In the 2015 thriller "Baby", Taapsee Pannu's only action sequence showed her pinning down the bad guy without the help of the male hero. That one scene, she says, earned her the lead role in the upcoming spy film "Naam Shabana" (My name is Shabana), a prequel to "Baby".
The 29-year-old actress, who started her career in the Telugu film industry, won accolades for her performance in last year's courtroom drama "Pink". She spoke to Reuters about her latest movie, why she is getting strong female roles and what it feels like to be an outsider in Bollywood.
Q: Can you talk about how "Naam Shabana" was conceived?
A: A prequel to "Baby" was never on the cards, but when the movie was successful, we realized from the audience response to my character that they wanted to see more of me. Since everyone wanted to see more, they (producers) decided to do more. I guess I earned that spin-off.
Q: When you were playing Shabana in "Baby", did you have a backstory for her in your head?
A: I was told that she has no emotions from morning to evening – she is only focused on her job. Since she works with a lot of men, she decides that the only way she can be ahead of them is to be quicker and read between the lines better. Also, you need to believe that this girl cannot bring down so many men. When you see me in that shop with that guy, you should think that I am totally helpless. When I was doing "Baby", that is all I knew about the character. We didn't build a story because we didn't expect a prequel.
Q: You are one of the few actresses with two substantial lead roles in the space of a year where you don't have to share the limelight with a male star. How did that happen?
A: There was no other way for me to make my presence felt.
Q: Why do you say that?
A: Because I am an outsider. I was never offered the kind of roles where I could play the glamorous diva, because there are already so many of them doing it - and doing it well. So I had to bring to the table much more than just looking good. I had to choose this path, not that I had much of a choice. There are so many people who debut every year, and the Hindi audience doesn't even take notice of your body of work down south or how good or bad it is. Since I had to break all those barriers, this was the only way out. In fact, it is after the success of "Pink" that I have got a "Judwaa" ("Judwaa 2" is an upcoming action-comedy).
Q: Are you OK with making "Judwaa 2" after your substantial roles?
A: Yes. Because if I keep doing hard-hitting roles, the impact will be less. I grew up watching films like "Judwaa" and I would also like to do films that I spent money as a kid to watch.
Q: Are you made to feel like an outsider in Bollywood?
A: In Hyderabad, it was really warm. I had decided to move there even before my first film released. Here it is different because it is a bigger industry. I can shout at the top of my voice saying I have done credible work, but they don't care because they have not seen it in Hindi. You have to keep proving yourself - every film - until the audience believes you can do anything. Then, you are sorted.
Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by David Lalmalsawma