Working alongside the crème de la crème of the industry, strengthening her acting prowess with every act, this leggy lass is adding one hit film after the other to her cache. In a matter of years, from being just another pretty girl on the block, Deepika Padukone has entered the fast lane, becoming one of the front-runners and achieving the most envious position in the industry.
After receiving rave reviews for her last release, CHENNAI EXPRESS, where she shone as strongly if not more than Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika is all set to enthrall her audience with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s RAM-LEELA.
“I didn’t think I would get an opportunity to work with Bhansali Sir so early in my career,” she says excitedly.
Known for representing his heroines in full splendour and for coaxing the best out of them onscreen, it’s most actresses’ dream to work with Sanjay Leela Bhansali. However, the maverick director is also known for his panache for perfection and is a tough taskmaster. Was she not a tad apprehensive about working with him?
“I was nervous, yes, because everyone knows the kind of director he is in terms of the expectation that he has from you as an actor. So, obviously, that is something that gives you cold feet. You sign the film and you are like, ‘Oh my God, hope I can deliver, hope I can live up to his expectations, I hope he is happy with me, I hope I can impress him’…So those thoughts were obviously crossing my mind at that point. But then, he is willing to give you so much as a director, whether it’s his time, whether it’s his preparation, whether it’s his faith while you are doing the scenes… it’s just the most liberating feeling!” She adds like a connoisseur, “And the key is to just go with an empty slate, when you are working with him. He has his own way of moulding you and presenting you. So you kind of leave behind what you have learnt and just go and surrender yourself to him.”
Over her seven-odd years in the industry, Deepika has learnt a lot and sharpened her acting skills along the way. Whether it was Veronica of Cocktail, Naina of Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, or Meenalochini of Chennai Express, it is obvious that she is evolving as an actor with each of her films.
“It is hard work!” comes the instant response. “I think when I started to not worry about the end result and started enjoying myself, it worked for me. See, there is always baggage. Baggage in terms of how a heroine should be, how she should dress, how she should carry herself …there is always that kind of baggage,” she elaborates. “But I think, eventually, you have to stop living for other people. I don’t mean to say you should become selfish; I am talking about this in a very different context. I think being an actor is really about enjoying your work and enjoying the process and not getting bogged down by who is thinking what and who is saying what… It’s really about just being yourself and I think that’s why I am enjoying myself so much right now. I have always believed that you can live for other people or you live for yourself. There will always be something that I do that people might appreciate and there will always be something that I will do that people might not appreciate. Eventually, I should do what makes me happy. I am an actor today because that makes me happy. My parents allowed me to become an actor because they knew it makes me happy. You have to enjoy what you do and, once you start doing that, it will show in your work.”
It’s showing and how! Today, she is touted as Heroine No. 1 in Bollywood. And whether it’s a two-year-old kid or a fifty-plus matron - not to forget the growing populace of men who are falling for her charms - she has made a place for herself in many hearts. How does it feel?
“It’s a nice feeling. When I say it’s a nice feeling, it’s not really about people calling me No. 1 and being on magazine covers or being called No. 1 in trade… Of course, that’s nice too! What is overwhelming is the intangible quality of love and appreciation that you get from your audience and it is beyond just my films. I feel that people are giving me a lot of love for the work that I am doing or for the person that I am. I don’t know what it is that I have done that they are giving me this back in return,” she says humbly, “But whatever it is, it’s a nice feeling. Like I said, it’s not really a tangible thing and it’s not the number or the race or any of that. It’s really the feeling when I step out of the house… It warms my heart!”
While being on the highest pedestal brings in adulation from fans, it certainly turns on the green eye of envy amongst peers. Has the attitude of other actresses changed towards her? After all, she is becoming a favourite with most filmmakers and has also acquired the tag of a blockbuster heroine!
“I don’t know what they are thinking and I don’t think we function like that,” she replies in a politically correct tone. “Everyone is really caught up in their own life. I don’t think anyone really has the mindset to constantly worry about what others are doing. At least, that is not the way I function. So it has never crossed my mind. As I said, what is important for me is the love and appreciation that I am getting from people around me. Today, unknown people feel that they own me and I belong to them. Aunties and young girls…they feel that I am their daughter or their sister and that is a nice feeling.”
Doesn’t it stress or pressurize her that people are expecting more and more from her?
“Pressure? No. I understand one would expect an actor to get better and deliver a lot more with every film and I hope that I live up to that. Like, people were surprised with Cocktail and then they saw me in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani… and liked me, and then there was a Chennai Express and now there is a Ram-Leela. I hope I can deliver to their expectations. However, I am not working with that intention… I am not working with the intention to impress – I am working from the heart. Every shot I do, every interview I do, every interaction I have, it’s straight from my heart and as long as it’s true, it will stand out,” she smiles.
Working with the best in the industry, tasting success and gaining appreciation…what more could she desire?
“I am very happy with what I have today, but am I satisfied? No, I am not satisfied. There is still that drive in me and that fire in me to want to do a little more. It’s not wrong to want and one is never happy with what you have – that is just human nature. You have to have something… you get that and then you want something else. So, yes, I want one more role, one bigger film,” she smiles. “You need that desire because if you are satiated, you will stop giving your best. Therefore, there is a difference between being lazy and believing I have it all – and being overtly ambitious. As a person, you need to have a reality check. And different people have different ways of functioning. For me, there is a larger something that I want to achieve…but at the same time I also tell myself, ‘baby steps’ …a bit at a time.”
While her career is sorted, what’s happening on the personal front? She is often seen hanging out with her co-star Ranveer Singh and rumour mills are buzzing about their alleged clandestine affair…
“The curiosity will always be there, especially when you are doing the kind of film that we are doing now. When there is a lot of intimacy and when there is a lot of chemistry, which was required in a film like Ram-Leela, of course, there is bound to be a lot of speculation,” she puts it simply and adds, “When stories are written, at no point have I ever been asked my point of view. Nobody calls to check – they feel they have the right to write what they want to. Similarly, then I don’t feel the need to clarify. I don’t feel the need to go out there and clarify anything because no amount of me screaming from the rooftop and saying anything is going to change what one wants to eventually write and say. And that’s okay. What is important is that when people go to theatres, I hope they enjoy the two of us on screen and that is the most important thing.”
This article first appeared in November 2013 issue of Cine Blitz magazine