March 7, 2019 / 6:55 AM / 13 days ago

Q&A: Taapsee Pannu on breaking barriers

For someone who made her Bollywood debut in a middling comedy film (Chashme Baddoor, 2013), where she had a minuscule role, Taapsee Pannu has come a long way. Distinguishing herself through smart choices and strong performances, Pannu had an exceptional 2018, winning accolades for her roles in Anubhav Sinha’s “Mulk” and Anurag Kashyap’s “Manmarziyaan”.

Actor Taapsee Pannu greets fans as she arrives for the premiere of Husband Material at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/Files

 Bollywood is not known for welcoming outsiders, and Pannu, whose latest film is Sujoy Ghosh’s “Badla”, says there are still some barriers that she hasn’t broken through. Pannu spoke to Reuters about the walls that Bollywood builds around itself, what it will take to break through them, and where she gets her confidence.

 Q: You had a great year in 2018, especially in the form of “Manmarziyaan”. Did you know that it was going to be a milestone performance in your career?

 A: I knew when I read the script. The challenge was to do it right. But when you have a director and co-actors of the kind I had, then you are in the best position of taking that leap and doing your best. If you can’t do your best even then, then something is wrong with you.

 Q: Have things changed for you in terms of how you are perceived in the industry?

 A: Of course, things have changed, but not totally. It is not that my struggle has ended and I can get complacent that I will now always get good films. There is no dearth of work, but it is about who do you want to work with or what kind of films do you want to work on, versus what kind of films you are getting. That gap is very much there. There are many films I want to do, but it is a ‘no way’ zone.

 There are already people who are part of that set-up and there is no place for you. There are still projects and directors who are still guarded and will not let the project go ‘out’.

But I am happy that the people I have managed to work with, want to work with me again. At least I have broken that glass ceiling.

It might take much longer, but if things keep going the way they are, maybe one day, I will penetrate through the other barrier as well. If it does happen, it won’t happen because of my social skills. I am not good at that, so it is better that I let my work do the talking.

Today, if I message someone in the industry, then at least I know I will get a reply and a word of praise for my work. Now getting to be a part of their films will be the next step, and it might take longer for me than for other people, but I am hopeful it will happen.

 Q: Are you consciously working towards breaking into the cliques which are so prevalent in Bollywood?

 A: That is not my motivation, but I know it will happen organically once you make enough noise. That is why every year, I try to push my boundaries and do something more. Already they expect me to do something unconventional, so I will keep doing that. Someday, that wall will break and they will say, “Ok now she is good enough to be called amongst us.”

 Q: Given that you have already proven your talent, does it hurt that you are not part of that inner circle?

 A: It used to, sometime back - that you don’t get acknowledged or appreciated as much. But then I realised, is peer validation the ultimate validation? No, it is not.

Peer validation also comes from the validation of the people – peers won’t have a choice but to validate you if the people like you. For a long time - I remember during “Pink and “Naam Shabana”, which held its own and crossed 35 crores - I was surprised that more people didn’t acknowledge it.

At that the time I felt bad, but then I realised that validation was also getting these great roles and that people walk into a theatre believing that you can do a good job.

I accepted that, just as I accepted when I came into the industry that nepotism is a part of it. It is an unsaid rule and you have to work your way around it.

I have accepted that peer validation will not come unless the huge noise of audience validation is made around you. I have to take that route – there is no option.

 Q: But don’t you still crave approval from peers?

 A: You crave it, but it doesn’t dent your confidence (when you don’t get it). I don’t want to be bitter about it, because that will affect my work and everything about it. It is an insult to the people who do work with me and chose me. Selfishly, I choose not to be bitter.

 Q: These are not walls that break easily though…

 A: They don’t, and you cannot fight them with a louder voice. You need to have a smarter and stronger strategy. I am not someone who can go calling out practices and taking names to deal with this problem because that is not how it will be solved. You need to be smarter and work your way through it. I am trying to do that and hopefully, in two-three years, it works out.

 Q: You exude a lot of confidence in yourself, in your work. Have you always been like this?

 A: Yes, and I’ll tell you why. Because for me, nothing has been the be-all and end-all of life. Where your confidence shatters is when you think “if this doesn’t work, I don’t know what will happen to life.”

I always approach something thinking “I will do this, it will be fun and I will enjoy it.” Not because it will eventually lead to something which will be fun then.

I have done work on my terms and conditions, most of the times. I can always go back to where I come from or do something else. If this doesn’t work out, I will be on the road. If this doesn’t work out, then something else will. This is not all there is to life.

 Q: But this is an industry that thrives on insecurity, and where every Friday is make-or-break. How do you stay away from that?

 A: It is, but when you start slow and steady, and when you know you have the power to deliver… whatever I have achieved till now is not a fluke, and it hasn’t happened overnight. I don’t have that insecurity that if one film of mine doesn’t work, then no one will give me work.

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