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Taapsee Pannu, who plays the role of Prakashi Tomar in the latest biographical drama Saand Ki Aankh, got candid about having a female-led film as a Diwali release, signing scripts and how opportunities have changed for women in Bollywood.

Taapsee Pannu reveals that when she signed Saand Ki Aankh, many called it the “stupidest decision” she had ever made. While on one hand, people asked her why she was doing a two-heroine film, many also doubted her choice of playing a 60-year-old onscreen.

Saand Ki Aankh, which is based on the life of India’s sharpshooters Chandro and Prakashi Tomar, also stars Bhumi Pednekar. The Tushar Hiranandani directorial opens alongside Akshay Kumar’s Housefull 4 and Rajkummar Rao starrer Made In China.

In a candid chat with indianexpress.com, Taapsee talks about how she intends to bring about a change by releasing an all female-led film this Diwali, challenges she faced while getting into the role of Prakashi Tomar and how opportunities have changed for women in the last few years.

Here are excerpts from the conversation:

Q. Saand Ki Aankh is arriving in a cluster of other Diwali releases. What’s your state of mind?

Taapsee: I’m feeling very special. Because in the cluster, we are the only women-led film which is unique. And just like Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped during Diwali, we are bringing the story of these goddesses. It is the most unique film in the cluster. If you don’t like it, I’ll be happy to take the criticism. But give us a chance. You will leave with a smile on your face and tears in your eyes.

Q. But Diwali, or for that matter, any festival weekend has been reserved by the male actors.

Taapsee: Several people tried to convince us ever since our release date was announced that it is the wrong day to release the film. We’ve been trolled, we’ve been receiving calls from everywhere. And we are like, why? Just because we are a women-led film and the others are male lead films? This is the most bizarre reason to be stepping back. We know our film is good. If you are also sure about your film, then what’s the worry? It is a family film, we’ve got a U-certificate without any cuts, it is going tax free even before release.

Even if it hadn’t been my film, then also I would have prayed that it works so that women-led films get the confidence in releasing on a big date. Because a big date is always reserved for a big hero. Even if there is a clash, it’ll be between two big heroes. Why do we always get leftover dates? So I hope this is a step towards that change. What will happen in the worst case? You’ll fail. But people will say at least they tried.

Q. What were the challenges you faced while shooting for Saand Ki Aankh?

Taapsee: Physical hardships were to sustain the makeup for 12 hours. One drop of sweat and you have to redo the entire thing, which again takes 2-3 hours. Once I remember, it was a day in April which is pretty hot in UP, we ended up doing the makeup thrice. So that is the physical challenge to get into that get-up and walk in those fields. Mental hardships were when we said yes to the film, everyone around us said this is the stupidest decision because why would you do a two girl film without any hero, who wants to play an old woman? This has no precedents, and you always feel the fear of the unknown, what might happen to your career, but I’m like someone needs to take that step.

Q. Do you see opportunities for women have changed in the past few years?

Taapsee: I’ve seen a major change in front of my eyes in the last 5-6 years. (Earlier) I was at the mercy of heroes saying yes to me for being a part of the films, to now where I’m being cast first and then the other actors in the film. Even Saand Ki Aankh came to me first because I wanted to do a two-girl film so I reached out to the makers first. Usually, now the films which come to me, I’ve been cast first. So that (change) I’ve seen in front of my eyes.

I’ve been replaced from films where heroes didn’t approve of me or some or the other issue, not related to my work, to now this. Of course, the pay changes based on the success of your film. It is still far far away from the heroes but it has changed. I want to look at the positive side of it. If my box office collection reaches at par with the heroes, I’m sure my income will also be at par. It is moving in the right direction.

Q. How has your method of picking scripts changed over the years?

Taapsee: I always think will I spend my hard earned money and three precious hours of my life to see this film in the theater? I see it like an audience. If people say ‘The film wasted three hours of my life’, that’s very hurtful. That I don’t want to hear from anyone. That’s why I choose something new, different.

Q. You also have a very real image on social media, be it appreciation or criticism.

Taapsee: Good, bad, ugly I read all of them (social media messages) and I can make out the difference between which ones are coming out of true criticism or which is just to get attention.

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