Bollywood has, over the years, standardised what its heroines should be; and the stereotypes have largely been handed down generation to generation by those who come from within the industry. No matter how woke our current leading ladies are, there’s a certain code that exists, which never gets broken. You don’t take on the establishment, you build your career on the back of commercial films, you speak up only when everyone else is. Going against the tide then, doesn’t make one popular amongst those that are seen as holding the reins of the industry. And let’s face it, this has always been one hell of a popularity contest for female actors. The sudden influx of non-industry talent in the past decade has been one of the reasons why a lot of this has been changing, and there’s nobody out there who epitomises this new breed of Hindi film heroine than Taapsee Pannu. She’s fearless, speaks her mind, and has survived this industry on her own terms.

Last week, in a Twitter interaction with Vir Das, she made a self-deprecating dig for not making the cut onKoffee With Karan. This immediately reignited the nepotism debate and brought about comparisons with Kangana Ranaut, the self-styled chief campaigner against it in the industry. The fact is that Taapsee couldn’t be more different than Kangana, whose outrage usually comes packaged with self-victimisation and from a place of “not being accepted” by her peers. Taapsee, on the other hand, is comfortable being an outsider in the industry and writes her own rules. Those who know what she’s like would tell you how free of malice her comment probably was, and how she couldn’t care two hoots about being part of Bollywood’s little cliques.

Her outspokenness is more a function of the person she is, and that she’s not afraid to call a spade a spade. When she was replaced by Bhumi Pednekar in the remake of Pati Patni Aur Woh, she wasn’t afraid to call out the producers for disrespecting her time by blocking her dates. This fearlessness, easily confused with a complete absence of tact comes across in many of the things she brazenly says; things that most actors would think but not say aloud. How many actresses out there would actually go on record saying she does films like Judwaa to balance out her other choices, and give her the ability to do non-commercial films like Mulk? She figures that her work is good enough to make producers still want her, if she wants them first.

Taapsee’s earned her stripes playing multiple types of roles across both Bollywood and the industries of the South. While many others have used South Indian movies as a stepping stone to break into Bollywood, Taapsee’s focus has always been on delivering good cinema, regardless of genre and language. She continues to straddle both industries successfully, working with the best and delivering high quality content. She speaks about the roles she plays across both industries with an equal amount of enthusiasm, and the versatility shows — she’s played a hockey player, rape victim, martial arts instructor and a visually challenged girl amongst others.

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