When the film industry limped back to work in July 2020 after a four-month shutdown, Taapsee Pannu was among the first to report to a set. She has been moving in and out of sets since, wrapping up films at a break-neck speed. Currently filming Anurag Kashyap’s Dobaara, her fifth project post lockdown, Pannu says she still remembers her first day of shoot in the new normal. Caution and fear reigned their minds as the unit of the untitled Vijay Sethupathi-starrer began filming in Jaipur in October.
I remember my first shoot post-COVID in Jaipur. It was for a Tamil film (alongside Vijay Sethupathi).
We didn’t know how far apart we should stand. Unsure of how paranoid the other one is, it was a case tiptoeing around cautiously. The worst was, we were so awkward and didn’t know how to greet each other. We had all tested negative before shoot but the fear of the unknown loomed large. As the days went by, things got calmer. It was a slim crew and the mayhem of a movie set was completely missing. By the end of the shoot, we could sit next to each other without being weird…,” recounts Pannu. After wrapping up the Tamil film in November, the actor followed it up with the final schedule of Haseen Dillruba, Rashmi Rocket and Looop Lapeta. Like most of us, Pannu was a ball of emotions during the stay-at-home period. If she tested her culinary skills for the first time in a decade, she was also worried about her films being rescheduled.
But above all else, it was the pathos of daily-wage workers that made her step out. “I could see daily-wage workers suffering, and it’s not just restricted to them not earning money. Some of these people come from homes where it is hard to stay in cramped spaces for months at a stretch. Their mental well-being was being compromised. I would wake up and read about the industry suffering every day. The day my producer was ready to shoot, I didn’t want to leave him hanging. It was important to step up the teamwork.” On a movie set, actors are probably the most vulnerable as they have to go maskless when in front of the camera. But to Pannu, everything else would cease to matter once the camera was rolling.
“There would be times when I’d be on set, with everyone around me in masks, and it’d dawn on me that I was missing an important gear. Before shoots, my family would text me, ‘Be strong.’ Going to work felt like a covert mission,” she laughs. Adapting to the new normal was a process for her. “Open spaces were such a switch in the first few months. Fresh air, green surroundings were such a welcome change and we all adapted to the new rules. Initially, I’d forget my mask when I’d go to the gym. But hotel elevators had these massive charts and I’d run back and fetch the mask.” In 2021, she definitely has a head start over her contemporaries, having shot five films post-pandemic.
“I have been moving from one set to the other. Through the lockdown, I could feel work getting piled up and that was making me anxious. Everything was getting rescheduled. People have kept crews working through the pandemic. Honouring commitments before baggage becomes too heavy for the producer to handle. For me, my 2020 deadlines are running a little late but I have made up quite well. After Shabash Mithu, which is my sixth film, I will feel phew! It would have been my last film of 2020 and I am close to my deadline.”