National Award-winning Indian actress Taapsee Pannu, who recently hit a career milestone by turning producer for the first time in her career with the taut thriller ‘Blurr’, isn’t blind to the ground realities that exist in Hindi cinema. Getting a male actor to support a female-fronted film continues to be a major stumbling block, says Pannu. The misogyny runs deep.
“They are just too insecure about having lesser screen space. We don’t get many male actors to step into our films … I have had direct interaction with men who just refused my films saying that this is a ‘ladki’s film’ [girl’s film],” said Pannu in a zoom video interview with Gulf News. But Pannu, who has a formidable body of work behind her, didn’t let the “point-blank refusals’ deter her as she armed herself with seasoned actors like Gulshan Devaiah and Abhilash Thapliyal whose mere presence can elevate a film. She firmly believes that these actors are not interested in merely becoming “big stars”.
“I am the driver of the film, but the men – who form the majority of the cast- are the literal pillars of this film. They are the pillars holding the whole façade of the story together – be it Gulshan, Abhilash, or Rakesh sir. They are holding the fort here, otherwise the film would have come crashing down. There are very few actors in this film and we needed 100 per cent from every one of them. And I am thankful that I found these men to be the least insecure of actors,” said Pannu.
Streaming on Zee5 now, the deeply disturbing psychological thriller ‘Blurr’ chronicles the fractured life of Gayatri (Pannu) who learns about her twin sister’s mysterious suicide and is convinced that her other half was murdered. Her coolly efficient husband, played effectively by Devaiah, tries to help her find closure. To make matters worse, Gayatri – like her sister – suffers from progressive blindness. But is she losing sight of everything and not just her vision, remains the big question.
The heavy lifting is undoubtedly done by Pannu, who’s one of Bollywood’s fiercest talents. The scenes in which she struggles with survivor’s guilt and the ones where she has to play a temporarily blind person is spot-on. Her struggle to be heard and not just seen forms the crux of this film. But Pannu – who rolled out films like the zany and outlandish comedy ‘Run Lola Run’ this year -- took on the challenge of shouldering ‘Blurr’ with aplomb. So what kind of producer is she?
“I am not the one just spending money, I am not that producer at all. The money man and the hands-on production handling person is Pranjal [Khandhdiya], my partner. I am the producer who’s involved before the film goes on floors and after the film is done shooting. I am totally invisible during filming but I am involved in scripting and deciding who will be in the film and crew … The films I produce will align sensibility wise with the films I do as an actor,” said Pannu.
Her confidence in her film ‘Blurr’ as a solid piece of work was evident when she made screeners available for the media weeks before this interview took place. Bollywood is cagey about screeners fearing negative reviews, but Pannu isn’t cut from the usual cloth.
While she may be confident about ‘Blurr’, she’s also acutely aware that she needs a break from doing dark films.
“I will go cuckoo otherwise … I have to undergo therapy and I constantly take help after a film finishes because I do burn my mind a lot. And after ‘Blurr’, I am not going to do any thrillers for some time. My next film ‘Woh Ladki Hai Kahaan?’ is an out-and-out comedy. It’s a first in my career. I needed this detox for me to stay sane,” said Pannu.
Excerpts from our interview with Pannu as we talk about the new chapter in her life, her resolutions in the coming year, and more …
Congratulations on your debut production ‘Blurr’, a project that you have thrown all your might and weight on …
Thank you. Yeah, I don’t have many options in my life, do I? But trust me, even if I didn’t star in ‘Blurr’, I will still make films with women as their leads. It so happened co-incidentally that I am featuring in my maiden production venture, but that was never the plan.
But ‘Blurr’ seems tailor-made for you. It’s dark, disturbing, and dysfunctional horror film at its best …
I am dark and disturbing only when it comes to my filmography. I am nothing like that in my real life. My friends and family cannot fathom how I can do this kind of stuff knowing the person that I am.
Honestly, ‘Blurr’ wasn’t an easy watch and made for a gripping atmospheric thriller. It worked for me because it had a disturbing protagonist at its center. But was it tough to play the dual role in a film that was unapologetically grim?
After every few sequences there was a new challenge thrown at me as a performer. From the difficult terrain that we were shooting the film in or the fact that I had to use those lens to appear blind or wearing those bandages around my eyes for days at a stretch, it wasn’t easy. An eyes is often an actor’s biggest assets and you cannot perform using that here … And I am not even counting the physical aspect of banging into things and falling down while filming. So yeah, this film looked fancy on paper but it took a toll on me so much so that I want to stay away from thrillers for a bit now.
I will take that resolution too … The last I saw was ‘Blurr’ and documentary on Jeffrey Dahmer …
Oh God, you have gone too dark. You need pinks in your life now.
Speaking of dark, you play a twin grappling with survivors’ guilt in this film. How did you tackle that complicated role?
When I am faced with such a tragedy, I had to feel like an extension of myself was not there. You lose your twin sister and I could perform those scenes only by thinking that it happened to me in real life too. Personally, I am close to my sister. Even though she’s not my twin, I dealt with those scenes by imagining how I would react in such a situation in real life. It was a challenging make-believe state of mind and I had to put myself into such terrifying situations to mentally perform those scenes.
Another interesting dynamic was your character’s equation with your husband, played wonderfully by Gulshan Deviah. Your relationship was a portrait of modern-day relationships that aren’t always strong and are fragile …
It’s a very real and believable bond between them. They represent the modern day couples around us who lead busy lives. The women, these days, are out of their houses and are going to work now which means many couples don’t have that much time to spend with each other. Literally, no woman is waiting back home for 24 hours to receive their husband any more. And that has taken a toll. We have tried to be realistic about how young couples are shown in this film and it definitely worked in our favour of creating a nice plot.
I’m glad to know that Gulshan is not an insecure man like a lot of others. He’s very choosy with the kind of stuff that he does and hence we see him very little. He’s working more now
‘Blurr’ is the Hindi adaptation to Spanish film ‘Julia’s Eyes’, by Oriol Paulo … Did you watch the original?
When Badla [Hindi adaptation of Oriol Paulo’s Invisible Guest] was offered to me, I saw all of Oriol Paulo’s works because I was just so much in awe of that man’s work. And when this film came to me, I said an instant 'yes', but I did not go back to the original. I wanted Ajay sir [director Ajay Bahl] to work on the adaptation and then bring it to me … We have enhanced the human layers in this film. European films can be a bit too cold, but we tend to take a film back home when it has affected us on a human level. Indian films tend to be more warm and emotional. There’s even a dialogue when an old man says that after a point they become invisible to many. Even the neighbourhood lady speaks about how she has always wanted attention but never got any. Some people are attention hungry, but there are some who are not even given basic attention. They are almost forgotten and that’s a big takeaway of ‘Blurr’.
Recently, I was talking to director Anvita Dutt of ‘Qala’ about going dark and sinister in films and how it’s not easy for a filmmaker to go dark. Did you all face any such dilemma on how far you should go? Should films have a silver lining at the end?
A: Definitely, I feel we should have a sense of hope. I am not a huge fan of films that leave you sad and depressed. Ideally a film should leave you with something positive to hold onto … a certain hope. I am talking as an audience here and I don’t do films that I am not likely to be an audience of. I would stay away from making films with zero hope or the ones that leave you depressed … I want to be proud of my filmography down the line. It’s not just immediate gratification for me. Someone told me that the biggest currency of art is time and I am going to work towards that.
Don’t Miss It!
‘Blurr’ is streaming on Zee5 now