Taapsee Pannu: Won’t do more than one thriller a year
Taapsee Pannu, Vikrant Massey and Harshvardhan Rane dissect their characters and scenes from Haseen Dillruba
Taapsee Pannu is no stranger to dark, convoluted thrillers. As she herself puts it, the genre works best when fused with other formats. In Badla, for instance, the fun emerged from her talky interview session with Amitabh Bachchan. Game Over found her homebound developer plunged into deep psychological chaos. More recently, the heart has replaced the head in Haseen Dillruba (on Netflix). Directed by Vinil Mathew, the film crosses a love story with a small-town investigative thriller. Reviewing it for this space, I was wholly disappointed by the murder mystery stuff. It just didn’t click. Still, there are character details and scenes worth looking into.
“When I am hearing a script, I instantly say a yes or no,” Taapsee says. “I make it a point never to go back and analyse. If it’s gripped me enough for the narration, if it’s kept me on the hook, then I am sold.” As it happens, what grips her often are well-pitched thrillers. “But I make sure I don’t do more than one thriller a year,” adds Taapsee, who recently started shooting for her maiden production Blurr. “I don’t want my audience to get bored of watching me in a similar genre. In Haseen Dillruba, I had the help of the love story to dilute the thriller bit.”
Since release, both Taapsee and screenwriter Kanika Dhillon have reacted defensively to the negative reviews of the film. Kanika in an interview even questioned the education qualification of certain critics (she later said her rub is against ‘trolling in the garb of reviews’).
In our conversation, which happened pre-release, Taapsee stood by her writer and the script. “Whenever it’s Kanika writing a story about human relationships, it’s been intense. It is not shallow. Especially because she brings so many unseen layers in a female character that we haven’t explored. And she also starts looking at men with a female gaze, which gives them a new dimension.”
This is partly reflected in Vikrant Massey’s character, Rishu. A shy, sunken engineer in ‘Jwalapur’, he marries Rani Kashyap (Taapsee). Terribly mismatched, their marriage hits a roadblock, and Rani begins an affair with his distant cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane). Rishu’s frustration is underlined throughout, revealing toxic layers to his subdued nature.
“I’ve worked with a lot of women writers and directors,” says Vikrant of A Death in the Gunj, Chhapaak and Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare. “In this case, Kanika’s point-of-view towards toxic masculinity or ‘the supposed definition’ of masculinity reflects at the core with Rishu. Unfortunately, men are supposed to be a certain way just as women are expected to be a certain way. I personally believe that patriarchy is primarily responsible for this deep-rooted thing within us. We have categorized and bracketed genders so much that it’s really going to take a while to have a fresh perspective towards it.”
On the other end of the trio, Harshvardhan has fun as Rishu’s well-built foil. Turns out, the actor is as crazy about adventure sports as his character in the film. “I used to go for rafting some 10-12 years ago,” Harsh shares. “I also love the outdoors and have a go with the flow attitude. A lot of my friends have been messaging me since the film released. They’ve picked on the parallels between me and Neel.”
Both male actors collide decisively in a scene. After Rishu finds out about the affair, he pays a visit to Neel. Sneaking up from behind, he attacks him with a screwdriver, but is instead dusted up by the hulking jock. The scene, Vikrant reveals, was meant to unsettle, hence the decision to have children around in the park. There is also a funny physical contrast at play: Neel, though the bigger guy in the fight, keeps addressing his brother as ‘Rishu Bhaiya.’ “I enjoyed the contrast because I am overpowering him but also being respectful,” Harsh recalls. “Before the shoot, I asked Vinil what was our childhood like, what did I grow up calling him. The credit goes to Vinil for crafting this scene so well.”
Equally effective (at least visually) is the film’s use of interior space. Shot in Haridwar, Rishu’s house offers a lavish view of the Ganges. It’s also perfect for the different set pieces, from Rani tripping down the stairs to the budding romance on the balcony. “Every small town house has a story,” Harsh says, while Taapsee gushes over the heartland setting. “So many times when I go back to Delhi, I get so emotional just by looking at certain lanes,” she says. “In cities we have become more diplomatic and mellowed down. But the heartland is still very obsessive and dramatic.”