"This is my riskiest film till date, so I hope people like it," says Taapsee Pannu talking about her latest release Shabaash Mithu. With every performance Taapsee has made a place in the hearts of the audience and has now hit the big screen after almost two and a half years. In Shabaash Mithu, directed by Srijit Mukherjee, Taapsee is seen playing the role of former Indian women's cricket captain Mithali Raj.
Expressing her excitement about the film, Taapsee says, "I want to tell people that this is not a cricket film, but it is the story of a girl who plays cricket." The film shows certain aspects of Mithali Raj's personal life and her struggles and achievements in her cricket career.
With the release of Shabaash Mithu, Taapsee had an interaction with FilmiBeat where she spoke candidly about her preparation for this film, box office pressure and struggles in her career. Talking about her journey in films, Taapsee says, "With the scale of the films that are being offered to me, I understand what my level is in the industry."
Excerpts from the interview.
Q. After almost two and a half years you are coming on the big screen. Is box office pressure on your mind?
A. Box office pressure is always there and every actor has to face it. Any artist who likes to carry the film on their shoulder, they have to bear this pressure. At the same time, those who just believe in doing in their part (acting) and move forward, perhaps they would not have the pressure. The film making is a complete gamble. I don't know how many people will come to watch the film; and nobody knows. Even those who used to say that they do know the mathematics of the audience, the audiences are proving them wrong too.
Q. This year many Hindi films have not been able to perform as expected. Where do you see the problem?
A. To be honest, I don't think there is any such thing that more films are not doing well this year. Many big films were flops even earlier. There has never been a time when all films were becoming hits. And as far as earning and loss is concerned, nowadays apart from theatrical collection, there are many other avenues to earn revenue, which were not there earlier.
Q. You have also had a long struggle to make a place in the film industry. Do you see similarities between your journey to Mithali Raj's?
A. Cricket and movies; both of these are considered like religion in our country. Everyone calls themselves a cricket lover or movie lover. But there is a similarity between the two, whether it is cricket or movies, people like to go to see men. Be it men's cricket team or male dominated films; they take all the limelight. Whereas if you are a cricket lover then you should not be bothered about the gender of the player, what makes a difference in whose hand the bat is; or who is the hero in the film - female or male. So the struggle that is going on is the same for both of us. We both want equal opportunities in our field. Discrimination should not be there.
Q. Today you are a successful actress, so what kind of struggle do you have to deal with?
A. Right now, the kind of struggle I face is that my films should get a good budget, because the first sentence what we get to hear is, if it is a female-oriented film, then it cannot have such a big budget. However, even if a film is made within a limited budget, it does not get as much screen as a male hero's film gets. We do not get good shows. So yes, struggle is different at every level of career and it will go on.
Q. As an actor, what attracted you to do Mithali Raj's biopic?
A. In a male dominated game, she once said to a journalist, "Have you ever asked a male cricketer who his favourite female cricketer is! No, then why are you asking me?" Truly, this was the time I came to know who Mithali Raj is. Then I came to know that we have a women's cricket team. I myself am sorry that I did not know about them earlier. So, I am just trying to rectify my same mistake through this film.
Q. What do you keep in mind while acting in a biopic because you can't just mimic the person?
A. Ya, true, I can't mimic in the film. But I should know what makes this girl happy, what makes her sad, what makes her feel bad, what she will celebrate and what she will give up on. So I should know these aspects of her character. How do you look, what language are you speaking; these are all secondary things. For example, when Mithali scores a century or so, she never celebrates that moment by jumping or running. She smiles at most. Let me tell you, even when she came after losing the World Cup, she did not cry. She is not very outgoing in showing emotions, so in the film also I had to show the same sentiment. I can't cry there just to add the drama.
Q. How was the experience of working with director Srijit Mukherji?
A. The most comforting thing while working with him was that he is more of a cricket lover than a director. Cricket is his first love, then movies come. So when you give yourself in the hands of such a person then you know that whatever happens, cricket will not be wrong here. This was what scared me the most because I had never played cricket. I did not want that after watching the film, anyone could say that she is a girl, so she did not play cricket properly. That's why I was very comfortable working with Srijit Mukherji. Rest all know that he is a National Award winning director, so you know how good he is at work. Actually, we have been in touch with each other since 2016 and were looking forward to working together. I am glad that we have finally been able to associate with this film. Well this is my riskiest film till date, because of the budget.
Q. A lot of creative liberty is taken in biopics. What would you like to say about your film?
A. Yes, we've taken creative liberty too, but I think that's what the story needs. If I have to show the journey of a person from 9 years to 36 years in two and a half hours, then some creative liberty will have to be taken. Like we had to tie four-five special moments of her life and create that in one scene, so that people can know what has happened in her life. We have taken only that much liberty. Otherwise we would have had to make a web series.
Q. In an interview you said that there was a time when no one saw you as a competition. How you see your journey from there till date, when you have more than 5-6 films in pipeline?
A. I would say, that I chose the long route, which can be a bit tiring for most. In this route, one hit film will not change your life, but you have to be part of good films consistently. You will not get a chance to fail here, because if you fail, you will be pushed back even more by others. You don't have the freedom to fail on this path. I have always tried to not take support from anyone, because in the beginning, no one used to give me films, especially I did not get the film of any big hero. That's why I had to go my own way. The thing that remained in my favour was that no one had expected anything from me. That's the reason I slowly made my way and moved ahead.
Q. Since that time to present, how much change have you felt around you in the industry?
A. With the scale of the film with which producers are approaching me, I try to understand what is my level in the industry. Because if still they are not coming with big scale films to me, it means that they still don't trust me in the sense of economics of the film. So, now I am noticing that makers are trying to make films of a bigger scale with me as well, which gives me some confidence that the producers are now ready to invest money on me. Rest I am not much in touch with anyone in the industry that I can understand the changes in them. No one is my cheerleader here and that's how I have maintained it.
Q. After Shabaash Mithu, which films are you busy with?
A. My three films are all set for release. After this, I have signed five-six more films, which are yet to be announced. So, can't tell much about it, but yes I am shooting back to back for these films.