Taapsee Pannu talks to Titas Chowdhury on being a part of Badla, still feeling like a struggler and more
You had once told us that the only kind of typecasting you like is that of a strong character with a spine. What aspect of Naina Sethi, your character in Badla, strength fascinated you?
Oh, Naina is so strong that she can somewhere be borderline arrogant about herself! She is a typical, conventional, self-made woman in a man’s world. She has built an entire company in a foreign land, from scratch, on her own. She is, of course, very proud and protective of it. She will do everything she can to not destroy that and not to spoil the family that she has. So she is a hands-on, control-freak woman.
That is a very, very powerful character to mess with. When something messes her up so bad that it almost puts her behind bars and her entire image is at stake, she can go to any extent to prove that she is innocent. That is what Naina Sethi is. She is actually a pretty mean machine and quite a badass. (Laughs).
The trailer is full of gripping, nail-biting moments. What was your reaction when you watched it for the first time?
It took me countless viewings to actually understand how this will be perceived by someone who does not know the story. When I see it, I know exactly where each and every shot is cut from or what exactly happened when a specific line was spoken. So I am the wrong judge for this. I keep connecting it to the real story, which is not correct. The trailer is cut for someone who has not seen any other footage from the film and will draw interpretations based on what he or she sees in it. I know way too much about the script and it was getting very difficult for me to understand how the trailer had turned out.
I showed it to five or six people, family and friends, to understand what they felt about it. I knew the visuals were stunning and the song was looking great, but I did not know what people would understand of the story. I showed it to my mom and my sister and asked them what they understood of the trailer. When you know exactly what is happening and what is going on inside the head of each character while they are speaking their lines, you lose your sense of judgment.
Do you believe Indians have an appetite for thrillers?
We have been starved of thrillers for a very long time, proper murder mystery thrillers which are the oldest genres of cinema. Lately, we have discovered so many new genres that we are missing this genre now. We have not had a very good murder mystery for a very long time.
Now, finally, you will get to see this genre. I keep telling people that this film is not even two hours long. It is so fast-paced that you won’t get time to even check your phone while watching. If you do, you will miss out on something that you won’t be able to fathom.
We have to talk about Pink here since you and Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan share a similar dynamic in this film. The combination is more or less the same though the circumstances you find yourselves in are very different.
Yeah, he is a lawyer and I am his client and that is the only thing that is similar. He is a lawyer and so obviously he has to protect me. His profession is the same in this film as Pink but mine isn’t. Since his profession is the same, certain things resonate with our past experience of working together, which I think is good. Then we do not have to take too much time to make people understand that this man has to protect this woman.
So they already know that I am in trouble and that he has to protect me, and that he is capable of protecting me because they have seen it before. That goes in our favour. Hence, it became a casting coup of sorts to cast both of us. Nobody had planned it that way; it fell in place organically.
Sujoy Ghosh is known for portraying strong women in his films. Did that in any way influence your decision to be part of Badla?
For this film, the order of things in which things happened was a little different. The script was with the producer. He was looking for a director and an actor at the same time. I was offered another role in the film and the role that I play was to be played by a guy. When I got the script, I said I would do it but I wanted to do the role of the guy. It was very kind of Sunir (Kheterpal), our producer, to agree to switch the gender. A lot of things changed in the film due to that.
He was still looking for someone to direct it and other people to act in it. I had actually called Sujoy after I heard the script. I told him he should do this film. He said he had read the script but was not sure if it was his zone. I kept telling him that it was completely his kind of film.
A few months later, I got a call from the producer who said that Mr Bachchan and Sujoy were on board. I called up Sujoy and gave him a talking to. I said to him, ‘When I suggested it, you did not come on board. But when Mr Bachchan came on board, you did!’ I chide him about this even now. (Chuckles). That’s why I said it fell in place organically.
This is how it happened – first, I was there in the film voluntarily taking up this role and then came the perfect man to direct it. Now I keep telling everyone not to be surprised if they see me in more of Sujoy Ghosh’s films. There are very few directors I address by their first name and he is one of them. That is the rapport I have with him and Anurag (Kashyap). I look forward to working with him multiple times.
When you do a thriller, do you need to work harder to get the nuances and expressions right, in terms of how much to hold back and how much to give out?
In a thriller, everyone has multiple shades. That is just how it is. Nobody discloses their true shades until the time is right. Everyone holds hidden cards as part of their layers. The trick is tossing the right card or layer, and placing them at the top at the right time, unlike in the usual drama genre films where you have to show multiple shades of the characters in the same scene.
In a thriller, you can show only one layer in one scene because you cannot reveal the others. As an actor, you have to transition from one layer to the other seamlessly. That is the tricky part. When you change your layer and when you disclose your next card, you have to do it seamlessly. It should not look abrupt. Sometimes, that can get very confusing. Playing with the mind of the audience and transitioning seamlessly from one layer to the next without making your audience realize this is a challenge. You have to reveal only one layer at a time; otherwise, you end up giving away too much.
A lot of actors have become producers because they want to back films they believe in. You had told us you are very clear about the films you would want to do. Any plans of donning the producer’s hat?
Not at all. All my businesses are up and running in different fields and categories. I have a wedding planning company, I have a badminton team. I honestly don’t have the time and effort to invest in any other business right now. I had once thought that I would never do anything apart from acting in this industry, or else there would be a clash of interest, whether to think as a producer or an actor. I am not sure if I can restrict myself to being an actor only on the set if I am also producing the film. I am not sure I could do that. I will concentrate only on acting. I have enough people who are pretty keen on backing the subjects I want to do.
After doing so many films, what is your expectation from yourself as an actor?
My expectations rise every year. Every year, I set a goal for myself that by the end of this year, I should get an audience who believes in my choices, who will walk into theatres believing that if I have done something, it will be worth their time and effort. That is my expectation of myself. Keeping that in mind, I choose my films and the kind of scripts I do.
Every year, I have to push the boundaries a little because I am competing with myself. There isn’t anyone else who has walked the path I am walking for me to compare myself to because I probably don’t have as many resources as others do in this industry. I am making my own way by just making sure I do a little better than I did last year. Eventually, the goal is to get a loyal audience who will walk into theatres believing that if I have done a film, it is worth their time.
You had once said that being an outsider, you have to pass extra tests to get where you want to be. How many of them have you passed so far?
I have lost count but I think there are still many more. I am prepared to keep on fighting, facing challenges and getting past them. I don’t know if this will ever end because I am a bona fide outsider. (Laughs). I think there is an ‘outsider’ syndrome in the heads of outsiders. No matter how easy things become, there is always something to remind you that you are not really from here. Never mind not coming from a film family; I don’t even have a godfather, a producer or a camp backing me. That’s why my path is slow and steady. I am slowly surpassing hurdles but I think I am cutting a stable path because I am building it on my own.
Even if I fall, I will not fall too far because the base I am building is very strong. I have made peace with the fact that it is going to be slow and steady. I might not shoot up and reach the number one position overnight. But I know that whatever I build will be mine and will stay with me for a long time.
The best part about being an outsider is that you can give yourself a reality check.
Oh yes! Not only yourself, but the people around you are also always happy to give you a reality check. Even for a second, if I want to feel that people need me or I am good enough for people to look forward to, something or the other happens that takes me back to square one; like I am still struggling. This is why I feel like a struggler; I still don’t feel I am a star or an A-lister who can work with anyone she chooses to. I am still not sure of getting a positive answer when I pick up the phone and ask a few directors if they want to work with me. They say, ‘We loved your work; you are doing some really good work.’ I have often tried to reach out to a few directors and express my interest in a certain project that they are working on. I hope the day comes when I say I want to do a certain film and I hear ‘yes’ from the other side. That’s the day I believe I will have become an A-lister or a star.