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Taapsee Pannu Image Credit: Supplied

Actress Taapsee Pannu first tested the waters of the movie industry with her debut Telugu film ‘Jhummandi Naadam’ in 2010, and then revealed her potential with ‘Aadukalam’ in 2011, her first in Tamil.

The star then proved that she is here to stay with remarkable performances in Bollywood’s ‘Pink,’ ‘Mulk’ and ‘Manmarziyaan’.

Today, firmly ensconced in a space of her own, Pannu returns to South Indian films with ‘Game Over’, shot in Tamil and Telugu. Directed by Ashwin Saravanan, of the critically acclaimed Tamil film ‘Maya’, this genre-bending thriller promises something never seen before.

The film also has a release in Hindi to cater to the Bollywood crowd.

In an interview with Gulf News tabloid!, Pannu spoke about her character and why she chose to return to Tamil cinema.

Q. What can you tell us about your character in ‘Game Over’?

A. Swapna is a video game programmer and a gaming addict, too. She lives with her maid. Following an accident, both her legs are in a cast due to a fracture and she is wheelchair-bound. Swapna has a traumatic past. A year later, she goes through what is called an ‘anniversary reaction’, where the body and mind start reacting without her control or knowledge. Under this mental and physical instability, Swapna must save herself when her home is invaded.

Q. How did you prepare for this role?

A. I relied entirely on the director and writer. I am not in the habit of watching reference materials or films since I might involuntarily copy it. And, if I have liked it, that will remain in my subconscious mind. I am scared that I will unconsciously copy it, since it worked. So, I mentally psyche myself totally and try to deliver something real and unique.

Q. What about the hangover of your other on-screen characters?

A. All the characters stay with me. I can wash out 90 per cent of it by taking a break. I travel to a different country, spend time with myself for a week. I lead a normal life and completely disconnect myself from work.

Q. We are hearing so much about your Hindi film ‘Saand ki Aankh’ with Bhumi Pednekar. What can you tell us about the film?

A. It is a biopic of two sharp shooters. I am playing a 65-year-old for the greater part of the film. That required the maximum preparation I have put in for any film. Usually in my films there is a connect with my characters. In this I couldn’t find any. How do I get into the mind of a 65-year-old? Neither was I brought up in that environment.

So I interacted with them. I practiced their dialect, rehearsed the chores done by the women of villages — milking cows for one — and of course practiced sharp shooting. I am not a huge fan of this sport. I am bad at aiming and hitting the bulls eye. Shooting is more of a mental sport. This was by far the most challenging role of my career.

Q. What about your other Hindi film, ‘Mission Mangal?’

A. In that I play a scientist, which was not difficult. Being an engineer I am familiar with the technical terms.

Q. What is it about acting that you enjoy?

A. As an actor I live many lives, learning so many things and I get paid to do that. When I started out in films, I was just out of college. I had my appointment letter from Infosys. I was keen on doing MBA next. I never planned to do films. It was the phase when I thought of experimenting to see which way to go. The experiment worked and I am happy.

Q. Any Tamil film on the anvil?

A. I have signed one film. Let the production house announce it. I am eager to do one film in the south every year.

Rapid Fire with Taapsee Pannu

What the success of ‘Badla’ (2019) taught her: “A lot of waking up has happened after ‘Badla’. I feel that audiences are now ready for something that is not done before, something unconventional. The concept of not taking your brain to the theatre is slowly going out of the window. People want to take the brain to the theatre.”

Her definition of ‘commercial cinema’: “It’s a good time to release a film which will just keep you glued to the screen for two hours, will give you enough entertainment for you to be involved in the film. It will not have the usual comedy, it will not have the song and dance in it.

“But yes, it will entertain you for sure and will keep you involved for two hours. You will not feel bored or that you’re not understanding what’s happening. And that’s the definition of the new age commercial cinema.”

Indian cinema’s portrayal of helpless heroines: “I think a large part of our audience also comprises of females, and they are getting a little sick and tired of watching them being portrayed as stupid and dumb. I think now it’s time that we can also be the central point of a story. So that is changing.”

On the changing taste of the audience: “If you’re giving them something new, I think they’ll give it a chance. I’ve seen the similar stuff so many years, that now this sudden bent towards Over The Top platform [digital] is also because of that, because they haven’t seen that stuff. And they’re getting all that OTT and that is why they are drawn towards that.” — PTI

Director Ashwin Saravanan talks ‘Game Over’

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What started out as a small film in Tamil grew into a big project and is releasing in two more languages: Telugu and Hindi.

Tamil filmmaker Ashwin Saravanan couldn’t be happier. After impressing viewers with his debut horror flick ‘Maya’, Saravanan returns with ‘Game Over’, a psychological thriller, co-written with Dr Kavya Ramkumar.

“It is a home invasion thriller with several layers to it,” said Saravanan, whose second film ‘Iravukaalam’ is awaiting release.

“‘Iravukaalam’ was a difficult film to make — the hurdles we scaled over were many. The delay in its release put me down emotionally,” added Saravanan. “That’s when ‘Game Over’ happened.”

He is grateful to his production house, YNot Studios.

“They understand the potential of a story and with their creative collaboration they nurture you,” he said.

Saravanan had earlier offered Taapsee Pannu a role in ‘Iravukaalam’ but she declined it saying she didn’t think she could do justice to the character.

Before hanging up, Pannu added that she liked his style of writing and if anything came up in the future, to let her know.

Saravanan went back to Pannu for ‘Game Over’.

This story was born from an image of a woman in a wheelchair. “What if someone breaks into her house?” wondered Saravanan, who himself harbours a fear of someone invading his space.

A fan of home invasion films — favourites being ‘Don’t Breathe’ and ‘Hush’ — Saravanan said that such films don’t take a lot to make.

“You have to keep the cat and mouse chase going. The challenge is in holding the viewers’ attention when the story is happening inside a house and around one or two characters. It should not become repetitive but interesting,” he said.

As part of a writer’s group, he liked the short stories of Dr Kavya Ramkumar and was impressed by the way she dealt with the psychology of her characters.

“She made them real and is empathetic of people. I was interested in collaborating with her,” the director added.

‘Game Over’ developed amidst discussions and rough drafts tossed back and forth, and real cases were studied.

In ‘Game Over,’ Swapna feels the echo of the traumatic incident she went through a year ago. It resurfaces a year later and is termed as ‘anniversary reaction.’ Shot in Chennai and Hyderabad, ‘Game Over’ was filmed mostly at night. Telugu writer Venkat Kacharia worked on the dialogues for the Telugu version.

Calling Pannu a very intuitive actor, Saravanan added, “She doesn’t present you a version of a character that she thinks is right. She throws herself at the situation and comes out free-falling, delivering what comes to her instantly. Taapsee doesn’t hold back both physically and mentally. That takes a lot of vulnerability and courage for an actor to do that. I enjoyed working with her. She surprises you when you are watching the monitor.”

Interestingly, ‘Game Over’ has no romantic storyline, nor songs or comedy.

Writer Dr Kaavya Ramkumar got ‘Game Over’ through Facebook

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“It was a surreal moment watching my characters come alive onscreen,” said Dr Kaavya Ramkumar, co-writer of ‘Game Over,’ who is making her debut in cinema as a scriptwriter.

Life has changed ever since the night Ramkumar came home from work to find a message posted on Facebook. She was surprised to receive a message from director Ashwin Saravanan stating that he wished to collaborate with her for the writing of a film. Taking a break from work, the avid film buff took the plunge into cinema.

“My stories are about women who are flawed and unconventional,” said the Gillian Flynn fan, “and told from a woman’s perspective.”

Saravanan gave her the basic plot — a woman in a wheelchair is attacked in her home.

“It is a multilayered story. I realised that writing for cinema is very different from writing a short story,” added Ramkumar.

‘Game Over’ is about Swapna — a trauma survivor — who battles a home invasion one night.

“We had an orthopaedic doctor on the sets who fixed a cast for Taapsee every day. She never complained of any discomfort nor showed annoyance. It was magical watching her transform into a completely different person before the camera. She is spontaneous. It was a joy working with her.”

Don’t miss it!

‘Game Over’ is screening in the UAE in Hindi and Tamil.