Taapsee Pannu is among many actresses from Delhi and Mumbai who have lined their accounts by appearing in Tamil and Telugu films before attempting to cross over to Hindi cinema. The 29-year-old actress has headlined Tamil films such as Aadukalam (2011) and Arrambam (2013) and the Telugu production Mr Perfect (2011). She made her first appearance in Hindi cinema in the disastrous comedy Chashme Baddoor (2013). Pannu made a far better impression as a secret agent on a deadly mission in the popular film Baby (2015). In the September 16 release Pink, directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, Pannu plays Minal, the victim of sexual assault, while Amitabh Bachchan plays her lawyer. In an interview with Scroll.in, Pannu gets candid about her previous errors of judgement and explains why Baby was as challenging as Pink.

You are an established star in the Southern film industry. You have done only three Hindi films and have already worked with the likes of Akshay Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Rana Dagubatti in the upcoming ‘Ghazi’. How have you been handling your career so far?
My career in the Hindi film industry has been slow and steady. In the South, it was pretty quick. I had seven releases in 2011 itself, and had signed three films before my first one was even released. It did help build my body of work and add to the momentum. Which is why I got my first few Hindi films without even trying too hard.

But I have also tried to not repeat the mistakes I made in the South. I always do a reality check before taking a decision because I do not have an industry background. I know that in Bollywood, I cannot do ten films a year, but need to focus on one or two good films for people to remember me. I know that once your work solidifies, filmmakers begin to trust you.

What are these mistakes that you are talking about?
The film industry in the South operates very differently. Everyone kept telling me that you need to take up as many films as possible, just to keep rolling. The market is also different. Here, even the not-so-commercial films such as Baby or Pink still work for the box office. There is no defined line. There, there is no definition, no quality control. I just kept doing whatever came my way. But here and now, I strongly believe in my script and role.

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‘Pink’.

How did you sign on ‘Pink’? Did you audition?
I have done an unreleased film with Pink producer Shoojit Sircar, and he was aware of my work. When I went for the narration, it was enough for me to say yes.

How did you prepare for the role?
A lot of time was spent on reading the script and getting to know each other as the three girls had to appear as one entity on screen. The three flatmates in the film have been sharing the same space for three years. We had to create that chemistry. There was also a lot of prep for the molestation and court scenes. I was shown videos of how such cases are handled in the court. The character lives and relives the trauma every time she steps out and answers questions in the court. The workshops helped me understand how a person like her would react to the repeated molestation, verbally and in public. It is not just about the act, but the system that perpetuates the agony.

Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang on the sets of ‘Pink’.
Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang on the sets of ‘Pink’.

You have previously spoken about the challenges of portraying a woman who is sexually assaulted, especially because you have not been through such experiences. And yet, being a woman from Delhi, you have said that you could empathise with Minal. What was the toughest bit?
The toughest bit was the brainwashing I needed before we started shooting. It was easy to snap out of the character. One could do that in the middle of a take. But it was tough to get under the skin of a character who is sad and depressed. Crying does not come easily to me. I am a cheerful person. But I did not use glycerin in any of the scenes.

The first half of the film does not have too much dialogue. A lot of it is about body language and expression. There was one particular scene where I go through an entire arc of emotions with my flatmate without uttering a single word. We move from anger to frustration to sympathy and finally surrender, without any dialogue. It was one of the most challenging and interesting scenes in the film.

You are a bit of a sex symbol in the South. While you got accolades for ‘Baby’, Pink is said to be your breakout performance. Would you agree?
I hear that a lot and I am rather amused. People have not seen me here in more than two films. No one has really seen my work in the South. It is funny, but unless you do a film with a hard-hitting subject and shed tears, people don’t take you seriously.

I did harder prep for Baby. It took a physical toll on me. It was a pretty intense film for me, in that sense. Also consider Chashme Baddoor. Do you know how difficult it is to make people laugh with a straight face? But what do you need to do a breakdown scene? Just a drop of glycerine.

Unless you have a breakdown, cry, shout, scream and get dramatic on the screen, no one values you as an actor. But most people do not realise that it takes a lot more to appear natural and effortless. They do not value acting that seems so natural that you do not even think of it as a performance.

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‘Aadukalam’ (2011).