plays across both industries with an equal amount of enthusiasm, and the versatility shows — she’s played a hockey player, rape victim, martial arts instructor and a visually challenged girl amongst others.
The conviction that Taapsee has in her own ability could arguably be infectious, in that she’s inspired a couple of firsts in Bollywood. The first of these instances was the character she played in Baby, of an undercover operative called Shabana. The success of the film triggered a spinoff film, Naam Shabana based on the same character, something that had never been tried before. Even her latest film, Badla, based on the 2016 Spanish hit, The Invisible Guest, creates a first of sorts in Bollywood with gender flipping of the two main characters. While Hollywood has tried gender flipping with films like Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eight, it’s still rare for Bollywood producers to show these levels of confidence in a woman taking on a role originally written for a man.
This clearly isn’t a carefully crafted portrait of someone trying to stand out from the rest of the crowd, because if it were, the mask would occasionally drop. There’s no better measure of a person’s self confidence than the ability to stand one’s ground with the very best in this industry. And Taapsee has shocked people time and again on set with her complete ease around Amitabh Bachchan: there are no signs of the awe and reverence he’s usually greeted with. Far from that, she treats him like she would any other co-star, and the mutual admiration has been pretty evident over the past three years, even in their online interactions. That her second outing with him, Badla, releases this Friday, with the onus resting equally on her shoulders as much as his weary ones, speaks volumes of Taapsee’s rise as a force.
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