Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar, the lead actors of Saand Ki Aankh, the biopic based on ‘Shooter Dadis’, Chandro and Prakashi Tomar, talk to Padma Iyer about playing much older characters, lessons they learnt and unlearnt during the making and the pride of two female actors headlining a Diwali release
Taapsee and Bhumi, both of you have talked about the physical transformation that you had to undergo for this film. What we would like to know is the Taapsee and Bhumi as you were when you started the Saand Ki Aankh journey and the women you are today, what has the personal transformation been like?
Taapsee Pannu (TP): One thing that the character has changed in me is that I will not give up living till my time here is actually over. By over I mean when life is over. I will not stop trying new things just because I have reached a certain age. That mindset that ‘ab bahut ho gaya’, my mother has that mindset, she has reached 60 and I keep telling her that I have done this film for her. And therefore I will not give up whatever age I am in.
Bhumi Pednekar (BP): I think both the dadis have this attitude in life where they have overcome the deepest and toughest situations that they have been in and they have done it all with a smile. And that is something that I have learnt and I am trying to change about myself. As actors our lives are so busy and there is so much happening. So just dealing with all the craziness that is there around me and still having that spirit to live is what I have actually learnt from them. The warmth that they have and the sense of inclusivity that they have for everyone; there is no discrimination about anything. During the shooting I have seen that their doors would be open for everyone. Anybody could come into their house for a meal. Everyone was given a lot of love and respect. They are very pure.
As young and modern women your experience of the world is very different from that of the shooter dadis. When they decided to break the norms of society in their time, their experience of the outside world was limited. How do you prepare to play women who are so unlike you, especially mentally?
BP: You have to unlearn a lot. You have to completely disconnect. Makeup and such things are technical difficulties. These are things that can be handled even in post-production. Supposing my makeup tears off and we don’t have time to fix it or anything like that, you can spend money and it can be corrected, it will happen. But the emotional transformation that you have to go through and the physical transformation that you have to go through, how do you do justice to a character who has lived 40 years more than you? They have experienced so much in life that you haven’t even come remotely close to it. Right from the fact of getting married at the age of 16 to having the first kid at the age of 18 to living your entire life in a ghoonghat, working to be the bread earner of the family but not being given the respect and also being unaware of the fact that you are worth it! We are modern and independent women. So to be able to control ourselves in situations where we would have otherwise spoken out and to be okay with it, is difficult. What we saw happening with them, we thought that it was wrong and it is injustice. But for them, that is the way they are born and raised. That is their social fabric. So, for them it was never wrong. But obviously this is cinema and to kill the urge to say something, that was difficult.
Of course it would be difficult, given that both of you are women with strong opinions, especially Taapsee...
TP: Mera toh har jagah jhagda chalu rehta hai… (Smiles)
But when there are situations and scenes that you have to do which goes against your mindset, how so you suppress that urge to speak out and play your part?
TP: I don’t think you feel like that. When you read the script you know that this is the scene you are doing and you have to psyche your brain out and do it. You are an actor and that is what your job is. I mean from the outside when I see the film, I will feel like screaming out ‘Speak up’. But you don’t feel like it when you are doing the part. You wing it because you have prepared your mind that while doing it you will stay quiet and not react the way you would have naturally done. I think that is what an actor does.
Another interesting aspect about this film is that we haven’t had two women leading a film…
TP: And definitely not a Diwali release.
And barring may be an instance here and there; the only time it happens is when a woman has headlined a film is when she is playing a double role. This is the biggest USP of Saand Ki Aankh that there are two contemporary female actors at the forefront of this project. How does it feel?
BP: So beautiful…
TP: So proud…
BP: I remember on the day of the trailer launch, Taapsee and I entered the event on a tractor. Taapsee was driving. There were dhols and celebrations. And this has never been seen. It is really sad and I don’t want to be calling it women-led films. But female actors have not been celebrated for a film that they have done. They have not been given such a podium. Everything that the filmmakers, the producers and the studio is doing, they are putting us out there. They are putting in enough time and effort into this film thinking that…
TP: This is a big-ticket Diwali release.
BP: There is no gender bias.
That itself says a lot about the conviction the makers have in the subject…
BP: Absolutely. And of course there have been people saying that how can you come on Diwali?
TP: Yes. We keep hearing this every day.
Doesn’t it get tiring hearing this again and again?
BP: No, it is not tiring, but we were waiting for Diwali because we wanted people to see the film. And I know that once they see it they will stop asking us this question. The truth of the matter is if there were two men doing the same thing and if they weren’t as accomplished actors as Taapsee and I are, but they were playing older characters, they would have been celebrated. And people would be like ‘Wow, Diwali pe hi aani chahiye’. I know it is sad. But just like Chandro and Prakashi Tomar, Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu are also trying to break some kind of social stigma.
TP: It has to start somewhere. We may get a lot of backlash but we want to change things for the future. That is the larger goal that we are actually fighting for.
And backlash is not new to actors anyway.
TP: Yes, There is always some or the other reason for backlash, whether we do or don’t do anything.
The film also has its share of strong male actors. I have to mention Viineet Kumar Singh here. How was the experience working with him?
BP: Viineet is such a secure actor, so secure that he did a film led by two women. He is secure because he is an evolved person. He knows what he has and he knows what he is contributing to the film. It is beautiful the way he has supported us.
TP: I have known actors of his standard that is those who have done the number of films that he has done. He has led a film, he has done supporting parts, I know of other male actors who have refused to do a film because the female actor’s part is more than theirs. And in those films it is just one female actor and in this film there are two! I have known such actors. So, Viineet, despite doing Mukkabaaz, is open to doing film like this. Hats off to him!
BP: He is really proud and supportive of us. He wants us to go out there and shine…
Just like his character in the film…
BP: It is beautiful. He is literally like our coach.
Saand Ki Aankh is out now. What do you want the audience to take back from the film?
TP: So many things…
BP: If anybody, irrespective of their gender and age has a dream, they will be inspired enough to fulfill it. What these women have done is amazing. Just the spirit they have to live, their attitude and the way they have achieved all this is fantastic.
TP: They have a zest to live. Age shouldn’t be a boundary for you; gender shouldn’t be a boundary for you. Just go ahead and live your life.