In one of the scenes in Haseen Dillruba, Rani (played by Taapsee Pannu) straight-up tells her mother-in-law that she can’t make pakode and chai because she is really bad at it. A day after her wedding.
This is a small, comic scene that doesn’t really change the narrative of the movie, but it had me thinking how I have never seen something like this happen in real life.
But I did not question it once when I was watching it. Sure, this wasn’t a high-powered car chase, but I feel like these tiny things are the hardest to convince people about.
And that is what brings me to the point I am attempting to make: That Taapsee, as an actor, is a brilliant convincer.
In Haseen Dillruba (which was thematically similar to Badla), she goes from a self-aware, unhinged woman to a regretful wife to a delusional lover and she covers all of these with ease.
She has this quality of making things seem believable, when they are harmless, like flirting with a guy she fancies, or even when they are despicable, like plotting a murder.
I have always thought it’s the most important skill for an actor to have.
She can also make her on-screen presence stoic when required. That’s something we saw in Pink. She plays the role of Minal, who is fighting, along with her friends, against a system that struggles to understand consent and hence, makes way for assault.
Amid all the drama that unfolds around her, Minal stands like a rock. And it is painful to watch, which is precisely what she wants the viewers to feel, one would assume.
It is a painful story, which is meant to be unsettling, and Minal’s jogs in the park, her smoke breaks, damn even her walk to the house is a little unsettling, because it all carries rage and sadness.
Taapsee also has a good knack for choosing roles that are set in our world but challenge its ideas. For instance, Thappad, which is a movie about domestic violence, the boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed, and the dilemmas of a woman who suddenly realises that there was so much wrong in her marriage that she let go for years.
She captures the angst of a woman trying to explain to her own family, and acquaintances, that one slap is still brutality. That she has the right to call off her marriage based on that one slap.That she shouldn’t wait for things to get worse.
That’s a big responsibility to carry on one’s shoulder as an actor, but Taapsee does full justice to it.
That’s true for her other characters as well. Whether it’s Aarti in Mulk, fighting against religious intolerance to save her family, or Rumi in Manmarziyaan, who sets on a reluctant journey to realise what companionship truly means.
These roles are layered. Aarti is facing prejudice, she is dealing with grief, but she has to be strong for the sake of the ones she calls family. Meanwhile, Rumi is relearning love, and that’s enough said.
These characters couldn’t have been easy to portray but she makes it look effortless. That’s also evident in her performances in movies like Naam Shabana, a thriller, and Saand Ki Aankh, where she plays a 60-year-old sharpshooter.
We may need another piece to cover all her acting performances in detail but the crux here is that she has the ability to make her characters real. We don’t know what her process is, but we do know it’s effective.