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Deepika Padukone: I’ve made several mistakes, choices… I’ve grown to be comfortable being who I am

As actor Deepika Padukone's latest film Gehraiyaan continues to make waves, she speaks about baring one's vulnerabilities, being less judgemental, and finding her mind and body balance

deepika padukoneEven though Gehraiyaan has polarised viewers, the consensus is that Deepika Padukone is captivating as Alisha.

In the high-stake world of mainstream Hindi cinema, it’s considered imprudent to bare one’s vulnerabilities. Yet, actor Deepika Padukone hasn’t hesitated to do that. For her latest feature Gehraiyaan (released last week), she upped the ante on the glamour front to lead one of the buzziest film promotions in recent times. Her spectacular sartorial choices exuded power and celebrated her innate sense of fashion. These outings were also marked by the 36-year-old actor talking about mental health, empathy and the importance of finding work-life balance. It seemed as if Padukone was poised at a key transformative point of her life — pushing herself as an artiste and living life on her own terms.

Even though Gehraiyaan — streaming on Amazon Prime — has polarised viewers unlike any other recent releases, the consensus is that Padukone is captivating as Alisha. Her stellar performance can be credited to her belief that the stories of “messed-up” people shouldn’t be brushed aside, even as she deep dives into understanding her character. “Normally, it is considered taboo to be vulnerable, emotional and honest. You can be all these things through cinema,” says the actor. She inhabits the character of Alisha, a Mumbai-based yoga instructor, who wrestles with personal demons and childhood trauma even as she aspires to make it big professionally.

Deepika Padukone in a still from Gehraiyaan. (Photo: Prime Video)

Padukone not only flaunts the fabulous, sculpted body of a yogini with a messy bun, but also owns the slouches, sighs, frustrations and weariness of her on-screen persona. She describes Alisha as “confused and conflicted”. Her role, Padukone says, has further nudged her to be more empathetic even though she already was on the path of being “less judgemental”. She says, “You might have seen me portray raw and real emotions earlier but I would say that I have pushed myself a little more in Gehraiyaan.” The process of portraying Alisha left the actor “completely stripped” emotionally. That justifies why Padukone was director Shakun Batra’s first and only choice for this layered character.

Batra, who directed the romantic comedy Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012) and the critically acclaimed family drama Kapoor & Sons (2016), has also co-written Gehraiyaan. He says, “Soon after I started writing the script, I was convinced that Deepika should be Alisha. So, I wrote the character for her. I started bringing little things that I had noticed about her.” After joining the project, Padukone contributed to building the character. Alisha has to deal with anxiety and Padukone shared details of her own struggle with anxiety and depression. “I can’t quantify what Deepika brought to the film. It was the smaller discussions, nuances, detailing or just the breath work for a character like hers that mattered so much,” says the 39-year-old director. On the sets, he says, Padukone merged with her on-screen persona. “Every time we met on the set, I only saw her as Alisha,” he says.

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Shakun Batra and Deepika Padukone on the set of Gehraiyaan. (Photo: Shakun Batra/Instagram)

Padukone has been letting her characters take her to unfamiliar territories. “Every character that I’ve played has pushed me and taken me to places that I don’t visit often. To be able to do this is the most thrilling part of being an actor,” she says. She cites playing the character of self-assured Tara in Tamasha (2015), the irritable but sensitive architect in Piku (2015), studious Naina in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) as some of her immersive acting experiences. Her body of work also includes playing feisty and free-spirited Veronica in Cocktail (2012), headstrong Leela in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013), lonely widow Angie in Finding Fanny (2014) and acid-attack survivor Malti in Chhapaak (2020).

As Padukone reaffirms her artistic flair with Gehraiyaan, her co-star and spouse Ranveer Singh, has emerged as her vociferous cheerleader. Singh says, “Ever since I’ve known Deepika (for about 10 years now), I’ve always observed this about her — she is somebody with an extremely high emotional quotient; she has a deep sense of empathy. This God-given gift that she possesses makes her one of the finest actors that Hindi cinema has ever seen. She has a process that fascinates me because it’s extremely different from mine. It’s an ‘inside out’ process. She manages to internalise the emotional beats of her character. You never see that process externally while she is preparing herself. She’s a thorough professional and a virtuoso performer.” Calling her “an uncompromising actor”, he says that it is a sheer delight to act opposite her.

Deepika Padukone with husband actor Ranveer Singh. (Photo: Ranveer Singh/Instagram)

An endorsement of Padukone’s craft has also come from screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi, who created Padukone’s landmark character, Piku. Chaturvedi had lived with the story of Piku and its characters for a year when Padukone stepped in to essay the titular lead. “After Deepika came on board, in a short span of time, she had to absorb all the nuances — the larger point that the film was trying to make and the finer traits of her own character,” says Chaturvedi.

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As a director, Shoojit Sircar wouldn’t have wanted to dictate one precise tone for Padukone in Piku. There is an unpredictability in her circumstances which make her mood and reactions fluctuate. “There was Piku’s frustration, concern, anger, irritation, deep love, motherly behaviour, argumentative streak — nothing was permanent. These layered performances are achieved when you are brave enough to shed your own existence and allow yourself to be immersed in the unknown and yet what you perform, comes out from your own deep core,” says Chaturvedi, and adds that Piku will “forever be one of Deepika’s best”.

Deepika Padukone in Shoojit Sircar’s Piku.

Denmark-born Padukone — the elder daughter of former World No. 1 badminton player Prakash Padukone and Ujjala Padukone — has a packed slate ahead with a bunch of fascinating and diverse projects. She reunites with Shah Rukh Khan on screen after Happy New Year (2014) for action thriller Pathan. She will team up with Prabhas and Hrithik Roshan for the first time for much-anticipated Project K and Fighter, respectively.

Meanwhile, she has made a major departure from the industry’s way of working. “I don’t work for more than eight hours a day. It has taken some time to adjust to this routine. In India, people have this mindset that they must work round the clock to get the maximum output. I don’t agree with that,” says the actor. Words of appreciation for her also came from actor Jacqueline Fernandez who told Karan Johar during a chat show that Padukone is “an actress with the right attitude”.

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Deepika made her Hindi film debut with Om Shanti Om.

Padukone entered the Hindi film industry with Om Shanti Om (2007), a major commercial success. Her career spanning 15 years has been a period of “a lot of learning” and reinventions. “In Om Shanti Om, I was protected and presented so beautifully. Thereafter, I have made many choices and some mistakes along the way. In the process, I have grown to be comfortable being who I am,” she says. However, “being at peace” with herself required effort. “I feel confident on days when my mind and body are in balance. Discipline and focus take you to that place. Otherwise, in today’s world, there are so many things that can throw you off,” says the actor. In 2015, she set up LiveLoveLaugh Foundation, which works towards reducing stigma around mental illness. Three years later, she founded Ka Productions, whose third production is supposed to be the remake of Anne Hathaway-starrer The Intern (2015).

Even though she has taken up several roles, the actor-turned-producer seems to manage them all without dropping the ball. The answer to how she does it all probably lies in her personality. Padukone comes back to her sense of style to explain that she is many different things. “By now, the world knows that I love white, pastel, cream and beige. But I also love neons, pink, red, and fuchsia. It’s a reflection of my personality. People assume I am poised, elegant and borderline-boring. However, people who know me are aware of my fun and silly side. Both these personalities are me,” she says.

QUICK FIVE

Next career move — turning writer or director?

Five years ago, I didn’t know that I would be a producer. As of now, I can’t take on more than what I’m doing. But never say never.

What would you do to unwind — gardening or baking?

I love to do both. If I have to choose, then baking.

Favourite treat, chocolate or cake?

Cake.

For timepass, sports or old romantic movies?

Romantic movie.

Favourite travel destinations — mountains or beaches?

Beaches.

First published on: 20-02-2022 at 06:10 IST
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