I'm not saying ambition is a bad thing, but life is unpredictable. I don't know what I'm going to be doing in the second half of next year. I don't know what kind of films will be written, and if they will come to me. Even if you work really hard on a film, you don't know if it will turn out the way you want it to," says Deepika Padukone
, 30 minutes into our conversation inside a black sedan purring its way from the western suburb of Andheri to Prabhadevi, where the actor lives in Mumbai. The 28-year-old has just finished shooting a scene for Shoojit Sircar
's forthcoming film Piku
(where she acts alongsideAmitabh Bachchan
and Irrfan Khan
) at a bungalow and is to leave for Varanasi the following day for its final schedule of shooting with Khan.
Padukone, dressed in a blue top and jeans, looks relaxed, and promises that the next interview will be stationary. She laughs with ease, but jokes with a straight face. "I am naturally drawn to love stories. I don't like calling them romcoms'. Ask a guy if he wants to watch a romcom, and he'll definitely say no," she says.
Piku is the story of a father and daughter, the father played by Bachchan. "We don't talk about these kind of relationships"father-daughter, mother-son in our films. I have a lot of faith in this film, and if people don't feel the same way about it, I'd be really disappointed," she says.
Deepika Padukone in Happy New Year.
Judging by the past couple of years she has had, Padukone shouldn't have to worry about an intractable audience. According to the film trade website Box Office India, of the 199 Hindi films that released this year, one was a blockbuster"Salman Khan
"and four were super hits, which included Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan
-starrer Happy New Year
. Last year, she delivered three blockbusters according to Koimoi.com, another trade website: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
'sGoliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela
, which was an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet
set in Gujarat, Chennai Express
with Shah Rukh Khan, which crossed the Rs.100-crore mark at the box office in four days and went on to make more than Rs.200 crore, and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
with Ranbir Kapoor
. Her debut Hindi film Om Shanti Om
(2007) was also a blockbuster as was her 2009 film Love Aaj Kal
. At present, she is the highest paid female star of Hindi cinema and earns around Rs.4-5 crore per film, saysKomal Nahta
, who edits the film trade journal, Film Information
A film is termed a semi-hit if it doubles its money on cost of production (which includes marketing the film) in box-office collections from national theatres; a superhit or blockbuster is based on the size of profits thereafter. These figures do not take into account collections from global theatres and television rights.
Padukone has also acted with Rajinikanth
, the 64-year-old south Indian superstar, in Kochadaiiyaan: The Legend
, which released in May. In September, a low-budget road film called Finding Fanny
hit the theatres"it released in both English and Hindi. Padukone shot for it in September 2013.
Padukone in Finding Fanny.
"A lot of people said, what are you doing? Will the film be likeBeing Cyrus
? You've just come out of four big commercial hits, are you sure you want to do this? I don't think that much. I just go with the flow. I had a month off, and I wanted to be in Goa with these guys," says Padukone, whose filmography is a long list of romantic comedy-dramas, but also includes oddballs like Finding Fanny
, whose director Homi Adajania
's first film was the English-language Being Cyrus
starring Saif Ali Khan
, Simone Singh
, Dimple Kapadia
and Naseeruddin Shah
. In Finding Fanny
, Padukone played a young Goan widow named Angie, who encourages her friend Ferdie, the village postman played by Shah, to set out in search of his long lost love, Fanny. Kapadia plays Padukone's mother-in-law who gamely accompanies them on the trip, while Arjun Kapoor plays Angie's childhood love, who drives the motley group in a beat-up car.
Adajania, who first directed Padukone in the 2012 hit Cocktail, the film that was a turning point for Padukone, says, "I prefer her performance inFinding Fanny to Cocktail. It is far more layered and nuanced and if you watch her closely in the film, there is an internal complexity that Deepika has brought to the fore. Doing less for an actor is way harder than doing more. Deepika has no idea what her full potential is."
A still from Cocktail.
, written by Imtiaz Ali
, Adajania gave Padukone an opportunity to reinvent herself on screen. She has often said in interviews that there was a connection to her maturing as an actor to what was happening in her personal life"adjusting to being under public gaze in Mumbai after spending her childhood and teenage years in Bengaluru, recovering from a break-up with Ranbir Kapoor that fuelled tabloids much longer than it should have. Cocktail
showed Padukone's transformation even in the stereotyped role of Veronica, a free-spirited woman shown to be a party animal, drinking alcohol in almost every scene, who suddenly metamorphoses into a demure woman in salwar-kameez
in order to win the heart of the man she falls in love with.
But the "potential" Adajania talks of was evident in many of Padukone's earlier works, too, including the ones that didn't quite set the box office on fire. In the 2010 Karthik Calling Karthik
, Padukone acted in her first psychological thriller with Farhan Akhtar
and showed much promise. Later that year, she delivered a measured performance in Lafangey Parindey
as a blind lower middle-class chawl
resident, who dreams of a way out through dance. In Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela
, Padukone's Leela, or Juliet, was mercurial and passionate, and Padukone sparkled in the role. By this year'sHappy New Year
, her steady ascent to the star-actor spot was reaching a high. Her role, a doll named Mohini, gave her little as actor but cemented her stardom in big-budget Hindi cinema.
A song from the Deepika Padukone-starrer Goliyon Ki Raas-Leela Ram Leela'
Her real life"as with other actors"has been fodder for public conversation. "I firmly believe nothing is private any more. We are sitting in the car now, and we can be clicked and it can go up in the public domain tomorrow. There is no private space beyond your own home. Even if I take a picture with a friend and the friend puts it up on Facebook, the next thing I know is someone's picked it up and made an article out of it."
On 14 September, The Times Of India tweeted a link to a year-old video clip of Padukone, with the following text: "OMG: Deepika Padukone's cleavage show!" Padukone responded with the tweet: "YES! I am a woman I have breasts AND a cleavage! You got a problem!?" Her response invited an article on the front page of Bombay Times, the paper's daily entertainment tabloid, which argued that the tweet was valid because Padukone had worn low-necks to events and posed for a calendar in a swimsuit, among other things. It accused her of hypocrisy, saying that it didn't need to make the distinction between her "real" and "reel" life, since she didn't. The piece only ended up objectifying Padukone further and failed to recognize that the actor's choice of clothes, whether for an event or a shoot, did not give them the right to draw a red circle around her chest in a video grab.
With Ranveer Singh in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela
The incident was widely reported even in international papers such asThe Guardian
, and led to public outrage on the representation of women in Indian media, at a time when women's safety was simultaneously being discussed. Padukone appeared on a national news channel explaining her position, and also received support on Twitter from other film stars, including Priyanka Chopra
andShah Rukh Khan
. "I don't want to get into why I did what I did"I've been very clear. But sometimes, when we have the ability to be responsible, we should," she says. "Objectifying me"that is not done."
Padukone's pushback comes at a time when the industry is undergoing seismic changes in its representation of women. As film critic Mayank Shekhar
points out, the inflection point was barely a few years ago, withThe Dirty Picture
paving the way for successful women actor-dominated films. "The younger directors are trying various things with the love story genre, because the typical love story (poor guy, rich girl conflict) doesn't reflect the urban reality of their target audience any more," Shekhar says.
For Padukone, whose next two films are romantic dramas with Ranbir Kapoor titled Tamasha
, and Bhansali's historical Bajirao Mastani
, this seems like the sort of happenstance inscribed in the best sort of Bollywood films: being at the right place at the right time.
But Padukone's success, or indeed that of other women lead actors in Bollywood, isn't about luck at all. "It looks glamorous and like a privileged life, but we work bloody hard to get to where we are," she says. "This is not an easy industry to be in."
Figures and statistics courtesy Box Office India .