Directed by Anubhav Singh, Thappad has had a decent opening at the box office. The film recounts the story of a couple falling apart after Vikram (Pavail Gulati) slaps Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) during an escalating fight. The Quint caught up with Pavail Gulati, who has worked with directors like Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap and Imtiaz Ali and makes his big-screen debut with Thappad after being in the industry for ten years.
Taapsee has said in multiple interviews that you were very nervous about the actual slap scene. Tell us a bit about how you prepared yourself.
I didn’t prepare at all. Sir (Anubhav Sinha) told us two days before that we were going to shoot the scene and I was a nervous wreck because I am one person who doesn’t like to get into fights and I am a non-confrontational kind of a person. Also, Taapsee and I have become friends after working and then I have to hit her. Sir said it has to be a real slap and it has to be impactful because it was the crux of the film.
The day we were supposed to shoot it in the night, my face shrank and everyone was coming up to me and telling me that you look sick today. I was actually feeling sick. I was actually feeling like I will puke sometime. I was very reluctant to hit her. It was just not happening. It was... I would turn out and I would stop. It was one of those things. It would miss the face. It wasn’t getting to the face. After the third take, it got to her face and the impact wasn’t right and the sound was off and by then her face was red. The fourth, fifth, sixth take happened and Taapsee came to me and told ‘just go for it. Don’t think about it’. And then the seventh take happened, and sir said ‘okay’. That’s when I hugged her and I just ran. I was really, really... I was done with that scene.
Were there points when you were questioning the things that you have done or questioning even the basic conditioning that we have seen at home? Were there instances?
Absolutely. You know what happens is... I have not had the privilege of having a wife, so I would talk from that angle. But just in daily life how we take our mother or father for granted. So, when I was reading the script that was coming out to me and calling out to me really hard. I was a little apprehensive about it when I heard just the one line about the film because it seemed like I was playing this wife-beater. But I think I read about 25 pages and I was hooked. This story is not about domestic violence, firstly. This story wasn’t a one-sided story. It wasn’t a man-hating film. The only thin line was how to play this character, the things that he does… but still make him a little likeable so that people relate to him. We didn’t want women to feel like there’s no hope in men. That nothing’s going to change. Men will be men, that’s not the idea. Men are also victims of their own conditioning.
But, you know, you said that the point was also to make him likeable. But do you think that he’s coming across as a good guy?
He’s not a bad guy because it’s not like he doesn’t love his wife. Again, as I said, he’s a victim of his own conditioning. He’s been taught no better. He thinks that because he’s the man of the house, he earns money. That means everyone should just support him. His goals are more important than other people’s happiness or goals. I am not saying that he’s doing the best things possible. Why am I justifying my character? Sorry. But this is what happened on set. I was trying to justify it because I had to play this character. You justify it to yourself that why am I saying it? You find a reason and you get into the skin of it. I think I am doing the same right now.
Any high point that stuck out for you in the film?
For my character, I thought when I say sorry to my boss was the point where I felt that we actually do that in our lives. We might not say sorry to the people we love but if there’s a boss, if there’s someone who we know can leave us anytime they want you would approach it very differently than to people who are there for us all the time.
If something like this were to happen to you, what will you do?
She should. You hit someone when you don’t have an IQ. If we have an argument and I have no argument left, that’s the time I would get into a physical alteration.
Any other scene that you were nervous about?
I was nervous about shooting the scene with Kumud sir because I have loved him as an actor. He doesn’t play with anything. He’s just a natural actor, a naturally gifted actor. When he would deliver his dialogues, I would be lost in his eyes. It made me feel really bad about myself. Because he’s so good he makes you feel like you know nothing.
Because there has been a lot of comparisons, so I just have to ask this question. ‘Kabir Singh’ came and there was this one dialogue which has been taken in the film. But as an actor, Kabir Singh’s role is very meaty. There’s a lot to do. If this role came to you, would you have done it?
I’ll be very honest here. At that time if it had come, I would have obviously taken it up because you’re an actor and you’re waiting for a film to come to you. So, you don’t have many choices. If that would have happened later in my career, maybe I would have still taken it up and said, ‘Can you please remove the slap?’ You are not spoilt for choices when you’re just starting out and when you struggle for so many years and go get a film. I would have a discussion with the director. And that line wasn’t in the film. It was the director’s interview. Now that’s his opinion. I cannot say his opinion is wrong, because he can say my opinion is wrong.
You’ve been in the industry for about ten years now. I am sure there’s been a journey. What is it that stands out for you? What have you learnt?
This industry actually demands a lot of patience. And I have been patient for so many years. I have kept on working. I started as an assistant casting director with Shanoo Sharma then Mukesh Chhabra and assisted in ads just to make money and I didn’t want to sit at home and acting is the only thing I want to do and I know how to do. And if I didn’t have the patience, my parents had the patience. So, they kind of supported me throughout.
Video Editor: Ashish Maccune
Cameraperson: Sanjoy Deb
Asst. Cameraperson: Gautam Sharma