The Taapsee starrer Game Over is unlike any other thriller or a home invasion film in recent times. In a span of just over 100 minutes, Game Over packs in so many themes and a positive message about fighting back and facing your battles apart from some genuine jump scare moments, that the film has been hailed as a game changer and quite rightfully so.
Directed by Ashwin Saravanan, the film has Taapsee playing Swapna, a video game programmer, who is fighting the demons of her past, and how her life changes when she finds inspiration to not give up.
In her first interview post the film’s release, Taapsee opens up about what intrigued her about the script, the challenges she faced during the shoot, and why Game Over is a sensitive thriller. Excerpts from the interview:
Prior to Game Over’s release, you said you chose this story out of the two which Ashwin Saravanan had pitched to you. At what point during the narration did you feel that you had to do the film, no matter what?
Ashwin doesn’t like giving a narration, so he emailed me the entire script. Right from the word go, I had a feeling that I had to give my 100% attention to finish reading the script. It wasn’t like any other slasher film or home invasion thriller that I had come across. I was bowled over with the layers that the script had, and the deeper meaning that it wanted to convey. I knew that people will have their own interpretation of the film and that’s the beauty of the script. The way I saw it was - Game Over is about fighting your inner demons all by yourself and no one is going to help you. Life won’t let you go without a fight.
In the film, Swapna (the role I played) always tries to seek help and support from others. It’s only when she gets out of the loop that she takes control of her life. It’s hard to slot the film as a thriller, isn’t it?
The backstory of Swapna, before she has a big face-off with the faceless men, was a big surprise for me. Was there anything that came as a surprise for you while reading the script?
Honestly, I had no idea about the concept of a memorial tattoo and even ‘anniversary reaction’. I had to Google them to check if they were real (laughs). Moreover, the film doesn’t have any significant villains. We don’t know who they are or what their stories are. The faceless men were more a metaphor for the darkness in Swapna’s life and her journey towards the end, as she tries to survive; it was a beautiful allegory to how she fights her own fears. This was all so seamlessly layered in the script.
The way I looked at this story was - Game Over starts where Pink ends. This was about how the protagonist overcame her own limitations. I wouldn’t have done the film had she taken a path to take revenge on her rapist. In fact, I turned down more than 20 scripts after Pink because they all had the same characterisation that I had in Pink.
You have often played fearless characters in your career so far, and it coincides with your personality off-screen too; however, Game Over flipped the equation completely, isn’t it? How did you internalise the fear and trauma that Swapna has gone through?
In most of the roles that I’ve played so far, I’ve used my energy and confidence to my advantage. I’m not scared and I’m usually fighting back. But I didn’t have that option in Game Over. Swapna is not like how I’m in my real life. She doesn’t have a family or a strong support system. After a traumatic incident in her life, she chooses to work from home because she’s no longer confident. To play someone, who’s scared of darkness for 12-14 hours at a stretch for 25 days, is not my thing. Usually, when I don’t relate to a character, I psyche my mind to believe that I’m that person, but playing Swapna drained me out mentally and physically.
Was it easy to switch off from that zone?
It was very depressing, while I was shooting for the film. I had to entertain myself playing Ludo on the sets, watching comedy shows and meeting friends often. Taking off the cast, between the shots, wasn’t an option because it’s an arduous task to put it back on. So, I ended up being on the wheelchair for hours altogether. I remember telling my sister (Shagun Pannu) that I wasn’t feeling good about all this. I was getting scared of being alone. She has been through this drill in the past too (laughs). I had to take a vacation for a week as soon as the shoot ended just to feel normal again.
What was the process of working with Ashwin Saravanan and writer Kaavya Ramkumar like? Was there anything in the film where your view differed from what they had in mind?
Game Over is easily the best collaborative process that I’ve experienced in my career in south Indian cinema so far. Prior to the shoot, Ashwin and Kaavya met me in Mumbai for a couple of days, and we dissected every scene in the script. I was quite open about what I felt about some of the scenes - ones where I thought only a woman would know what it would feel like when she’s put in that situation.
For instance, the coffee shop scene where Swapna sees a couple of men staring at her and her reaction after she walks out of the coffee shop were written quite differently in the initial draft. Ashwin and Kavya opined that Swapna would go back home and have a major face-off with Kalamma and she would scream and break down. But I felt that Swapna wouldn’t want to face anyone or even be seen by anyone in that situation. It seemed more organic to me that Swapna wouldn’t want to show her suffering to others, so she prefers to be away from even those who are closest to her. There were quite a few other instances like this, and Ashwin was very welcoming to such suggestions and incorporated them in the script.
In Bollywood, actors and directors are a lot more open about such things, and they find a middle ground to portray a certain role. But in south Indian films, we aren’t given much of a choice because a lot of times, you arrive on a film set and the director tells you exactly what he wants you to do. In the initial stages of my career, I wasn’t very confident about expressing my opinion, but now that I’m in better control of my craft, I’m able to communicate with the directors in a better way.
In terms of shooting a particular scene, which was particularly demanding physically or emotionally, was there anything which was really tough for you?
Game Over had plenty of long single takes, especially in the latter half of the film. Ashwin’s team built a huge rig which was attached to the wheelchair, and I had to wheel myself and the rig in quite a few scenes. I wasn’t sure if I could do it smoothly. This was an important task for me because when you are in a game, the player is in front of you. It gives a feeling that you (the viewer) are Swapna. I had to do this for days altogether because we had to repeat this process for three iterations.
As far as emotional scenes are concerned, I feel that I can pull them off easily in Hindi. In Game Over, there’s an intense dialogue where I say - “I haven’t slept for days altogether and it’s not enough that he’s in jail.” I surprised myself there because I felt that strong emotion which I would have had if I had said these lines in Hindi. Ashwin also likes that scene that a lot. So, I’ve something to cherish about!
One of my favourite moments, in terms of your performance, is the scene where you have your first panic attack, when you go into the store room. You really encapsulated the trauma that the character goes through in that scene. And then, your reaction in a lot of scenes made me wonder if I was watching a horror film or a thriller...
The first panic attack scene was also one of the first scenes that we had shot. I had to break down how I was going to do it, in my head, because I knew that it can’t feel abrupt. I had to imagine my biggest fears and channelise all that emotion into my performance. Prior to the shoot, I was quite specific that Ashwin and the cinematographer Vasanth capture most of my performance in the first take itself. I told them that I am going to give my 100% in the first take, and the subsequent takes would feel more like a compromise. Thankfully, everything worked out well.
When you force yourself to give your best, it really takes a toll on you emotionally. Your heartbeat rises and so does your blood pressure. It takes me a few seconds to get back to my normal state after the shot. The amazing part about Game Over is that it’s the thriller part of it that gives you the jumpscares. The tattoo is the supernatural element in the story, but it’s not horror in a conventional way.
It was also interesting to see how cleverly Game Over addresses PTSD and cancer, and sends a positive message to fight back. The themes don’t seem exploitative per se, which could have been the case in most other films…
Absolutely. That’s something which stood out for me while reading the script too. The connection between the two women, and how one gives courage to the other person to fight back, is seamless. The writing is the hero of the film. I could also relate a lot to the whole ‘fight like a girl’ theme in the story. There were lots of layers like these in the story. I can totally understand that people would enjoy the twists and turns in a film like Badla. On the other hand, I would call Game Over as a sensitive thriller. The more you discuss the film, the more you realise that it encompasses so much more than what it seems like. It’s rare to find such a film.
There’s a major shift in the tone and even the genre of the film once the game begins in the second half of the film. How did you interpret the iterations that your character gets to survive?
That aspect is pretty much open to interpretation and I’m eager to see what people think of it. Some people might not get it, and it’s the trickiest part of the narrative, but that’s completely fine. My assumption of the iterations was that they were more like premonitions that Amudha is giving Swapna because she had faced the same group of serial killers in the past. But then, there can’t be only one right answer to this.
You said you dug into your deepest fears to play your role in Game Over. What’s your biggest fear in life?
The biggest fear I have is not having a support system…the fear of losing my family. The very thought makes me feel very sad and depressed. What scares me even more is that in future when I lose my family, it would all feel like deja vu. I would be confused if it has happened for real or if I’m just acting again, because I have tapped this fear so many times to perform better. I guess, this is the price you pay for being an actor.