Taapsee Pannu: Shocking that a woman has to prove womanhood
Of late, Taapsee Pannu's films have achieved what most actors aspire for mdash that rare balance of entertainment and strong commentary on a social issue. With Rashmi Rocket, the actor aims to initiate a dialogue about the archaic gender-testing practice in sports. Pannu admits that like the majority of the population, she was not aware of how the practice hinders many female athletes, until the project came her way. 'As someone who loves sports, I was shocked that I did not know about this. So, I started my research parallel to what Aniruddha Guha [writer] was doing for the screenplay. It's shocking that a woman is asked to prove her womanhood to pursue her profession. It's bizarre that there are rules that will determine whether she is a woman enough or not. The more I learnt about it, the more motivated I was to do this film,' she states.
The subject of gender testing came into Indian mainstream consciousness in 2014 when Dutee Chand was dropped from the Commonwealth Games contingent. It was cited that her hyperandrogenism made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete. When probed if the ZEE5 drama is inspired by Chand's life, Pannu says, 'There are so many Indian athletes who have gone into oblivion because they didn't have the courage to fight. In India, Dutee was the only one who fought back, but a lot of athletes abroad have done it. Different [plot points] in the film are inspired by different athletes.'
From highlighting the importance of consent in sex through Pink (2016), to raising her voice against domestic violence in Thappad (2020), she has relentlessly brought women's issues to the fore. Director Akarsh Khurana's sports drama is another attempt to correct the odds stacked against women. 'Whenever it comes to discussing taboo topics or portraying a woman who has shades of grey, the role comes to me. These roles help the actor in me grow.' But it's not an easy path to tread. After the first look of Rashmi Rocket was released, trolls slammed Pannu for her 'masculine' frame. The actor, fierce as always, took it as a compliment. 'One of the ideas behind doing Rashmi Rocket was to break the stereotype of a woman. But if I put myself in the shoes of women who hear this on a daily basis, it's heartbreaking. I am used to hearing nastier stuff on social media, and it hardly affects me now.'