ELLE Cover Star: Taapsee Pannu, Born To Blaze
"Coz ordinary people are meant to do extraordinary things"
There is an undeniable leonine grace about her. In her killer calves, boldly etched shoulder blades, rather confident acting prowess and equally fascinating mane—actor Taapsee Pannu simply refuses to be contained in a simpering arm candy template.
“I have clarity of goals,” she smiles, with a careless toss of her voluminous, glossy curls. “I know what I want—this is sometimes intimidating and indigestible for others.” As a strong, successful woman who makes her own rules and leads life on her own terms, Taapsee has carved her way into the top crop of Bollywood fiefdom. And with unusual picks, might we add. Pink, Naam Shabana, Thappad, Badla… it has been a fearless choice of scripts over the past decade, with Taapsee circling pivotal roles.
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As a woman, she is a strong mix of sheer strength and charisma. And as an actor, she is undeniably potent in her onscreen renditions. Taapsee, a computer engineer by education, is an actor by default. “I loved studying, and post engineering, I wanted to pursue an MBA degree,” she shares. But destiny soon nudged her into modelling, which progressed to Telugu and Tamil films. And soon, she was showcasing her skills on Bollywood silverscreens.
Taapsee’s popularity has overflown to social media as well. She has over 18 million followers on Instagram. “An organically earned following, not bought. I am an extrovert and share genuine posts. No picture I put up is airbrushed,” she points out. “People connect with me, as my content is not fed into a forcefully created image,” she adds. And what about handling trolls, we wonder aloud. “My sense of humour and sarcasm deals with attention-hungry people. They strengthen my image, rather than pulling me down,” she replies. Whether she is thundering around on a motorcycle, emerging from the sea in a bikini in the Maldives, working up a mean sweat in the gym or loafing around with her sister, Shagun, Taapsee is cool enough to share vignettes from her private moments on social media. “Puchi (Shagun) often calls me Pyari, in public, as an incognito reference, rather than calling out my name,” Taapsee laughs.
“I am both possessive and protective about Puchi, and am always smothering her!” A turning point in their relationship came during their childhood when Taapsee banged Shagun’s head in a fight, and she had to be rushed off for stitches. “Our relationship has been diametrically different since,” she recounts.
“Every film I do validates me,” Taapsee says, satisfaction ringing true in her voice. “I get bored easily, but acting energises me, with its multitude of characters…I also want to do a Judwaa 2 subsequently, to prove my versatility, to establish that I can carry off potboilers with equal elan.”
The actress has been sharp and methodical in her approach. “I believe in making a mark. For instance, I am not a gym person and have always been more into sports. At my rigorous training for Rashmi Rocket, I have given it my all and undergone a complete transformation. There is no benchmark for this role, the film’s budget can’t facilitate VFX. As the lead, I have to carry the film on my robust shoulders,” she says self-assuredly.
“I am a muscular athlete at the moment, feeding protein to my muscles and working out crazily,” she shares, having just wrapped up a chunk of the film in Ranchi (Jharkhand). “I thank my robust Punjabi genes as I have always had a more athletic build…I have never had a thin bikini body. I’m muscular and sporty, something that you usually do not associate with female actors.”
Breaking The Mould
Just like Taapsee, her bouncy curls, too, cannot be tamed. “My hair has a character of its own,” she bursts into laughter. “I invest more time on my hair than skin, fussing over different oils and leave-in conditioners to hydrate and nourish. I did try straightening my tresses twice in college, with terrible outcomes.
I am quite happy with my crop now!” It is functionality, not glamour, that appeals to her. “I love dressing up, but comfort and ease of movement are vital. No pencil skirts, but shorts or saris for me. No sedans, but an SUV instead,” she reveals.
As the film shoots rev up, Taapsee is busier than ever, after all, she’s working on six films. “What to do!” she exclaims, “As a female actor, I don’t get paid at par with my male counterparts. I am also aware that I have a limited prime run in the films, so I have to maximise on my time! I can’t afford to sit at home now that work is picking up after the pandemic-induced lull.” She’s currently juggling work on Rashmi Rocket, Haseen Dillruba, Loop Lapeta, Shabaash Mithu and an Anurag Kashyap sci-fi thriller.
What does she imagine the future to be? “I had set my goals—at 30, I wanted to have a house, car and a stable career. Although, the last bit is an oxymoron in my case! Now, I want to build on people’s faith in me. I want them to trust me blindly—in films, content and endorsements. I also imagine and hope for a safer world for all of us; one where we are not scared for our basic safety wherever we go.”
Photographer: Tarun Khiwal; Stylist: Shaeroy Chinoy; Art Direction: Pinky Akola; Hair: Amit Thakur; Make-Up: Guia Bianchi; Production: P Productions; Assisted by: Sanika B (Styling); Location: Ministry Of New; Actor’s media consultant agency: Universal Communications