HT Brunch cover story: Taapsee Pannu on the Mumbai Vs Delhi debate
It’s been five years since actor Taapsee Pannu moved from Delhi to Mumbai, but she still calls Delhi home. “Even today whenever there is a Delhi-Mumbai debate, I am like a jhandewali, fighting for Delhi all the time,” she laughs.
Taapsee can’t rave enough about the lush greenery, the sense of space, the relaxed pace of life, the golgappe, the chholey bhature, the friendly neighbours and everything that warms a Delhiite’s heart. In fact, she almost didn’t move to Mumbai despite the fact that the city is the home of the Hindi film industry, when she realised she would have give up all these things for the sake of a career.
“I was shocked to see the houses in Mumbai. There were no balconies, and everything looked caged up,” recalls Taapsee. What is the point of such beautiful weather when you can’t hang out on your balcony, she wondered, till she realised that Mumbaikars were just too busy to do such a thing, and in any case, they always go to a beach in the city when they need to relax.
For a while, Taapsee did try to shuttle between Delhi and Mumbai, but she soon reaIised that to get good work, she would simply have to be available in Mumbai. So she decided to find a place as similar to a Delhi apartment as possible.
“I wanted an apartment with balconies, something that would give me a sense of space like Delhi,” says the actor. “My flat in Mumbai had to give me the feel of coming back home.”
Sure enough, her 12th floor apartment is Taapsee’s own space, with a balcony to laze over a cup of tea, and interiors filled with books and knick-knacks. Here, in a Mumbai apartment that reminds her of Delhi, Taapsee is completely at home.
“This city is like a sponge. It absorbs everything and everyone,” Taapsee says about Mumbai. “But if you come to Mumbai without any work, you’ll be lonely, because no one has time to spare for you.”
Catwalk —> Cat —> Cinema
It was work that summoned her to Mumbai. Taapsee, 32, from a middle class Punjabi family had trained to become a software engineer, and only modelled to earn pocket money.
Her assignments ignited the interest of filmmakers from the South, and soon she started getting offers to work in Tamil and Telugu films. “I didn’t want to act. I had never acted even in a school play. I’m a trained dancer, so I didn’t have a fear of the camera or of performing on stage,” says Taapsee. She turned down every offer.
She got a placement in Infosys, which she wasn’t sure she wanted. That led her to think about taking a year off to prepare for the Common Admission Test (CAT) – but she didn’t want to hang about at home. “I accepted one Tamil film, and one Telugu film, packed my CAT books, and shifted to Madurai,” reveals Taapsee.
Learning and doing
“Even before my films released, so much buzz had been generated that I ended up signing three more films,” says Taapsee.
When the films released, (she debuted with the 2010 Telugu film, Jhummandi Naadam) they turned out to be hits. “I was amazed to see the love I got from the audience,” recalls Taapsee.
When we ask her if experimenting with different genres is risky for actors without a film industry lineage, Taapsee begs to differ. “I have no fear of failing. I’m working because I enjoy acting,” she says with confidence.
And she used that same confidence to make herself at home in Mumbai. “Delhi is getting a lot of attention from filmmakers now, but the heart of the film industry is Mumbai. So if you are serious about an acting career, you need to be here,” she says.
Keeping it casual
Life in Mumbai can be as comfortable and enjoyable as in Delhi, provided you have the right mindset for it, adds Taapsee. “You need to be strong hearted because the pace of life is so different, but there seems to be an app for everything, so even if you are busy for 20 hours a day, you have the ease to do things and get help from people around you because they have experienced the same issues you are facing. So there’s comfort even in discomfort!” she says.
“When I first moved to Mumbai, I loved shopping at Linking Road. I used to love going to Carter Road. I’d sit there and watch the sea for hours. Mumbai has a beautiful side that I enjoy a lot.”
She is fully at ease on the streets of Mumbai, chatting with a woman at the local phool wallah, where she tries to create a phool maala, and bantering with a fisherwoman selling her catch. That she is a star appears to make no difference to anyone: it’s business as usual for everyone, even as Taapsee hails an auto-rickshaw after failing to get on a BEST bus.
“That’s the beauty of this city,” laughs Taapsee when I compare this casual attitude to the mobs she’d have to fend off in Delhi. “Everyone here is so busy. They have no time to think about inane things like this. And may be due to the cut-throat competition here, people tend to be more professional than in Delhi.”
Despite being busy, Taapsee has managed to make a few close friends outside the film industry. Within the industry, she bonds well with Vicky Kaushal and Saqib Saleem. “I’m social, but I don’t believe in friendships with an agenda, so I prefer to keep away from filmy parties,” she says.
However, Taapsee has her own mental Mumbai-Delhi battles to power through. “Besides the lack of space in Mumbai, it’s the condition of roads that affects me,” she says. “We live in the most expensive city in the country but the roads are bad.”
But she giggles as she explains how her next negative point about Mumbai actually works for her.
“I crave Delhi street food: the chaat, chholey bhature and golgappe,” she says. “On the other hand, since I don’t have much street food now, I’ve been able to lose weight, which wouldn’t have been possible in Delhi.” And then she adds: “The good thing in Mumbai is that even late at night, you can find some idli wallah or kebab wallah to fulfil your cravings, and you can happily sit in a nice little corner in a place like Colaba and feel safe. Delhi may be relatively more beautiful, relatively more green and spacious, but it’s relatively unsafe too. Something needs to be done about that and soon.”
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From HT Brunch, November 10, 2019
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