Taapsee Pannu’s vivaciousness often seeps into her roles, whether in Shaad Ali’s sports drama Soorma (2018), Anurag Kashyap’s love triangle Manmarziyaan (2018) or Sujoy Ghosh’s action thriller Badla (2019). But in Ashwin Saravanan’s Tamil film Game Over, Pannu telegraphs her emotions from a wheelchair.
Written by Saravanan (Maya) and Kaavya Ramkumar, Game Over follows Swapna (Pannu), a confined video game programmer who battles a home invasion. “She is in a wheelchair and on top of that, her house is invaded,” Pannu told Scroll.in. “That was a challenge, and had it not been there, I would not have done the film. I usually explore a lot with the physicality of my character. If the role is going to be comfortable, I might as well sit at home.”
Also starring Vinodhini Vaidyanathan, the film will be released in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi on June 14.
Pannu described her character Swapna in Game Over as a fierce survivor. It was important to depict Swapna not as a superwoman but as a real person who struggles with her demons.
“An incident happens to her and she survives through it,” Pannu explained. “A year later, she realises that the symptoms of her trauma have resurfaced. The anniversary effect triggers emotions and changes in the body. We have to see if a survivor will survive once again.”
Pannu’s preparations included conversations with the film’s writers about the character’s arc. “Since she is a programmer, she plays a lot of video games,” Pannu said. “People who play a lot of games have a way of dealing with things. Video games play a pivotal part in the film. A lot of scenes are shot like a video game.”
Playing Swapna was gruelling, Pannu recalled. “Being in a wheelchair for most of the movie was new to me,” she said. “To do that for 60% of the film and 12 hours every day for 25 days was physically and mentally traumatising. But I am happy I came out sane out of all of this.”
The producer of Game Over, Sashikanth, offered the film to Pannu soon after she appeared in the comedy-horror Kanchana 2. “When Sashikanth called and told me to read the script, I told him I was not interested in a horror movie,” Pannu recalled. “But when he told me it was a thriller, I was excited. When I read the script, I knew there was no way I was letting this go. I would have even done it in 10 languages, because it is such a universal concept.”
Before making her mark in Bollywood, Pannu started out in Telugu and Tamil cinema. Her debut was the Telugu-language Jhummandi Naadam (2010). Pannu earned good notices for playing Irene, a timid Anglo-Indian in Vetrimaaran’s Tamil drama Aadukalam (2011).
While Pannu has continued to feature in Telugu cinema (Neevevaro, 2018, Anando Brahma, 2017), she last appeared in Tamil in Kanchana 2 and Vai Raja Vai in 2015.
“The kind of Tamil films I wanted to do were not coming my way,” Pannu explained. “I did not want to be a different Taapsee for Tamil audiences and a different Taapsee for Hindi and Telugu audiences. I wanted to wait for something great instead of doing something for the sake of rolling in the market. Whether a film works or not might not be in my hands, but I needed to be sure of the script. And I am sure of Game Over.”
However, things are changing, and we might see more of the 31-year-old actor in Tamil cinema. “As soon as I signed Game Over, I started getting a lot of interesting options in Tamil as well,” she said. “I might be signing something very soon, and will do something every year.”
Among Pannu’s upcoming films are Tushar Hiranandani’s Saand Ki Aankh alongside Bhumi Pednekar. The actors play 60-year-old sharpshooters in the Anurag Kashyap production. The movie has been inspired by two sharpshooters from Uttar Pradesh, Chandro and Prakashi Tomar.
“It is a risk for all of us in a lot of ways, but it is worth taking the risk,” Pannu said. “It is a two-heroine film that is not a conventional commercial film. And we are releasing on Diwali, which is a big date for commercial films. We are playing characters more than double our age. It is the most challenging role of my career.”
“Badla was not an obvious conventional film to choose,” Pannu observed. “I have tried to choose something purely going by my instincts about my past few films. The love I got for my films last year made me feel like the audience is ready to see me push the envelope. I am also extremely lucky to be one of those actors who has a presence in three languages.”