They don’t make ‘em like her. Not any more. When it comes to making unconventional choices the closest parallel I can find to Taapsee Pannu is the yesteryears’ actress Tanuja who chose not what would make her a star but roles that opened up new ways for a female hero to express herself. Here’s looking at Tapsee’s top 7.
1. Baby(2014): She had only a cameo in this espionage drama. But she broke the glass ceiling and a lot else when she played the warrior queen Shabana Khan ready to take on the most hardened criminals on their own territory. Her hand-to-hand with actor Sushant Singh in a hotel room was to die for.
2. Pink(2016): Two years after Baby, producer Shoojt Sircar and director Annirudh Roy Chaudhuri cast Tapsee as a casualty of sexual assault who won’t play the victim, won’t stop wearing short dresses, won’t stop drinking if she wishes,just to prove only bad girls get sexually violated. Tapsee was like coiled-up livewire ready to erupt any time. Any place. Even the courtroom. Contempt not just of court but all social conventions.
3. Naam Shabana(2017): As an Indian intelligence agent the myopic script didn’t allow her character to go far enough. Tapsee’s Shabana Khan was cowed down constantly, first by Manoj Bajpai barking orders on the phone and then by Akshay Kumar who insisted on holding her hand and walking her through the action scenes when all Shabana wanted to do was kick some ass. Solo. Given the limitations, Tapsee managed to wrap her head around her character’s flaws and make them seem like human traits that we need to conquer to achieve a level of success beyond the prescribed.
4. Badlaa(2018): Playing the anti-heroine to the hilt,a character so morally twisted she makes every Bad Girl seen in Hindi cinema seem like a kindergarten prankster, Tapsee blew our brains out with her character’s devious mind. To put it in a nutshell, playing an unfaithful wife she gave body to a mind that was dangerous and self-destructive. A truly liberating performance and the film made truckloads of money to boot. Yes!
5. Manmarziyan(2018): Playing a girl who loves having sex in itself such an uncommon thing to do . How did Tapsee agree?Lok kya kahenge? Mummy kya kahegi? And how did she get away with hitting the sack without making the moralists training their guns on her?
6. Mulk( 2018): This time it wasn’t about how much space her character occupied in the script.It was about being part of a project that gave her the freedom to speak about the lack of freedom denied to certain sections of our society. Tapsee played the Hindu daughter-in-law of a Muslim fighting to restore the family’s dignity in court.
7. Game Over(2019): Confined to a wheelchair, no glamorous trappings, no boyfriend tucked away in some corner ,playing a hyper-tense chronically suicidal woman suffering from tattoo terror, Tapsee just knocks the ball out of the park.
8. Thappad(2020):Taapsee Pannu brought to her hurt wife’s role a heroic dignity and a distant poignancy that distil themselves in a performance of screaming silences. I dare any other contemporary actress to equal the sheer persuasive power of Taapsee’s performance.
Her choices are unique. Her performances eschew artificiality. She is a breath of fresh air. Please don’t change.