Taapsee Pannu knows her game

With box-office hits like Baby, Pink, and, more recently, Badla (which grossed nearly ₹100 crore worldwide), Taapsee Pannu has brought a new facet to the Bollywood female lead.

Whether it is wielding a gun and avenging the death of a partner, or taking a privileged male to court over sexual assault, there seems to be little that she hasn’t tried her hand at. But the upcoming Tamil/Telugu bilingual, Game Over, is another first in her career — Taapsee will deliver action sequences as a wheelchair-bound game developer, Swapna.

We reach her after reports of Badla’s success have come in, and clearly the actor, who has been proving herself both in Bollywood and in the South, is as feisty in real life, if not more.

Long-awaited return

Taapsee has seen the Tamil and Telugu film industries evolve at close quarters, albeit as an outsider.

She made her debut with the Telugu film Jhummandi Naadam in 2010. Vetrimaaran’s critically-acclaimed Aadukalam (2011) came close on its heels. There have been other projects over the years.

“It is difficult for me to uproot myself from where I began. People like me there, and I have a certain gratitude that I can’t ignore. It may be Telugu or Tamil, but I have decided to do one film in the south every year.” Taapsee, on why she will always return to the south

“Earlier, I was finding it difficult to make people understand that I want to do something that is not at the surface level, a character sketch that was relevant to the film. But, most often, the casting decision was made based on your availability on specific dates, and the box-office performance of your last film,” she begins.

“Don’t just make me hang in there because you need a female,” she says in a huff, recounting conversations in the past.

Game Over is Taapsee’s first bilingual project, and marks her return to Tamil films after Raghava Lawrence’s Kanchana 2 (2015).

Directed by Ashwin Saravanan of Maya fame, it is “a thriller, but unlike the social dramas I’ve done before, it has a dramatic quality, and more action,” says Taapsee.

Reluctant to reveal too much about the film, she says Swapna (her character) becomes an introvert after a series of events. An accident written into the storyline leaves the character wheelchair-bound for the majority of its runtime.

No joyride, this

Game Over was shot in a tight 35-day schedule. “Between shooting in two different languages, and the physical strain of action sequences on a wheelchair, it has taken quite a toll. It isn’t really a fun film for an actor in that sense,” she explains.

Taapsee Pannu knows her game

That said, the actor has an appetite for new challenges. “These experiences were all a first-of-a-kind for me and that is also why I chose to do this film. Unless I find something challenging in a film, I don’t really pick it up,” she says.

Saravanan agrees that spending “12-14 hours a day on the wheelchair” must have been trying. “It is also not as easy to use the wheelchair as fast as you want the camera to watch. But she never held back, and gave her everything on the first take,” says the director, best known for the horror film, Maya, starring Nayanthara.

Saravanan adds that he was looking for someone that audiences across the country would identify with. “The film’s theme is universal. Taapsee connected with the subtext of the film, and I think she also chooses scripts that she herself would pay to watch on the big screen,” he says, adding that a teaser trailer for Game Over will be released soon.

Taapsee agrees that her participation in films is valued, more so in the last two years.

“What Taapsee adds is spontaneity. She is an instinctive actor, and that is what I enjoyed as a director. She adds light to what are scripted scenes.” Ashwin Saravanan, on working with Taapsee

“Now, I get called for films like Anando Brahma and Game Over in the south, that have a strong and relevant woman character. I know they genuinely want me and plan their schedule and project around me. I am an active participant in the project in terms of how we see the story, the script, and conceive a particular scene… It is not just about doing my job as an actor and leaving,” she explains.

A thing for nail-biters

With sharp, racy narratives that keep you on the edge of your seat, Taapsee’s choice of films like Baby, Mulk, Badla (and now, Game Over) fits the wider genre of thrillers.

How did ‘Game Over’ happen?

  • Pannu and Saravanan first connected after the release of her film Pink.
  • “He liked the film and discussed it at length with me. He wanted to work on a project with me, which we couldn’t make it happen then, but I always knew I will work with him in the future. When we did work together finally, it only got better and better. Despite being such a young director he has great technical knowledge. He is also very flexible and sensitive with actors; something that ensured I was comfortable even during the most uncomfortable sequences. He is also very open to suggestions and script discussions were very productive,” Taapsee says.

“Sometimes, a film is a thriller by the way it is cut and presented, and not the subject,” Taapsee says, adding, “I think thrillers are commercial films. I want to make sure it is worth (the audience’s) time and money. Because money can come back, time won’t.”

While she has a penchant for unconventional scripts, she is adamant that her films are not categorised as ‘arthouse’ or ‘indie’.

“It’s show business after all and it doesn’t make sense to do a film that won’t make money. I also don’t want to do films that are so deep that only those within the craft will enjoy them,” she says candidly.

Saravanan has an interesting observation. “Taapsee is a happy person, and, from what I know, actually prefers to do light films over the dark ones. It is just that she is very good at working dark subjects. I guess happy people make for interesting subjects in a dark film,” he says.

(with inputs from Pradeep Kumar)


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