The New Dream Girl

Big brands. Big­ger block­busters. The ir­re­sistible rise of Deepika Padukone.

India Today - - FRONT PAGE - Text by GAY­A­TRI JA­YARA­MAN Photographs by RO­HIT CHAWLA

She stretches her legs like a cat, mak­ing use of the ex­tra room in busi­ness class. Her long, black sun-dress is cling­ing to her toned, lu­mi­nous body. “When gay men tell you they would go straight for you, it’s the ul­ti­mate com­pli­ment,” she whispers, look­ing out of the win­dow as the plane lands at Goa air­port. In that mo­ment, Deepika Padukone, 27, is not a woman afraid of her sex­u­al­ity. Un­like many oth­ers of her age and in her po­si­tion—im­age con­scious, hes­i­tant to re­veal more than their care­fully crafted pub­lic re­la­tions spin would have you see—she is in­tent on be­ing per­ceived as hon­est.

This raw­ness is in­te­gral to who Deepika is. The equa­tion is sim­ple for her: Since she can­not feign af­fec­tion or es­tab­lish sub­sis­tence-level niceties, it is nec­es­sary to se­duce, and fall in love with, ev­ery­one. “There comes a time when I give my­self so com­pletely

to the role that it be­comes nec­es­sary. I am the char­ac­ter. And I must, in that process, fall in love with ev­ery­one I work with,” she says.

It is a qual­ity that at­tracts a bur­geon­ing en­tourage of loy­al­ists, but it is a risky game to play. To make her way from the monochro­matic Shanti of Om Shanti Om (2007) to the bold, se­duc­tive Leela of

Ram-Leela (forth­com­ing), she has had to break out of her shy babe-in-the-woods co­coon to emerge as a con­fi­dent, full­blooded woman, an un­par­al­leled meta­mor­pho­sis in Bol­ly­wood.

Barely six years into the film in­dus­try, she is now an ac­tor with Rs 700 crore rid­ing on her. She has signed 11 top-end en­dorse­ment deals, in­clud­ing one that makes her the fu­ture face of Lux soaps. She has starred in three box-of­fice block­busters this year alone: Race 2 (Rs 110 crore), Yeh Jawaani Hai Dee­wani

(Rs 184.79 crore), and

Chen­nai Ex­press (Rs 218.29 crore). She is on the cusp of a fourth hit with San­jay

Leela Bhansali’s Ram

Leela. In terms of her peers, she has inched past her clos­est ri­vals Ka­t­rina Kaif, whose films col­lected Rs 319 crore in 2012 and whose year now rides

on the strength of Dhoom 3, and Son­akshi Sinha, who has col­lected less than Rs 100 crore this year.

Va­jir Singh, ed­i­tor of the trade maga

zine, Box Of­fice In­dia, points out that Deepika is also num­ber one in terms of per­son­al­ity. “She scores high­est with trade peo­ple, film­mak­ers, ad­ver­tis­ers, coac­tors. She builds re­la­tion­ships. Scripts are writ­ten keep­ing her in mind—that alone says a lot about an ac­tor,” he says.

FIND­ING HER­SELF

Daugh­ter of bad­minton cham­pion Prakash Padukone, Deepika be­gan mod­el­ling at eight. Her mother Uj­jala Padukone, 55, says she al­ways wanted to be num­ber one at what­ever she did but her new-found bal­ance has as­tounded even the par­ents. “She’s got her metic­u­lous­ness from me, and the abil­ity to tackle suc­cess from her fa­ther. But the sheer ma­tu­rity with which she han­dles her ca­reer sur­prises us ev­ery day,” Uj­jala says.

More so be­cause, for a while in be­tween, ev­ery­one thought she’d lost the plot. She rode the ini­tial eu­pho­ria of the dream launch in Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) and Love Aaj Kal (2009), but failed to cap­i­talise on it. She strug­gled from

Karthik Call­ing Karthik in 2010 to Desi Boyz in 2011, pick­ing ei­ther bad roles or good roles in films that did badly. The tabloids re­ferred to her as Ran­bir Kapoor’s cur­rent or ex—tags that seemed to gain prece­dence over any oth­ers that she could find at the time.

To­wards the end of 2011, some­thing sud­denly changed. “Her takes are in­tu­itive. She has evolved through ex­pe­ri­ence and heart­break to achieve hu­man un­der­stand­ing. I have been more crit­i­cal of her than most. I thought she had lost it. But some­how she has reached a whole new level of un­der­stand­ing,” says Farah Khan, her di­rec­tor in the forth­com­ing Happy New

Year, which also stars Shah Rukh Khan. Deepika has found her craft, and by ex­ten­sion, she’s found her­self.

Shortly af­ter her split with Ran­bir, she bought a new sea-fac­ing home in the heart of Mum­bai’s Prab­hadevi area on the 26th floor of Beau­Monde apart­ments. The flat, then priced at Rs 16 crore, is to­day worth Rs 25 crore. On its wooden sun deck, her van­tage point above the world, she sits in the lo­tus po­si­tion on the floor. It is evening, and this is her quiet spot. Dressed in a wispy white kaf­tan, her face shorn of make-up, her in­can­des­cence ac­cen­tu­ated by 50 flick­er­ing can­dles scat­tered through the house, she looks serene, self-as­sured, and at peace.

The gated high-rise is not the typ­i­cal choice for film stars, who usu­ally live in Ban­dra or Juhu. Here, Deepika is the girl-next-door. She bumps into neigh­bours in the el­e­va­tor or at the pool area. “I love the smells and sounds and feel of home,” she says. Its gold walls, red vel­vet sofa, ma­hogany pan­elling and brass cof­fee ta­bles, all styled by old fam­ily

Ma­tu­rity is not be­com­ing a dif­fer­ent per­son, it’s ac­cept­ing the per­son you have al­ways been in your core.”

friend Vinita Chai­tanya, un­der­line where she comes from. “Ma­tu­rity is not be­com­ing a dif­fer­ent per­son, it’s ac­cept­ing the per­son you have al­ways been in your core,” she says.

Ram-Leela di­rec­tor Bhansali sums up her friendly but elu­sive dream girl per­sona with his inim­itable po­etic flour­ish. “She is beau­ti­ful, grace­ful but pun­gent. Her face perched on that swan-like neck. She is colour. She is fire.”

LOVE’S LESSONS

Once some­one en­ters Deepika’s world, it is hard to exit. This per­haps springs from her self-pro­fessed “des­per­ate need to be loved”. “I can­not stand con­flict and I will do any­thing to get past it,” she says, legs folded un­der her on the dresser chair in her ex­plic­itly girlie pink-and-grey van­ity van. It’s a re­mark that ex­plains why she mends re­la­tion­ships with a vengeance. Deepika has stayed friends with all exes, and con­tin­ues to work with them—from model Ni­har Pandya to Ran­bir. “When you’re in a re­la­tion­ship, you take so much from each other. I be­lieve peo­ple come into your life for a rea­son,” she says. She de­scribes Ran­bir as a “pos­i­tive in­flu-

Ev­ery

din­ner date is not a re­la­tion­ship. Feel­ings take time; the world doesn’t give ac­tors time.”

ence” and adds that her re­la­tion­ships have changed her in small ways, mak­ing her more cer­tain of what she wants in a part­ner. “But it’s not like I keep a check­list. That would be like gro­cery shop­ping for a mate,” she says. All she once dreamed of was a man who would be tall, dark, and hand­some. To­day, some­one who is gen­uine and hon­est is the key.

Ask about her Ram-Leela co-star Ran­veer Singh and she says the world has a prob­lem with a man and a woman hang­ing out. “Ev­ery din­ner date isn’t a re­la­tion­ship. Feel­ings take time to de­velop, and the world does not give ac­tors that time,” she says, be­fore has­ten­ing to add, “I have never met any­one quite like Ran­veer in the in­dus­try though. He’s so true to him­self, so un­af­fected. He has also been a very pos­i­tive in­flu­ence in my life. He does his own thing, I do mine.” Make of that state­ment what­ever you will.

Deepika de­scribes her­self as tra­di­tional in love. Even if she likes some­one, she never makes the first move. Break­ing up is hard but she’s learnt not to wal­low. Her ideas on life, love and mar­riage are shaped by her par­ents. Mother Uj­jala was a grad­u­ate of Sy­den­ham Col­lege and grew up on south Mum­bai’s Ped­der Road, where Deepika’s grand­fa­ther still lives. Uj­jala wanted to be an airhost­ess with Air In­dia but was for­bid­den. She joined the ground staff in­stead, and there she met her sec­ond cousin, Prakash, who would rou­tinely pass through Bom­bay on tour­na­ments. The two fell in love and were se­cretly en­gaged for four years. “Four years and no one knew,” says Deepika, her eyes twin­kling at the mis­chief of their se­crecy. “Imag­ine that!”

WORLD IN HER STRIDE

Deepika’s con­fi­dence is borne out of hold­ing her fail­ures as dear as her suc­cesses. She takes good na­tured

rib­bing about less suc­cess­ful roles in her stride. Chandni Chowk to China (2009), she ad­mits, was “dis­as­trous” but her ac­tion se­quences from the film have still made it to her showreel. “Why do you need a showreel at all?” asks di­rec­tor Homi Ada­ja­nia, with whom she is shoot­ing Find­ing Fanny, and who has over­heard snatches of the con­ver­sa­tion. “Hol­ly­wood jaana hai na (I have to go to Hol­ly­wood, af­ter all),” Deepika replies naugh­tily.

Her fa­ther Prakash, 57, says her in­stinct to bounce back comes from her ath­letic train­ing. “You can­not be a sports­man if you do not know how to lose, how to an­a­lyse your faults and en­sure that you don’t make them again. It’s a sports­man’s in­stinct that’s in her,” he says. “We al­ways told our daugh­ters to be level-headed, never make en­e­mies, never re­tal­i­ate,” he says, re­fer­ring also to his younger daugh­ter Anisha, 22, a golfer.

The role that Deepika most iden­ti­fies with is Naina from Yeh Jawaani Hai Dee­wani— so­cially awk­ward as a child, con­ven­tional in her be­liefs. “If I were to break out, that is the way in which I would,” she says, re­fer­ring to Naina’s post-in­ter­mis­sion trans­for­ma­tion. Roles that per­son­ify who she is at heart, her life, and her strug­gles are the ones she best iden­ti­fies with. “Women come up to me af­ter my films and tell me that they can con­nect with me,” she says. “This feed­back has be­come vi­tal for me—this link with them, and with my­self.” She is al­most apolo­getic about her Sex and the City- style walk-in closet that houses her large col­lec­tion of shoes, ac­ces­sories and clothes. “This is the main rea­son why I took this flat ac­tu­ally. I re­ally needed the space,” she says.

It’s the mid­dle of the af­ter­noon at Fa­mous Stu­dios, Ma­ha­laxmi. “Dee,” calls out Prasad Naik, her trusted pho­tog­ra­pher of six years, to in­di­cate the shot is ready. The ath­lete in her comes to life. She looks down, suck­ing in en­ergy like a long jumper ready­ing for a leap. When she looks up again, she has re­ceded into her in­ner happy space. Her ears lis­ten only for the shut­ter click as she changes pos­tures. She’s hav­ing so much fun that three shots down, her smile has ex­ploded into a full-throated laugh­ter. She must pause and go through the rou­tine again. In that mo­ment, Deepika is not a woman afraid of her sex­u­al­ity. The room watches help­lessly, un­able to peel its eyes away.

GETTY IM­AGES

YOGEN SHAH

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