Interview Hindi

Guilt of not knowing Sandeep Singh's story made me take up Soorma: Taapsee Pannu


The actress gets candid about the challenges she faced while playing hockey, breaking down in a lot of films, and her equation with Amitabh Bachchan.

Keyur Seta

After starting off like the typical masala film heroine down South and then in Hindi cinema, Taapsee Pannu has progressed as a performer, especially after Pink (2016), The Ghazi Attack (2017) and Naam Shabana (2017).

In director Shaad Ali’s Soorma, Pannu is set to carry off another challenge, of playing a character with the dual personality of a fiery hockey player and a calm woman off the field.

The film is a biopic of former India hockey star and captain Sandeep Singh, whose role is being essayed by Punjabi singer-actor Diljit Dosanjh.

In a group conversation during the film's promotions, Pannu spoke of her challenges while playing hockey, breaking down in a lot of films, and her equation with Amitabh Bachchan. Excerpts:

What pulled you to the script for Soorma?

First was the guilt that how come we don’t know about [the incident of Sandeep Singh being hit by an accidentally fired bullet, getting paralysed waist down, and working his way back on to the hockey field]. Being a sports enthusiast myself, I should have known about this. It was pretty shocking that I didn’t.

The real story is such an interesting script in itself. The fact that he has been the captain of the team and represented India at the Olympics after all this happened was a hit script in itself. I thought let me be part of the vehicle to take the story ahead. Like me, a lot of other people would also be like, what the hell, why didn’t we know about it?

You have played hockey in the film. Which was the most difficult shot for you?

I will tell you about the difficult shot I still cannot play. It’s the drag flick. Thank god my character didn’t have to do any drag flicks, otherwise I would have struggled to death. One or two times it happened by fluke. So I used to tell the director to keep the camera on for rehearsals, in case I get it right.

It’s a pretty difficult shot which Sandeep had mastered and has a world record for. Angad [Bedi] and Diljit were able to pick it up because their characters need to learn it.

I didn’t know Shaad sir plays hockey so well. When I started seeing him during practice, I felt he plays very well.

With Diljit Dosanjh in Soorma

As Sandeep Singh was there to train the team and Shaad Ali also knows hockey, did you rely on them for training?

Yes, [I was] mostly going with what Shaad sir and Sandeep told me. I watch a lot of sports so I know how sportswomen are. I know how they talk and how their body language is on the field. I didn’t have an exact reference point. That was actually good. I had the liberty to take it in my way and mould it in a way they both wanted. 

What is your character like?

Generally when we think of a sportswoman, we think she might be a feisty and fiery character. This is obvious. I remember I asked Shaad sir on the first day how I should play it. She is a sportswoman, so she will be like a go-getter on the field. He said yes, but off the field he doesn’t want her to be fiery and as per expectation.

So, off the field I am a quiet girl with a shy demeanour. Very mellow. As you can see from the promos. Unlike what you would expect from a typical sportswoman or if I am playing it, people expect that I will do tod-phod even off the field. But that won’t happen. I didn’t see that until he told me that. It was like a challenge for me.

There is a scene in the trailer where you break down. Generally you do have at least one scene in your films where you break down.

I think filmmakers are having a nice time looking at me crying. In every film of mine people expect me to have that little breakdown moment (laughs). One or two people have even told me, ‘You cry really well.’ Yeh kya hota hai? I don’t know what to do now. I am literally suffering due to it.

It is not easy for me to cry. I am not a person who cries easily in life. That’s the most difficult part for me. So, for me to get into that zone, I have to literally go into that method acting.

One or two hours before such a scene I don’t speak to anyone. I will be a little quiet and sombre and get into it slowly. Otherwise, it won’t come out well and look real. And the filmmakers won’t enjoy watching me cry, like they do. That’s very challenging for me. 

How was your rapport with Diljit Dosanjh? Did he help you in any way?

He has not helped anyone with anything (laughs). He just minds his own business and lets everyone mind their business. That’s how he is. He is like, whatever the director asks him to do, he will do it. He is that kind of obedient student. He keeps to himself. He is a pop star for all. But in real life he is a person who keeps to himself. Very quiet. I think he wants it that way. Perhaps because he has to conserve that energy to be a pop star on stage. 

With Diljit Dosanjh in Soorma

I am totally the opposite. I am pretty shameless that way. When I work with my co-actors, I like to break the ice. It helps me in my performance. If I have an awkward situation between me and my co-actor, I can’t perform. So, I make that move of breaking the ice and talking to my co-actors. Crack stupid jokes. 

Who has been your favourite co-actor?

After you work with Amitabh Bachchan, you have tough competition. So, I will try not to answer it (laughs).

You are working with Abhishek Bachchan in Manmarziyaan. Of father and son, whom do you have a more friendly equation with?

I get along and have a more friendly equation with Mr Bachchan than with Abhishek. Maybe because I have worked with him for the second time now. I had to literally switch off the part of my brain that it is Amitabh Bachchan standing next to you. Otherwise I won’t have been able to perform. So, to switch that off I became in a more cool zone with him and we have carried that in Badla as well. 

I share more of a buddy equation with Bachchan sir. I talk a lot with him. Sometimes I feel I am talking a bit too much with him and should give him a break. I have worked with Abhishek in just one film. But they are very different people.

How challenging is it to keep switching between Hindi and South Indian films?

I will never leave the South. That’s a thumb rule in my life. I started off with the South. Yes, the frequency has decreased. I do one film a year at least [in the South]. It will continue as long as the South gives me films.