Global Movie

‘I am forgetting that I am an actor’

- ‘I feel more like an athlete.’

‘So now, I’d like to experience the actor in me more.’

From playing a hockey player in Soorma to a shooter in Saand Ki Aankh and then an athlete in Rashmi Rocket, Taapsee Pannu has been training very hard to make her roles look believable.

Taapsee plays cricket legend

Mithali Raj in her new release Shabaash Mithu.

“I have not mastered cricket. But yes, I can hit the ball. I know the shots. If you tell me to hit a square cut, I can,” Taapsee tells The first of a two-part interview:

Somehow we see you doing only sports films of late. Are you chasing sports or is it the other way around?

I think it is a mutual attraction. I love sports.

Sports film offers tend to cross my way, but now, I’d like to take a break f rom them.

It gets too tiring.

For so many years, acting and sports have been going hand-inhand as far as I am concerned.

I am forgetting that I am an actor.

I feel more like an athlete.

So now, I’d like to experience the actor in me more.

Most sports biographie­s follow the underdog struggle victory format. How has Shabaash Mithu made sure it stays out of that pattern?

Underdog stories are very relatable.

In fact, your biggest films are those where the underdog becomes the hero in the end -regardless of whether they are sports biopics or not.

Where this film is different is that you won’t find much of Mithali Raj’s personal struggle in here.

You will not get to see something like her parents were not supportive or there was a financial crisis in her life.

This is more of an underdog story of the ‘Women in Blue’, not Mithali.

But the story is told from Mithali’s lens.

She has had the longest career in cricket.

She has seen Indian women’s cricket from its anonymity days.

For 10 years, there was no footage of her career even though she set many records.

There was hardly any visual reference available on her for me to learn.

So from anonymity to getting women’s cricket to what it is today, her life looked like the perfect vehicle to give you a quick recap of women’s cricket in India.

Hence, this biopic.

You have never played cricket. So how challengin­g was it for you to get into the skin of Mithali Raj?

It was very difficult -- not just as cricket, but even as a personalit­y.

Firstly, I have never held a cricket bat in my hand.

The few occasions when I played, I was only asked to field.

The boys would never let me bat or bowl.

So I thought, chuck it, I will do something else.

I played other sports, but not cricket. So when I got this chance, I was excited to play a legend like her on screen.

It took me months to master the shots that I had to show on screen.

I have not mastered cricket.

I still don’t know how to play the game as a full match.

But yes, I can hit the ball. I know the shots.

If you tell me to hit a square cut, I can.

But I don’t know how to bowl.

It’s not possible to learn a sport within a few months.

Does the film have any entertainm­ent quotient for people who are not cricket fans?

I call it dark humour.

You feel it is so sad, but it will make you laugh at how ironic things are in cricket, just because a different gender is involved.

Apart from humour, see, I’m not a cricket buff nor is anyone in my family.

But the amount of cricket we have shown in the film is engaging enough for you to feel

the entertainm­ent quotient.

Were there any personal interactio­ns with Mithali?

Honestly, I know of her since the time she gave that statement: ‘Why do you keep asking female cricketers who their favourite male cricketer is.’

That was the first time I noticed her and when I learnt that there is a women’s team in our country.

So I’m also guilty of ignorance.

Somewhere I hoped to get a chance to correct my mistakes.

Mithali and I didn’t have enough time to interact, as she was still active at that time.

Plus, it was the COVID period.

She was either in a bubble or playing a tournament or on a World Cup camp.

We had limitation­s in terms of timeline to prep-up and to shoot.

I couldn’t wait for her to retire and give me enough time, so I had to go ahead with the other four former cricketers who played with her over the years.

One of them is Nooshin Al Kadeer, her dear friend who has known her for more than 10 years.

They became my window to Mithali.

Sometimes it is better to know someone from a third person’s perspectiv­e.

I might forget how I was 10 years back, but someone who has seen me closely at that time, might give a better account of how I used to be.

Cricketers like Virat Kohli and M S Dhoni are hero worshipped, but we don’t see that kind of fan following for Mithali Raj. Do you think this biopic will be able to pull in the audiences?

Well, that’s the whole idea behind making this film.

She has been the skipper, the torchbeare­r of this big change.

The one who led India to two World Cup finals, has the longest career in ODI across genders in the world. I don’t know of any other person who can introduce you to women’s cricket in India better than Mithali Raj.

This nation loves cricket, but ‘83 didn’t do as expected. Does the unpredicta­bility of the audience bother you?

Honestly, I don’t know why it didn’t do as per expectatio­ns.

I loved the film.

I loved Jersey too.

I paid to watch both films in theatres.

There can be 100s of theories behind their failure, but I have no answers.

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