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Taapsee Pannu: I hope I can call myself a ‘star’ one day

Taapsee Pannu, who started her career in the South, has become a name to reckon with in the Hindi film industry. Ahead of the release of Game Over, a trilingual film, the actor gets candid with Titas Chowdhury, about the emotional challenges of working in a psychological thriller, the importance of telling stories that have national appeal, her love-hate relationship with Anurag Kashyap, and more

From the trailer, Game Over looks like a dark and distressing world…

(Cuts in) It was. (Laughs) It was dark because we did shoot a lot at night and it was distressing because my character went through a lot of stress.

What was your first reaction to the script?

I was bowled over when I read the script as it was something I had never read before. The screenplay was outstanding. I had never seen something like that on the Indian screen before. The concept was so crazy and quirky that I wanted to make sure I was a part of it. 

This film talks about ‘anniversary reaction’. Were you aware of this before you became part of the film?

No, I was not. I got to know about it when I started doing the workshops and reading sessions with the writer and the director. The co-writer of this film, Kaavya (Ramkumar), belongs to this family of doctors who take care of these victims. It was from her that I learnt of ‘anniversary reaction’ and what really happens.

The girl I play in Game Over experiences this reaction because she suffers a major incident in her life. After a year, when the anniversary of the incident approaches, her mind and body start reacting in a different and unexpected way. That is when we reveal what ‘anniversary reaction’ is. While she is coping with this, she has an accident, which makes her wheelchair-bound because she fractures her legs. Yes, there are a lot of things that happen to this poor child. (Laughs)

Was it a difficult to shoot wearing a cast on your legs and sitting in a wheelchair for almost 70 per cent of the film?

Yeah! It was physically and mentally difficult. I have never had a fracture in my life, not even a hairline fracture. Touch wood! And, here, I had to be in a wheelchair for 12 hours, for 25 days, with that cast on. Putting it on and taking it off was both tedious and time-consuming, and we had to do it every day. So I decided to be in the wheelchair, wearing it even though people had to help me by pulling me out of it. During my lunch breaks, I used to lie in bed and rest. I needed people to help me eat and then take me to the toilet. That saved time and I decided to live with it for 25 days.

The character you play appears scared and anxious throughout. How did you detach yourself from an emotionally taxing character like that?

I used to play Ludo while they were changing the shots. The entire set thought I was really weird. (Laughs) I mean, who plays Ludo today? We used to play the game properly with four players. I used to play with my staff, my hair person, my make-up person and my spot boy. It helped me de-stress. I used to make stupid jokes and laugh. If I had gone with the momentum of the character, I would have gone mad. It was mentally too much for me to take. I am not even a little like my character in this film.

My character was this intense, trauma victim. I am not that person. It was difficult to psyche myself to believe that I had gone through it. It starts changing your mental fibre if you start doing that to yourself, every single day, for about 35 days. So I had to keep taking breaks. Whenever I used to get a day off between shoots, I would make sure I was not alone. I used to go out with friends. I travel alone and I work alone and hence after the shoot every day, I had to come back alone, to a room, to sleep. But whenever I was not sleeping, I used to try and meet my friends to make sure I had a normal, balanced life.

So that was the impact this character had on you!

It usually does. Most of the characters I play do that to me. I end up playing characters that have a certain degree of trauma, some kind of pressure or a challenge in life, or some kind of confusion. Every character leaves an impact on my mind.

Will we get to see you in a light-hearted film any time soon?

Well, I really want to do a film like that. I am listening to a few scripts and am hoping it will happen by next year. But Saand Ki Aankh is not a very intense film. The same goes for Mission Mangal. Both of them are real stories and both of them will have their own share of intense portions. But these films are more or less fun films with light-hearted moments. Game Over has not a single light-hearted moment.

Saand Ki Aankh has some really hilarious moments. Just because it is a story of two 60-year-old women, it does not mean that it is a very serious and intense film; it is quite cool and fun. 

Tell us about your working relationship with Anurag Kashyap, who is presenting this film.

It began with Marmarziyaan. It is strange because, honestly, I am not a big fan of Anurag Kashyap’s films, and he knows it. I do not watch gritty, dark films.

That is quite ironic considering the kind of films that are part of your recent filmography.

Yes. But I do not think that Pink was a dark film. It was an intense film that shook up all of us, but it was not a quintessentially dark film. Anurag’s films belong to a different kind of ‘dark’. His films are very different. Badla might be a dark film but it is not Anurag Kashyap kind of dark. I am a huge fan of a few of his films. I whistled and clapped during Dev D. I liked Gangs Of Wasseypur. I have watched Ugly, which I honestly did not mind.

But I have not seen his films other than the ones I mentioned, and Manmarziyaan, of course, which I was part of. I think Manmarziyaan was a product of Anurag Kashyap 2.0. It was not a regular Anurag Kashyap film; it was totally different. He knows that I do not like all his films and I know that he does not like all my films. I really connect with him as a person. He is a great friend to have. We connect at the level where we know that we both can be brutally honest with each other. We prefer to do away with the baggage of pretence and just be ourselves.

He might be right or wrong while saying or doing a lot of things and I might not agree with him but he is honest and will not present a different picture, which is very rare in today’s times. Everyone wants to look right, like the perfect person. He does not feel the need to do that. He believes, ‘Wrong or right, this is how I am.’ So am I. That is where we connect. In some places, we connect creatively and hence we end up working together. He is presenting Game Over. He is producing Saand Ki Aankh.

You will also be seen acting in another film of his, a supernatural thriller.

Yes, we begin shooting for that by the end of this year, in November- December. So yeah, it is a long association. You will see us together many a times. But every time we come together, it will be for a film that we both believe in equally, even though we might not be in 100 per cent in sync with each other’s film choices all the time.

When we met prior to Badla, you had said that in a thriller, you need to reveal one layer at a time so that you do not end up giving out everything all at once. Did you follow the same for this film?

Here, I needed to keep in mind that all the layers run in parallel. Game Over is not a whoddunit murder mystery; this is not the kind of thriller where the culprit is revealed in the end. When you are watching it, you already know who the mind is behind all that is happening. But what you keep wondering is whether the girl will emerge from this and if so, how she will do it. That is the journey you will look at. It is not the kind of thriller where you keep the name of the culprit to yourself. In this film, all the layers are presented simultaneously and you will get to see them simultaneously. It was challenging. As I told you, I might turn psychotic pretty soon! (Laughs)

Coming back to Game Over, the director, Ashwin Saravanan, made this film with a certain sensibility and the makers decided to dub it in Hindi much later. What was it about the film that made you believe it has national appeal?

When I read the script, I felt it had both national and international appeal. But I think there are certain logistics that are to be met if you want to make a film in multiple languages which, I guess, they were not prepared for. They thought they should keep the logistics under control and make the film in two languages, which they were prepared for, rather than venturing to make it in language they were not prepared to shoot in. That would require an altogether different set of logistics. So we decided to shoot the film in Tamil and Telugu.

After we watched the film, everyone felt it really did have national appeal and it should be released nationally. Thankfully, people do not see me as a South Indian actor any more. They thought that if I dub it, people will see it as a Hindi film as well. To be honest, you will not feel that it is a South Indian film or any other language-specific film. Our idea was to keep it restricted to the South anyway. The fact that it was not giving us the feel of a South India film is why we decided to release it in Hindi too.

There was a time when filmmakers used to make films that were language and region-specific. With Baahubali and K.G.F., we have seen language and other cultural barriers falling away. What do you think is the reason for this change?

The fact that they are clicking so well is a great thing. The boundaries should fade for both the industries, the South Indian as well as the Hindi industries. The boundaries should also fade for other regional film industries and I hope we can release the film in multiple languages. At the end of the day, we all are Indians and we have similar sensibilities with very slight variations. There are certain subjects that are not region-specific and that can be written for the entire country. We have evolved as creative people so much that we can now write concepts that resonate in all languages. I think it is a really good move and I hope it keeps happening.

Taapsee Pannu in Game Over

You had once said that you still feel like a struggler. But does the success of Badla give you validation? Do you feel like an A-lister now?

No, I do not! (Chuckles) What is an A-lister? I do not know the definition of it in the first place. That is why I have probably not been able to understand whether I should call myself an A-lister. But I will tell you the definition of a ‘star’ and why I do not believe I am a ‘star’ yet. A star is when you have an audience who believes and trusts you so much that they will walk into a theatre and watch a film because you are there in it; they trust you so blindly that if you are in it, then they will believe that the film is worth their time and money. The day that happens, which will be reflected in the opening numbers of my films, is when I will accept that I am a star. Before that happens, we are all strugglers and actors.

So you do keep tabs on the numbers that your films make?

Of course, I do. This is the entertainment business. If our films make money, we will have money to make more films. At the end of the day, it is all about the box office.

Coming back to Game Over, what was your biggest takeaway?

There are so many things that you can take away from this film. Every time I read the script, I had a different interpretation because there are so many interesting layers woven into it. You see none of them in the trailer because it has left you intrigued enough to watch the film. That is what a trailer should do. Watch the film and you will see many layers. I took one back home, which I cannot share right now because it will reveal quite a bit. (Smiles).

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