Taapsee Pannu is living her best life and making the most of it
With four back-to-back releases this year, she may be one of the busiest actors in Bollywood. And there's no stopping her
It’s Sunday morning but there isn’t a quiet moment at the Pannu residence. You can hear the sound of a domestic help pottering about in the kitchen, even as Taapsee, dressed in comfortable casuals, is finishing some business on the phone, and her flatmate, her younger sister Shagun, is attending to chores around the house.
The apartment itself, on the 12th floor of a suburban high-rise, is elegantly decorated with bric-abrac that the sisters have picked up over their frequent travels. “We did a road trip through Europe two years ago and picked up a lot of stuff then,” Taapsee reveals. Vacations are big with the Pannu sisters. This year they’ve already been to Mauritius, last year they did a diving holiday in Bali.
It’s hard to figure out how she squeezes in one or two breaks a year when she’s making four or five films annually, schlepping between Hyderabad, Chennai, and Mumbai, unwilling to give up Telugu and Tamil films even as her star continues to rise in Bollywood.
This year, Taapsee has already starred opposite Amitabh Bachchan in the hit thriller Badla, she had the home invasion thriller Game Over, and there are at least two more films coming out before the year draws to a close. On-screen she tends to play variations of the tough girl—determined, no-nonsense, outspoken, and unwilling to suffer fools.
From Anurag Kashyap and Anubhav Sinha, to Sujoy Ghosh and Shoojit Sircar, she’s worked with some of the brightest film-makers in Bollywood, and a testament to both her talent and her manner is that each of them has offered to cast her again in their next films.
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Taapsee knows she’s on a roll, and she’s going to make the most of it.
Rajeev Masand: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Taapsee Pannu: It is when I have had sound sleep for eight-nine hours and I’m excited to wake up the next day and jump out of my bed, and just go for it. That means I’m happy.
RM: Work is a part of your life. You’re very clear that you like to take holidays and have a life beyond the movies. If you had to put a percentage, how much happiness does your work give you vis-à-vis the rest of your life?
TP: You can say 33 per cent, about one third of it. My personal life is one third and my entrepreneur life another one third. Only one third of my happiness depends upon my career. On the days I lose a film or I feel like something didn’t go my way, I feel disheartened, but then I look at the two thirds of my life and I try to get happiness out of that.
RM: When this year ends, you would have had four releases. Last year, I think there were five…
TP: Next year too, I’ll have four, for sure [laughs].
RM: Why does it seem like you’re in hurry?
TP: I’m not in a hurry. I’m very greedy for a good script. I can’t let go of it. My team looks at me and says, “You know, there are only 365 days in a year and you can’t do all of them”. But I don’t want to let them go to anyone else.
RM: You drifted into films by chance. You were an engineering student; you even had a job at Infosys!
TP: Yes, I had the appointment letter in my hand. I got the job during campus placement but I didn’t join.
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RM: You ended up being an actor, and you’ve spoken about nepotism in the film industry. How has this disadvantage shaped your career?
TP: It is my biggest asset that I’m an outsider. I will not swap positions with any industry kid. Today, my audiences connect with me so much. They root for me as an underdog. I’m proud of that.
RM: You have made enduring friendships with many of your peers like Jacqueline Fernandez, Bhumi Pednekar, Vidya Balan, and Kirti Kulhari. But why does Kangana Ranaut not seem to like you? Her sister Rangoli called you a “sasti copy of Kangana” on Twitter because you joked that she needed a “double filter”.
TP: I don’t know. I didn’t know that curly hair and strong opinions had a patent. I’m sorry I can’t do much about my curly hair; I’m born with it. My parents and God are to be blamed. But I will not apologise for having strong opinions. That’s what makes you call me a copy—a sasti copy? Well, I am a cheaper copy in a way because you [Kangana] are the highest paid actor. I love to see a glass half full rather than half empty.
RM: Were you surprised at the attack?
TP: A little, yes. I did not respond because I like to keep the positives. I didn’t know what I did wrong. I’m saying that I myself need a filter. Who says that it’s a negative thing? Sometimes I’m so blunt that it might come across as rude. So I was surprised. I would’ve probably given 500 other interviews in which I said that Kangana is one of those people that I respect. But none of that was considered.
RM: You said in an interview that you wouldn’t date an actor because you don’t want to bring films back home…
TP: It’s great that it works for some, but I don’t see it. Movies are just a part of my life. Maybe one fine day, I’ll walk out of this industry. That’s why I don’t want to have any of those personal strings attached.
RM: You run a wedding planning business with your sister. What are your own views on marriage? Is it important?
TP: To start a family, yes. Of course, I want to have a kid. My idea of marriage is not just because you have to share a bed.
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RM: What kind of wedding would you like to have?
TP: I belong to the Sikh community, so I definitely want to get married the Sikh way. That’s about it. Not too much drama. As actors we spend so much time dressing up and looking pretty that I don’t really want to go through all that off the camera (for a wedding).
RM: You have this quirky, sometimes edgy sense of style, which stands out. But unlike other Bollywood stars, your stylist is your sister-in-law who lives in the US. How does that work? TP: Devki (Bhatt) makes it work! Earlier, I made a fool out of myself at a lot of events where I was looking very funny and awkward. I didn’t know any better. I was telling my sister-in-law about it. She is actually a pharmacist, but she loves fashion. So she told me, “Let’s try this out, maybe this can work”. From Baby’s (2015) trailer launch event till date, we’ve worked together. So now she’s getting into full-time styling.
RM: You’ve said, Taapsee, that whenever you’re pushed against a wall, you end up delivering more than you could imagine. Is that what has driven your life and career?
TP: Yes, mostly. That has brought me all the way here. Being an adventurous person helped me. If you put me in the deep end, that’s going to bring something new out of me.
RM: Finally, what is the one piece of advice that you got starting out, that has come in handy? And who gave it to you?
TP: I don’t know who gave it to me, but I remember many people said that failure is your best teacher. It’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s not okay to repeat them. So that is what I really follow. And whatever you do, make sure you’re happy. Live every day, because it is not going to come back.
RM: You’re right. We don’t attach enough importance to happiness.
TP: That is what we are living for. We’re earning money to live a happy, relaxed life. If you’re not even enjoying that, then what is the point? With ups and downs in life, you eventually start realising the value of happiness.
Taapsee Pannu charms us for ELLE’s August issue.
Photograph: Bikramjit Bose / Feat.artists; Styling: Rahul Vijay; Hair: Amit Thakur; Make-up: Akgun Manisali / Inega; Hospitality courtesy: SOFITEL Mauritius Imperial Resort & Spa; Special thanks to Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority.