Taapsee Pannu is not your archetypal Bollywood heroine. Breaking stereotypes is her creative leitmotif. She speaks her mind, and yet has survived in the Hindi film industry. She works on her own terms and is comfortable being a B-town outsider.
Pannu sends out a message every time she does a film. And this time it's Rashmi Rocket, which brings to spotlight gender tests performed on female athletes. The much-awaited sports drama was released Friday on ZEE5.
Dressed casually - in a flowing gown and sporting the iconic 'Rashmi Rocket' tattoos - Pannu sets the tone for our Zoom interview with a big smile and friendly tone. While most sports movies are heavy on inspirational and patriotic undertones, Rashmi Rocket is a rather dark and thrilling tale that revolves around malpractices involving female athletes.
Pannu reveals that she had no idea about the subject of the film and had to read about gender testing in sports extensively to understand the concept.
"I did the film as it inspired me on a certain level. I wanted to share the story with people. Gender test is something that has happened with a lot of 'female' athletes and Dutee Chand was the first woman to speak up against it. Before her, some committed suicide and some just left and didn't want to face the negative attention. It was not meant to be a sports film but that about identity of a woman. No one has the right to ask you to prove if you are 'woman enough'. This happens only with women and not men," says the 34-year-old award-winning actor.
About her transformation in the film, Pannu says she has put the maximum hard work and effort into Rashmi Rocket. "The physicality of the character is impactful but at the same time, it was a mentally challenging role. It is shocking when someone questions your womanhood. It’s the hardest role of my career so far," she says.
Pannu jokes about courtroom scenes turning out to be her lucky charm; her films such as Thappad, Mulk, Pink and Haseen Dillruba had such scenes and were hits. "I think that works for me. I don’t mind court scenes in every film of mine. Moreover, I love behesbaazi (arguments), probably that side of me gets excited when I see courtrooms and lawyers," she laughs.
Unfazed by the reopening of theatres, the actor feels OTT releases are equally impactful. “OTT boom has completely changed the game for newer talents. There is a timing for every film to release and honestly, none of the movies were planned for OTT, but during the pandemic, we were left with no choice. When Haseen Dillruba was released, I realised how big the OTT world was. I got appreciation from across borders. If I would have waited for a theatre release, it would have clashed with my other movies. My one film would have killed another release and that would have been a disastrous situation. This is the best way to take the film to the audiences,” she says.
The Delhi girl had no plans of becoming an actor. The engineering student was on a business school track when occasional modelling assignments resulted in a break into the movies. Despite knowing neither language, she shot for a Tamil and a Telugu film simultaneously.
Earlier this year, Pannu launched her production banner, Outsiders Films. She says, "I was always aware of the reality that it was going to be a difficult journey. I don’t have anyone to back me if I make mistakes or who would give me more chances if I falter somewhere. If it works, it's my hard work and if it doesn't, I need to work harder. The next step was to come up with my production house, Outsiders Film, to help more people like me to fulfill and live their dreams."
What’s the best thing that happened to you this month?
Rashmi Rocket's release.
Three words to describe yourself
Spontaneous, relentless, and very stubborn.
One piece of advice you would give to your younger self
Live and don’t survive.
A character that you wish you would have played
The strangest rumour you have heard about yourself
That I got engaged in Goa.
The one thing men need to know about women
You can’t generalise all women - we are quite varied.
One director you would want to work with
Your favourite co-star so far
If not an actor, what profession would you have chosen?
Would have been into marketing.
One word when I say...
Box office: Stardom
Bollywood: A cocktail - a mixed bag of everything