Since Soorma (2018), in which Taapsee Pannu portrayed a hockey player, the 34-year-old actor has been in training for and running from one sports drama to another. In 2021, she played an athlete in Rashmi Rocket. In Looop Lapeta (February 4, Netflix), Aakash Bhatia’s Hindi remake of the German cult hit Run Lola Run, Pannu is Savi, a runner who races against the clock to save her boyfriend Satya (Tahir Raj Bhasin). Pannu also padded up for the upcoming biopic Shabaash Mithu, based on the life and career of Mithali Raj, captain of the Indian women’s cricket team.

In an interview, the Thappad and Haseen Dillruba actor spoke about reimagining Lola, her future roles and her thoughts on being an actor-athlete.

Your recent roles have involved physicality and fitness. Was this design or coincidence?
It’s sheer coincidence. I never wanted to exhaust myself in this way, with these back-to-back roles. I wonder sometimes if there is a gap in the industry where there is a dearth of female actors of a certain physicality. Why do they keep coming to me?

For every film I have said yes to, there are five or six others that I have turned down. Even after I have done so many characters with a sports backdrop, I still get films about a football player, a swimmer, a cyclist. And I am like, guys, I am tired of doing this. Aren’t you tired of seeing me in these roles?

I don’t know what part brought the makers of Looop Lapeta to me because there are other quirks to Savi, besides the physicality. Having said that, I like to use my physicality for my characters. How long can you just sit and mouth dialogues? I like to use my physicality no matter what character I am playing because that makes it more fun for me as an actor.

Tahir Raj Bhasin and Taapsee Pannu in Looop Lapeta (2022). Courtesy Sony Pictures Films India/Ellipsis Entertainment/Aayush Maheshwari.

The styling, camera angles, colour and production design of Looop Lapeta are graphic and vibrant. Savi too is stylised, but you don’t play her loud. Was that a choice you made?
Actually it was a choice Aakash and I made when we started out. It is a graphic world. It doesn’t look like the real world. The characters are comic and dramatic. We are seeing what is going on through Savi’s lens. If I also come across as comic and not too real, it might look too bizarre because the audience is as regular as Savi.

Someone has to be at that level so that the viewer understands that this is above and this is below. The background, colours, other characters, the camera, the things that are happening, the pace – they are all crazy. So there has to be one point of view that is not going crazy.

Is that your process, to take the director’s notes on where the character should land in terms of pitch and performance?
I am a director-driven actor. Having had no formal training, I come with a clean slate. I have learnt on the job. The reason I am very, very finicky and choosy about the directors I work with is because I know I am going to be hundred percent submissive. The director can mould me like raw clay, but he or she has to tell me in which way I should be moulded. Of course I also do my own homework.

Looop Lapeta (2022).

How did this approach work in the case of Looop Lapeta?
Aakash and I figured that as an athlete, Savi would have lived a very structured life, focussed on winning, with pressure from her father to excel. Somewhere I could draw on my own relationship with my father, who had expectations of us to be the top two students in the class and get high marks. So I could connect to the character.

Then when Savi’s career ends abruptly, she suddenly goes a little rogue in her lifestyle. She’s no longer required to follow a strict lifestyle or match up to any expectations. That’s when her look changes, the boy she chooses changes. In her previous life as an athlete, it would not be someone like Satya, but she is now rebelling.

And then just as suddenly, she is forced to bring back her past talent and face all the things she was running away from. This backstory discussion happened with Aakash before we began the shoot. Her backstory is only in her way of being. We don’t have the time and space to show it.

You recently launched your production company, Outsiders Films. What are your plans for this venture?
The transition to becoming a producer was organic. But I didn’t want to turn producer just to turn a profit. If we – my producing partner Pranjal Khandhdiya and I – are starting a production house, then I want to do the groundwork too.

Blurr was a coincidental first film for us as producers, but it was not a fun thing to be a producer and an actor on the very first film. In fact, the plan is to put projects together where I am not the actor. The projects are the kind you associate with me as an actor, but on these projects I will only be a producer. I have offered one of those projects to Samantha [Ruth Prabhu], and hopefully that will work out.

Taapsee Pannu launches her production Blurr, a horror film directed by Ajay Bahl.

After all these physically demanding films, what are you looking forward to?
By the Shabaash Mithu shoot, the fatigue was setting in. For the last two years, I have woken up at 5 am to go for one or another training. This was followed by a 12-hour shift.

The line between actor and athlete started blurring. I needed to step back and just be an actor. So now all the films that are going to happen will be more about the actor and not the athlete.