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Taapsee Pannu: A nation that loves cricket should also support the women's team

Taapsee Pannu will be seen in ‘Shabaash Mithu’, based on the life and career of former India women’s team captain Mithali Raj

PTI Mumbai Published 04.07.22, 02:45 PM
Taapsee Pannu as Mithali Raj in ‘Shabaash Mithu’.

Taapsee Pannu as Mithali Raj in ‘Shabaash Mithu’. YouTube

Actress Taapsee Pannu says she jumped into her hardest role as the former India women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj in her upcoming movie Shabaash Mithu with the objective of equal recognition for women in their careers.

Regarded as one of the greatest women cricketers ever, the legendary Indian batter redefined the sport, usually referred to as “the gentleman’s game”.


Taapsee, known for films Pink, Naam Shabana, Mulk, and Thappad, said her and Mithali’s attempt at making their respective professions a level-playing field for women was the binding force behind the upcoming film.

“In our country, there are two religions: cricket and films. If you call yourself a cricket-loving nation then you should love women's cricket equally, you are not just men’s cricket loving nation. The cricket should matter and not the gender,” the 34-year-old actress told PTI in an interview.

“Same way, the gender of the protagonist shouldn't matter. It should be about how the film is. You do pre-booking of a movie if it is a male protagonist but wait for reviews for a female protagonist. That is where I connected to her (Mithali),” she added.

The Haseen Dilruba actress said she felt “embarrassed” as she was unaware about the former Indian skipper, her journey and achievements, until Mithali expressed her displeasure over comparison to their male counterparts in cricket.

On the eve of the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup, Mithali was asked who her favourite men's cricketer was in India and Pakistan teams.

In a sharp retort, she had asked, “Do you ask a male cricketer who their favourite female player is?”

It is a similar scenario in the film industry, pointed out Taapsee, adding that female actors too are often asked these questions.

“I have been answering this question for over 10 years. ‘Who is your favourite male star? Who do you want to be paired opposite?’ I hardly see the male stars answering the same question. I felt this will be my connecting thread to her character and from there I will build whatever I need to, to be her,” the actor added.

Directed by Srijit Mukherji and written by Priya Aven, the upcoming film is a coming-of-age story of women's cricket in India as witnessed by the most successful woman cricketer. It will chronicle the highs and lows, setbacks and moments of euphoria of Mithali’s life.

Last month, Mithali ended her glorious 23-year-long run after amassing 7,805 ODI runs in 232 matches at an average of over 50. She also scored 2,364 runs in 89 T20Is, as well as 699 runs in 12 Tests, including a century and four half-centuries.

From Soorma, Saandh Ki Aankh, Rashmi Rocket to now Shabaash Mithu, Taapsee has become the face of sports-based films.

The actress said she took up these films as the stories challenged her and the scale got bigger with every movie.

“In all these films my effort has gone beyond doing that film. After Rashmi Rocket, I had to work harder on this film to learn a sport from scratch. And it has gone bigger for me scale wise,” she said.

The Loot Lapeta actress said that she has been offered more sports and action films but she rejected all of them. Reason: she wants to up her game.

She had boarded Shabaash Mithu in 2018 when production banner Viacom18 Studios had acquired the rights to make a movie on Mithali and had the research material but there was no script.

The actress was required to commit to the film and dedicate time to learning the game of cricket.

Taapsee said that she had started training for cricket while filming of Looop Lapeta, which released on Netflix in February. Three months before Looop Lapeta came out, Rashmi Rocket had released, a film in which she had played an athlete. Having worked on these two films, she was at her fittest when she dived into Shabaash Mithu and only had to learn the techniques of cricket.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is probably going to be the hardest I have worked on a film but then that's the fun part.” she added.

The 34-year-old undertook lessons in cricket for six months under four coaches, including former India cricketer Nooshin-Al-Khadeer and physiotherapist Akanksha.

“My introduction to Mithali's playing techniques or what she does and how she felt, was through my trainers,” she said, adding that she did not meet Mithali in person during filming as she was actively playing cricket then.

Recalling her meeting with the former cricketer before she began work on the film, Taapsee said they are “diametrically” opposite as people.

Taapsee added that because Mithali is not an expressive person, as an actor she had to limit her performance.

“It is not that I see varied expressions on her face, like she is feeling happy or is thinking, so you can't gauge it. I had to unlearn. My range of performance is so minimal in terms of expressing, she is not a very expressive person. In two hours, we had to tell her story spanning over 30 years,” the Manmarziyaan actress added.

Shabaash Mithu, Taapsee’s first theatrical release since Thappad in 2020, has her anxious about the reception from the audience.

“I value audience reaction and opinion. I never say that I am an actor and I have done my job and that I could do only this much. For me, it matters how they will react and that's why how the box office reacts also matters,” she added.

Shabaash Mithu also stars seasoned actor Vijay Raaz and will be released in theatres on July 15.

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