Taapsee Pannu revels in playing a flawed character in 'Haseen Dillruba'
The mystery thriller drops on Netflix on July 2
Taapsee Pannu is one Bollywood actor who seems to revel in breaking out of her comfort zone with each role she appears in.
The software engineer-turned-model-turned actor believes in walking the talk as far as her social advocacy goes with outspoken roles in a slew of movies including Pink, Saand Ki Aankh and Thappad. So when she turns up in director Vinil Mathew’s mystery-thriller Haseen Dillruba (Beautiful Lover) as Delhi lass Rani Kashyap accused of murdering her newly wed husband Rishu (Vikrant Massey) you know there is more to it than meets the eye.
Set in the small town of Jwalapur, the twisted love triangle portrays Rani as a fantasist who disenchanted with her meek and mild-mannered husband ends up having an affair with his flamboyant cousin Neel Tripathi (a pumped up Harshvardhan Rane) and the repercussions on their small-town lives.
While Vikrant and Vinil assert the quirky love story is an out and out entertainer with the former in particular stating he “doesn’t want to dwell on the movie’s feminist commentary”, Taapsee wants viewers to “make sure you always have the right to choose or create an option for yourself.”
In a Zoom interview with City Times on Wednesday Taapsee alongside Vikrant Massey, writer Kanika Dhillon and director Vinil Mathew (Hasee Toh Phasee) decode the movie that drops on Netflix on July 2.
Taapsee, did you never fear being judged for the risky role you have taken on as an unfaithful wife accused of murdering her husband in Haseen Dillruba?
I think that judgment thing I left when Kanika made me do Manmarziyaan. Since then I am only doing ‘not so right’ things in my films! (With a laugh) People have called me ‘perpetual cheater’ since then. Every film now they want me to be the cheater — I don’t know if they think I do it convincingly! All thanks to Kanika for giving me that tag!
But yeah Rani is very different (from the typical Bollywood heroine) and that’s why I wanted to do it. I have realised through my observation of actors in the industry, that when you get too comfortable in your zone and things start coming your way because you are good at certain kind of roles, that’s the end of your growth. Then there is nothing more that you end up offering.
I needed to be put out of that comfort zone, to bring about something that I don’t expect from myself or the audience don’t expect from me. So I was really happy to get out of my comfort zone for this.
While Rani was a very typical Bollywood heroine from the look of it, what was underneath the skin was totally bizarre and crazy. She wears those flowy chiffon saris… but scratch beneath the surface and you will see the not so conventional character.
Rani is not a very likeable character in many ways, so what attracted you to her?
I can imagine someone born and brought up in Delhi who has a certain image of the kind of man she wants to be with for the rest of her life and gets married in this situation; how she might feel.
But beyond that Rani was someone I had to really psyche myself into believing. She is not that likeable like you said but what covers that up for me was her honesty.
She is very clear about what she is, what she wants and the mistake she has done. That honesty of hers was my saving grace to portray the character because that’s the only way I could have made people not hate Rani.
You might not like her in a lot of places but I was very conscious of the fact that I could not make people hate Rani. Otherwise they will get disconnected from the story.
Vinil, how challenging was it to get two disparate actors like Taapsee and Vikrant onboard?
I don’t know if it was challenging to get them on the film but it was challenging after that! Taapsee and Kanika (Dhillon, writer) have worked together earlier so they have an equation. They had discussed the story informally and Taapsee had staked a claim which we were respectful of!
Taapsee and Vikrant’s contrast worked wonderfully for the film. It’s a cliché but yes, opposites do attract and in this case it worked. They both have different styles of acting and I typically like to accommodate each actor’s style and make them as comfortable as possible so they’d deliver their best.
Vikrant, you play a timid man who transforms overnight into this vengeance-seeking lover. Which role did you enjoy playing the most?
I actually enjoyed every thing Rishu had to do. The blueprint was laid bare for all of us by Vinil and Kanika; we had ample space within the structure to sort of experiment, so I wouldn’t want to pick and choose as to what part I liked and what I didn’t.
Like Taapsee said, it was like an actor’s candy to have all these shades available for me to portray. Once you are on the floor you have a director who knows exactly what he wants and what he doesn’t want.
And when you have Taapsee out there whom you have to respond to and who is also adding on to what you are doing, it makes the job a lot easier.
Were you jealous of being pitted against a hunk like Harshvardhan Rane!
Not all all! In fact I was happy that it would eventually give merit to my character and that people would sympathise with me.
Kanika, were you ever worried about romanticising obsessive love with Haseen Dillruba?
I’ve been true to the story and it just happened that the story is a little different from the earlier work I had done. It’s a thriller, there is murder, the situations are a little extreme.
I have not romanticised abuse or violence knowingly in a conscious manner. In fact I was able to say that if you act in a certain way, there are consequences to it and then there is repentance. In this film my characters do repent; it is just that they go a little too far in the repentance. I’ve not said it is great to be an obsessive lover — there has been an overall arc where there is something wrong and there has been repentance and there has been a sacrifice.
If you see it in the entire context there it not anything I would have a problem by or I wouldn't stand by.
What’s your brief when it comes to portraying the modern Indian woman in your films?
For me this entire thing about feminism and the modern Indian woman all boils down to choice. As a woman in this country or in the workplace, or different scenarios where I put my women, do they have a choice to say no?
‘No, I will not cook. No, I will not be with this man. No, I will not marry against my wishes. No, I will not go and be a career woman.’
It is true for everything you want to do and don’t want to do. All my heroines always have the choice; it is just that their options may vary, but I never take away the choice. And that’s feminism for me.
The only thing that’s the true ballpark of this entire feministic debate is the choice that we give women. All my female characters will have that choice. Only the situation will change.
Inspiration for Haseen Dillruba
Murder stories like the one in Haseen Dillruba may seem outlandish, but in a country like India it’s also not unfortunately that much of an aberration.
While Taapsee recollects that just the morning of our interview she had read about a man who burnt his wife when she came to learn about his extra marital affair, Vinil quotes the macabre real-life case of Maria Susairaj and the Tandoor burning incident, saying there are “multiple real life cases which are stranger than fiction.”
Kanika adds: “I’ve read stuff like a man was so much in love with a woman, he lived with her dead body for 15 years, so I would not worry if this (the movie) is real enough.” She also point out that “it’s worse in real life or stranger things have happened.”
A ‘flawed’ love story
Rani and Rishu are complex characters that defy any unidimensional interpretation. Taapsee admits that the action as it unfolds in the movie might not be the right way to go about things in an idealistic world.
“But who said this is an idealistic world? Who said Rishu or Rani are idealistic characters? They both are flawed. You can’t just look at Rishu’s character with a lens and say what he is doing with Rani is wrong. What happens to that lens when Rani was doing wrong? Both of them decide to stay with each other knowing that they are both flawed.
"No one person is the oppressor and no one person is the oppressed. They both have an equal amount of flaws and they are ready to pay because they love each other so much. Both of them are flawed if you see - that’s how I see their relationship.”
Haseen Dillruba drops on Netflix on July 2