Bollywood actor Taapsee Pannu entered the industry as an outsider, and with a stellar series of performances, made it her own playground. The cover star speaks to author and our A-List member Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi about why travel is life-changing and where she plans to go next.
“I’d love to chat with Taapsee Pannu,” I told the editor of this magazine, who was to feature the actor of Pink and Thappad on Travel + Leisure India & South Asia’s September cover. A few days prior, Kangana Ranaut had lashed out at other young female actors who now successfully do what was once expected from her: essay strong roles for women, call out misogyny, and make equal room for other female leads. In response to Ranaut’s accusations, Pannu responded much like the characters she has portrayed: reasonable, bright, restrained yet clear. She wasn’t putting up with pressure tactics from either men or
women. As a stellar A-grade actor, Pannu is a textbook study in elegance. “That’s why I want to speak with Taapsee. She’s a fine actor, and I admire her grace.”
“I love travelling with my sister,” Pannu said to me a few weeks later. She was at home, a white-brick wall in the background, periodically diving her fork into a steel bowl of mangoes with chia seeds. “Travelling with her is my default.” She recounted an amusing trip
to the Maldives, where she landed up at a fancy resort with her sister and some friends. But the resort was so exclusive that the only other guests who could afford it were retirees—not exactly the constituency a young woman seeks out on holiday. “So then, I spent $900
on a diving course!” But that expense left her broke. “Breakfast at the resort was included, but everything else was not.” She laughs, harking back to the days before acting catapulted her into the sort of hotel guest who need never ration her meals.
Her worries now hedge more on avoiding recognition while on the road. Without fear of the
collective gaze, she likes to observe people and pick up quirks and traits to nourish her acting craft. “I want to go to New Zealand next,” she said, choosing a country whose breathtaking natural landscape also offers her that sly thing she prizes: privacy, “and Australia, only once the lockdown is lifted, of course.” Road trips are her thing, especially after she went on one through Spain—yes, with her sister as co-pilot—landing in Madrid and ending up in Barcelona, charmed by the architecture, staying in wee hotels in the city centre, grateful that she had been left alone.
Now, under lockdown, travel is both anguished nostalgia as well as burning hope. Bored of
confinement, she used her time like so many of us: watching YouTube tutorials on making extravagant suppers. “I’m hoping to travel to Goa next,” she said after I told her I live there. “We’re adapting Run Lola Run (the German classic film directed by Tom Tykwer starring Franka Potente as Lola) for India, which will be filmed in Goa.” I promised to give her an insider’s hack to North Goa: dinner at Mahé (mahegoa.com), where Chef Sandeep Sreedharan shuts out a room for sublime private dining experiences; Sunday breakfast at
G-Shot Coffee Roastery (gshotcoffeeroastery.com) but avoid the software engineer guests who blather on about start-ups; early evening drives through the villages of Siolim and Moira make room for an impromptu picnic; luxury villas from Isprava (isprava.com) are an excellent alternative to hotels; a tub of hazelnut ice cream from Mr Gelato – Cream Choc and ordering in from Edible Archives (ediblearchives.com) is how the locals work it. Oh, and Lolita Sarkar and her catering outfit, Love, Lola, whip up the best banana bread—the film set should call in Sarkar’s goodies simply for the divine coincidence of name.
The film business forces women to subscribe to outdated norms of beauty and glamour. In sharp contrast, Pannu’s utter lack of pretence is refreshing, as are her manners (she didn’t once check her phone during our chat). Bollywood has changed, or it will have to. The ‘first families’ seem old, pretentious, or out of whack, while star producers look like off-brand Karl Lagerfeld statues at a wax museum in a town no one wants to visit. In this reluctantly
shifting milieu, Pannu adjusts a wonky new crown as an outsider who refuses to make a career out of bashing people without a voice of their own. Instead, she chooses to share her power. “I tell many of my women friends one thing: please set aside a certain amount of what you earn for your travelling. Travel is mandatory for your personal growth. Go alone. Don’t always travel with family. Break out of your comfort zone. It will make you see how insignificant you are to the world at large,” she said to me, breaking into a luminous
smile. “Travel is life-changing. It’s like a person with a minus 3.5 eye power suddenly getting a LASIK surgery!”