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Here’s How Taapsee Pannu Has Redefined Roles In Mainstream Cinema!

Tracing the incredible journey of Taapsee!

Awaiting the release of a Taapsee Pannu starrer has now instilled an expectation of something distinctive, bold and progressive. JFW takes you on the actor’s journey and discovers how she has managed to make unconventional roles mainstream.

2016, the year Pink released, was indeed the turning point in her acting career and now less than four years later, Taapsee has become synonymous with strong,  courageous women characters and she has created a brand for herself.

An engineer before she took on her first acting assignment, Taapsee Pannu, like many other actors of the present day, admits that acting is not something she pursued. But for Taapsee, once she sank her teeth into it, there was no turning back. With the Telugu film Jhummandi Naadamin (2010) she first faced the cameras, but it was Vetrimaran’s Aadukalam starring opposite Dhanush that really got her noticed. Director Vetrimaran had commended her on her hard work, particularly since the language was new to her. Taapsee praised the entire team of the movie, saying they had set a benchmark so high, that she had to do a film like Pink in Hindi after so many years to reach up to that standard.

With this kick-start, Taapsee signed on a series of films in the South, both in Telugu and Tamil. In an earlier interview Taapsee said,  “One common thing about the South Indian industries is dedication. When I was doing Aadukalam, the crew (including the director and the cameraman) would not sleep for two days at a stretch. I was amazed at the hard work they put in.”

Bollywood calling

Taapsee Pannu forayed into Bollywood with Chashme Baddoor (2013), a remake of a 1981 film of the same name. In 2014 we saw her play a secret agent, in Niraj Pandey’s Baby, alongside Akshay Kumar. Taapsee did her own stunts for the film and even learned Krav Maga for her role as Agent Shabana Khan, a role that she reinterpreted for her 2017 release, titled Naam Shabana. The same year, which was about a year after Pink, Taapsee acted in The Ghazi Attack, depicting a doctor who becomes a refugee.

Pretty purposeful in Pink 

In this courtroom drama, Taapsee played the stunningly credible role of a molestation victim. Her expressions of quiet anguish spoke volumes for her character. “We knew that the film would stir up a lot of debate and discussion and this was our motive – we wanted people to talk about things that they normally don’t talk about out in the open. For instance, there are those ‘taboo subjects’ that a father and a daughter don’t discuss. We wanted to open avenues for such discussions to happen,” said Taapsee while discussing the impact Pink had on people’s mindsets. Every audience member, young and old, male or female, was left with the echoing message of ‘No means no,’ and this didn’t require any further explanation.’ Not only was it a blockbuster commercial success, but Pink was also appreciated by critics worldwide, winning a national award for Best Film on Other Social Issues. It is safe to say that Taapsee’s career can be divided into ‘Before-Pink’ and ‘After-Pink’.

Life After Pink

Taapsee admits that when she began her acting career, she was told to take up everything that came her way, especially if it had big names involved. But something changed the tide with the release of Pink. Her film offers did increase in number, but the quality of content had also taken a drastic turn. This can probably only be attributed to a shift in her own personal choices. “I don’t want to act in a movie which can do without my role. My presence should have the impact to change the story. I decided to give meaningless films a rest. I wanted to do films that would have an impact,” she says.

Dabbling in the drama genre

Following Pink, Taapsee starred in a rom-com titled Running Shaadhi, which didn’t garner as much enthusiasm as her previous hit. Later in 2018, she ventured into the genre again and chose an intense love story where her character Rumi was in a passionate love triangle with Vicky Kaushal’s and Abhishek Bachchan’s characters in Manmarziyan. Much like Taapsee in real life, her character too liked to live life on her own terms and it was no surprise she chose this role.

A natural selection

The films that followed – all seemed carefully handpicked. Certain roles seemed to be written just for her. Case in point – Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk also starring late Rishi Kapoor, Rajat Kapoor and Neena Gupta, all veteran actors. Taapsee portrays a lawyer trying to fight for a Muslim family to regain their name and honour after a family member gets involved in terrorism.

Sports biopics were the name of the game around 2018 and Taapsee boarded the wagon too with Soorma, where she played Harpreet Kaur, a hockey player. Though the picture only did moderately well at the box office, it hasn’t deterred her from trying the sports field again. In a much-awaited release this year, Taapsee will be seen donning the Indian cricket jersey in Shabaash Mithu, a biopic on Indian cricketer, Mithali Raj.

Taapsee was offered another role opposite Amitabh Bachchan with Sujoy Ghosh’s Badla. A huge part of this murder mystery featured just the two characters played by Mr.Bachchan and Taapsee, sitting across from each other and engaging in a gripping conversation; again a female-driven role, which she handled with panache.

The star of the show

In her  tenure starting from 2011, Taapsee Pannu has shared screen space with many experienced actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Rajat Kapoor, Neena Gupta, Akshay Kumar,  Dhanush, Ajith Kumar, Rana Daggubatti, Prabhas and Abhishek Bachchan but has still managed to hold her own. But what happens when the entire cast of your film is a star ensemble? Enter Jagan Shakthi’s space mission movie, Mission Mangal. A film inspired by India’s first space expedition, Taapsee plays one of the scientists involved in the mission while also caring for her husband, who returns from the armed services, wounded.

With Saand Ki Aankh, Taapsee starring alongside Bhumi Pednekar, plays a sharpshooter Prakashi Tomar, and she has proven, that even a woman in her 60s can easily play the lead role in a movie. After Mulk, Taapsee Pannu teamed up yet again with Anubhav Sinha, to bring about yet another thought-provoking role and her latest hit,  Thappad.

In a nutshell, the recently released film is about a seemingly unassuming and sometimes submissive housewife Ammu aka Amrita who is slapped by her husband in a house party for no fault of her own, but just an act of frustration. Her whole happy married life is shaken. Though she tries to get past it, she is unable to find love or meaning that she once found in her marriage.

The movie takes you through different shades, variation, and layers of casual sexism that we have been toned to get used to, to let go off, and to forget. How a single slap echoes and makes different women realise what they are allowing to happen to them, be it the perfect housewife or a powerful lawyer to a cheerful house help. How fragments of these women are lost, little by little, how they are stripped off their respect, how easily they sacrifice, and how much they have “let go” and are systematically built to not create a “fuss”.

Taapsee Pannu’s commendable acting delivered a strong message- (clear as a slap if we may say) clearly and in the most subtle, calm way possible. “You don’t disrespect a woman. It is not done. No conditions applied’.”

Limitless possibilities

Likewise, the roles she chooses always drive home an important message that makes you question patriarchy, dictated morality, misogyny and encourages you instead to adopt soul searching.

To many in the Tamil audience, the name Taapsee Pannu still brings them images of that bubbly Anglo Indian girl, Irene from Vetrimaran’s Aadukalam. Does this imply that the Tamil industry is not yet geared for the type of roles Taapsee plays? Agreed that the psychological thriller Game Over attempted to blur the lines and made her t   he protagonist of a very different script. Critically acclaimed to its own right, Game Over was an interesting attempt and Taapsee carried the film on her shoulders, in more ways than one (given she was in a wheelchair for most parts of it). A big hit for her in Tamil after Aadukalam, it broke the mould in Tamil cinema and was a bold choice for her too.

With the boundaries being pushed so much further, we cannot wait to see what the brand that is Taapsee Pannu has in store for us. It would be a disservice to say that Taapsee Pannu chooses out-of-the-box roles, for in her case, there simply is no box.

By: Preethy Shanker

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