PBL team owner Taapsee Pannu shuttles between screen and sport

Pune 7 Aces co-owner Taapsee Pannu (centre) with Carolina Marin and her coach Fernando Rivas. Pune 7 Aces

For a movie star who lives by the Friday, Taapsee Pannu is strikingly detached. A qualified software engineer, she speaks of her films, her wedding planning company and her latest entrepreneurial venture of co-owning a sports league team almost like they belong together in her head. Their varied nature and demands allow her to dunk herself into each without being too invested in the returns. What she calls a 'heart-over-head' rule.

So far, this brave approach has been working well for her.

This season, Taapsee, who was one of Bollywood's biggest draws in 2018 and describes herself as an "obsessive sport lover", entered the Premier Badminton League (PBL) as co-owner of the Pune 7 Aces franchise and confesses that she knew well that neither money nor results were assured.

Unlike its star-decked sporting league cousins -- the Indian Super League (ISL) and the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) -- the PBL, barring Taapsee, is bereft of celebrity owners. But it's still early days and she isn't mapping business goals and break-even points just yet. "I honestly believe that when you pursue your passion with a measure of strategy, anything can be commercially viable," Taapsee tells ESPN. "Just pure passion may not give you a good plan to make business out of it or alternatively when you do something totally as part of a plan but don't connect with it personally, it can be quite futile.

"I tried doing things the other way round at the beginning of my career in South Indian movies where I picked films based on what could be a right choice for me and told myself I could figure out if I enjoyed it later. It didn't work well for me. So I switched and decided to let my heart lead my mind, whether in choices of films or business ventures. It's all more instinctive now."

In India, sporting leagues have grown to be synonymous with celebrity owners. It started with the Indian Premier League (IPL) back in 2008 when A-list actors jumped on the bandwagon, hurling themselves into the belly of action and carving out slots out of their busy schedules to be part of this travelling caravan for weeks together. The ISL and the PKL, which were baptized into the calendar in 2013, followed suit. Today, there are as many as 11 actors actively lending their face or wallets across these three leagues. For a country that adores its stars, to pluck them out of the big screen, pitch them in stadium galleries in team jerseys and bring them into living rooms before a primetime television audience is seen as the surest success pathway because they come with massive existing fan bases and loyalties.

Actors such as Shah Rukh Khan and Abhishek Bachchan in fact have their monies riding on more than one league. While Bachchan co-owns a team each in the ISL and the PKL, Khan, with his acquisition of the Cape Town Knight Riders team in 2017, became the first Indian movie star to have his purse split across three leagues (all cricket) -- the Caribbean Premier League, South Africa's Global T20 League and the IPL.

"I think each league can be different and I didn't really sit down with any of my actor friends who already own teams before I took the plunge," says Taapsee. "I'd grown addicted to badminton over the past few years and felt it was time to take that love to the next level. Also, now is when I can afford to buy one."

Beyond business sense, it was voice of a pigtailed little girl inside her who spent her breaks from school playing on the streets for whole days, forgetting lunch and ignoring dinner calls that pushed her towards this dream. "Growing up, I played different sports -- badminton, basketball and volleyball -- but never pursued any seriously. That's just the way I am -- a jack of all trades. One morning I may wake up and not be an actor anymore. It shouldn't bring my life crashing down."

Taapsee, though, is no newbie to the badminton league scene. Already a movie star in the South, she was picked to be the face of the Hyderabad franchise when the $1 million prize purse, six-city Indian Badminton League (IBL) was born right after Saina Nehwal's London Olympics bronze medal in 2012. The league soon ran into financial difficulties and the PBL took its spot in 2013. A lot, she says, has changed since. "The kind of transformation badminton has seen from the IBL days to what it's today, is phenomenal," she says. "I think the potential of the sport is yet to be exploited fully but just the kind of TRPs and the interest, say, a player like PV Sindhu's matches at big events and finals generate, says a lot."

Currently, Taapsee's team Pune 4 Aces are placed fourth in the standings with 17 points from 30 matches while Bangalore Raptors are a spot below at 13 points from just 20 matches. Her team may not eventually go through to the semi-finals this edition, but she's in no hurry.

"I'm in this for the long haul," she says. "It may take two or three years but eventually we'll get there. I know I love the sport enough to be able to survive, push and reach a level where one fine day it all comes together and makes business sense. I used to be a stickler for quick results, but sport has changed that about me. I'm a lot calmer and patient now. I've learnt to hang in and wait my turn."