Girl, Uninterrupted
Forbes India|January 3, 2020
Taapsee Pannu is the underdog who has made it big in a long, zig-zag climb to the top. And she shows no signs of slowing down
DIVYA J SHEKHAR

Taapsee Pannu doesn’t belong. Not to one industry, one language, one film family, or one Bollywood camp. And this—trading comfort to satisfy curiosity, and security to embrace the unknown—is not new to her. After all, she’s the engineer who let go of a lucrative Infosys job offer to sign a film in an unfamiliar language (Telugu); she’s the Delhi girl who moved out of her home to settle down in Hyderabad for the initial three years of her career, and she’s the performer who backed unconventional scripts that many of her contemporaries were sceptical of taking up.

“I never stay put in one place, or do just one kind of thing, because I get bored of people easily,” says the actor, seated comfortably in her vanity van that is parked inside Mehboob Studios in Mumbai. The 32-year-old admits to being a jack of all trades and a master of none, which possibly explains her quest to take on and straddle four to five different films every year. “No two characters, stories, genres—and sometimes even the languages—are the same. And that helps me enjoy going to the set every day,” she says.

The Indian film industry, particularly Hindi cinema or Bollywood, is notorious for taking pride in not guaranteeing a secure future to even the fittest who survive the rat race. Thousands of aspirants spend hours building their portfolios, attending countless auditions, tolerating failures and avoiding unscrupulous elements wanting to exploit their ambition. But most of them remain nameless, labelled merely as “strugglers” in industry parlance. Pannu could, in that sense, be a case study for what it takes for a nobody, an outsider with no industry godfather, to make it big. And not just make it big, but make it count.

The last two years—as Pannu debuted and sealed her place in the Forbes India Celebrity 100 List—have seen the actor move beyond the lingering adulation that followed her performance in the 2016 Shoojit Sircar production Pink. She is at rank 68 this year.

The actor has had four releases in three languages in 2019 and has lined up multiple creative challenges ahead of her: Among other films, she is all set to play Mithali Raj, the former captain of the Indian women’s cricket team. She will feature in a film on gender parity called Thappad directed by Anubhav Sinha, who has signed her on once again after their 2018 courtroom drama Mulk, and will also star opposite Jayam Ravi in a Tamil espionage thriller.

“Taapsee’s filmography typifies the struggles of a woman keen on substantial roles in India’s mencentric film industries,” says film critic Anna MM Vetticad, who believes that even as Pannu managed to notch up excellent roles since her debut Tamil film Aadukalam, she has also done several marginal, stereotype-ridden roles in “tacky films undeserving of her”. It is to Pannu’s credit, Vetticad explains, “that even in the worst of these, such as Mr Perfect (Telugu), Baby (Hindi) and Neevevaro (Telugu), her striking screen presence drew attention. This, along with her talent and beaver-like persistence, have led to the strong position she is in today.”

AS SHE PLEASES

Pannu’s disposition of multitasking and compartmentalising her priorities traces its way back to her childhood in Delhi, where she, while being an academically-inclined student of Mata Jai Kaur Public School, often rushed to partake in sports, public speaking and dancing. As part of the latter, she took Kathak lessons for eight years and Bharatnatyam classes for two. “I have been performing on stage since the age of six, and I have been in love with it since,” she says. Growing up, she took to modelling and working in ad films, even as she simultaneously went through the rigours of securing an engineering degree from the Guru Tegh Bahadur Institute of Technology in Delhi.

The actor admits that her family, comprising her parents and younger sister Shagun, continue to live a low-key life. Unlike her, she says, they are neither comfortable being the centre of attention nor have completely come to terms with how to deal with her stardom.

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