Taapsee Pannu talks about her 'slap scene' in Thappad, and why she won't ever do a film like Kabir Singh
Taapsee Pannu opens up on how she worked on her image of a no-nonsense woman to play the docile Amrita in Thappad, and why the film is not an antidote to Kabir Singh
After depicting the ordeal of a Muslim family trying to reclaim their honour in Mulk, Taapsee Pannu and director Anubhav Sinha are back with another hard-hitting tale in Thappad. Taapsee essays the role of an educated, upper-middle-class woman who is forced to take stock of her relationship after being slapped by her husband, played by Pavail Gulati. While the people around Taapsee’s character consider the issue trivial asking her to forgive her husband, she, however, fights back.
With the kind of choices that Taapsee makes and the stories she picks, be it Pink, Naam Shabana, Mulk, Saand Ki Aankh and now Thappad, she has gained the reputation of a progressive female actor who ensures that she makes a statement each time with these extremely relevant issues, especially about women and their identity. She is back at a subject that could start a conversation like what Pink did. “What to do? They (the makers) find me, or I find them. I am probably attracted to these roles because my own personality is such," she says.
“But I am happy with my image, I have no issues. Many a time you are not able to make an image in your entire career. It is better to have an image rather than leave the industry without any chhap (imprint). I choose in a way that people don’t forget me once they leave the theatre. They should take me home and that is my criteria for choosing a film. I am always looking for more, I have to push my envelope from the last year to the next year. I hope people are realising it. It has to go higher or else I will also get bored,” she further adds.
Taapsee is very excited to be part of Thappad that has a huge ensemble cast including, Tanvi Azmi, Manav Kaul, Dia Mirza, Kumud Mishra and Ram Kapoor, among others. “What a brilliant star-cast the makers were able to pull off! We used to have a very human level discussion on sets because we knew what we are creating is going to be very personal for a lot of people. They might just start seeing themselves in a lot of moments. We wanted to make it look very real because someone or the other sitting among the audience will relate to some character that this has happened with me or I have done it,” she says.
And the biggest challenge for Taapsee and the director in her characterisation was how does one remove that “firebrand” image from the actor, who is often seen bashing patriarchy in the films she chooses to do, considering she will not be seen playing the conventionally strong woman in Thappad. It’s said that her character is a bit docile. “It is expected that if someone hits me, I will hit that person back. So, how does one show that she is not able to do anything? That was the biggest challenge for me as an actor. After building such a strong image, suddenly I had to remove that side of me which was difficult,” says the actor.
She continues, “And that is also the reason why I felt very claustrophobic after doing Thappad. I was desperate to get out of it because I am not a person who takes nonsense for a long time. She hears all kinds of nonsensical advice from everyone but she never retaliates or answers back. It was so claustrophobic because I am not like that. Her (character) tolerance level is so high that it used to suffocate me. I would want to finish off the shoot soon and leave. I was ready to get out of Amrita quickly. Thirty-one days was a lot of time.”
The other difficult moment in the film was the ‘slap’ that needed a kind of impact to leave the audience in shock. “A lot of people asked me how many times I was slapped for the film, and I was like, I know a bit of acting (laughs). But to get that right I was slapped seven times. This was the highest number of retakes I have had so far. We had to get it right and we couldn’t have cheated. Pavail, who plays my husband, was so nervous. He was mentally preparing for two days and he was telling me that I can slap him once so that he doesn’t feel bad about hitting me. He couldn’t do it immediately. At times, he would hit me on my ear, or neck, and I told him to do it once and for all and finish it off because to do it again and again was getting painful. At times the director would feel that there was no impact. It should be seen on a 70 mm screen and the magnification of that slap had to shock the audience,” says Taapsee.
“I have one basic discussion with every director of mine that with this particular scene what emotion you are trying to evoke from the audience. How should they feel after watching a certain scene?” she adds. And while the actor hopes that the film makes people think and it reaches those who think slapping someone was a small thing, she takes offense to the film being considered an answer to Kabir Singh by many on social media. Directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, the Shahid Kapoor-starrer was one of the biggest grossers of 2019, but the film received flak for its misogynistic gaze and normalising violence in a relationship. In a particular scene in Thappad, a character is heard reiterating what we heard Kabir Singh director say during an interview last year about 'love' and 'a few slaps'. Reddy's controversial comment was criticised widely for normalising violence against women in the name of love. In sharp contrast, Taapsee's film shows that it is never okay to hit a woman. Not even once. And it is certainly not okay to expect the woman to be tolerant of this kind of behaviour, adjust around it and in the name of moving on, brush it under the carpet without addressing it.
“It feels as if we have made this film as an answer to Kabir Singh which is not true, and by doing so it is an attempt at making our film look small. This film was written before Kabir Singh happened. Thappad is just a trigger, there are many things that will open up on the characters’ relationship. Yes, something in that film doesn’t match our ideology but so many films have shown women being slapped. We are not showing it for the first time. It is just trivializing the film by saying that it is an answer to Kabir Singh because it is way beyond,” she says.
She furthers, “I wasn’t comfortable watching Kabir Singh even as the movie was a blockbuster. I wouldn’t have done the film had I been offered Kabir Singh’s part, obviously, I would have never done the girl’s part. In India, the impact that films have on the audience is not very halka (light). Here, the audience sport hairstyle of say Salman Khan, or say dialogues mouthed by Shah Rukh Khan for years together. If our audience treats us like demi-gods then there is a sense of responsibility towards them. You may show flawed characters, it is candy for an actor. It is okay to play grey shade and negative character but it is not okay to normalise it. In Kabir Singh it was normalised and celebrated and that is the only problem I had with the film.”
Taapsee’s next line-up of films include Haseen Dilruba (opposite Vikrant Massey), touted to be a murder mystery within a twisted love story; then there are two sports dramas, Rashmi Rocket where she will portray the role of an athlete, and then she will step into cricketer Mithali Raj’s shoes for her biopic. Also, she recently announced Looop Lapeta, an official Hindi adaptation of the German film Run Lola Run. “It is the first time ever I am going through such a rigorous routine. I had learnt very basic hockey for Soorma. But I am liking it because I enjoy fitness. Every day I have to train for a one-and-a-half hour and then I shoot nine-to-nine shift for Haseen Dilruba. Two more months to go and hopefully I will develop sprinter’s body if not the speed so that I can be convicing in Rashmi Rocket. Once that is made then I will start cricket,” she concludes.
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