This week, the mag­a­zine gives you a break from the bad news of a stum­bling econ­omy and the con­stant RaGa-NaMo slang­ing match on the cam­paign trail. In­stead, we bring you the story of the re­mark­able rise of the duskily beau­ti­ful Deepika Padukone, from a de­mure girl-next-door with a daz­zling smile to a ma­ture, con­fi­dent, ta­lented ac­tor who is now the reign­ing queen of the In­dian film in­dus­try.

Three films that she’s starred in this year have al­ready bro­ken the Rs 100-crore bar­rier at the box of­fice— Race 2, Yeh Jawaani Hai Dee­wani, and Chen­nai Ex­press, in which her whacky Tamil ac­cent was as much a talk­ing point as the re­turn to suc­cess of her co-star Shah Rukh Khan. What makes Deepika truly fas­ci­nat­ing is not merely her block­buster hits or her role in San­jay Leela Bhansali’s highly an­tic­i­pated take on Romeo and Juliet in the forth­com­ing Ram-Leela, but also how she per­fectly em­bod­ies the mod­ern In­dian woman—se­cure about her abil­i­ties, will­ing to learn from her mis­takes, and dar­ing to make it on her own terms.

The daugh­ter of for­mer All-Eng­land bad­minton cham­pion Prakash Padukone, she was a na­tional-level player un­til her mid-teens but had her heart set on a ca­reer in mod­el­ling and cin­ema. She broke stereo­types right from the start—mov­ing to Mum­bai as a 19-year-old, choos­ing a King­fisher cal­en­dar over a Miss In­dia con­test, and, as a suc­cess­ful model, opt­ing for an act­ing course over a seam­less tran­si­tion as a glama­zon.

For­tu­nately for Deepika, her en­try into Hindi cin­ema has co­in­cided with di­rec­tors and ma­jor stu­dios mak­ing films with fresh, con­tem­po­rary sto­ry­lines. They are now writ­ing a wide va­ri­ety of roles for women that are dif­fer­ent from the usual Bol­ly­wood fare of rich girl fall­ing in love with poor boy or suf­fer­ing woman act­ing as silent sup­porter while the an­gry young man wages a war against the sys­tem.

The evo­lu­tion of the Hindi film in­dus­try over the last few years has been dra­matic as the gap be­tween com­mer­cial cin­ema and the art films of the 1980s has been bridged seam­lessly. A film about an ath­lete fin­ish­ing fourth at the 1960 Rome Olympics can now gross Rs 100 crore, as Bhaag Milkha

showed ear­lier this year. Even Chen­nai Ex­press, an out-an-out en­ter­tainer that amassed a record Rs 218 crore at the box of­fice, had at its end a women’s-lib mes­sage.

Se­nior Ed­i­tor Gay­a­tri Ja­yara­man spent four days with Deepika while re­port­ing for the story. She went to her sea-fac­ing apart­ment in Prab­hadevi, to a photo shoot at Fa­mous Stu­dio—both in Mum­bai—and flew with her to a film set in Goa, where Deepika posed for ex­clu­sive photographs by Group Vis­ual Di­rec­tor Ro­hit Chawla. “When shoot­ing gets over, Deepika trans­forms from an on-cam­era diva to reg­u­lar girl in the blink of an eye. She has a way of mak­ing ev­ery­one else feel that they are the im­por­tant ones by talk­ing to them about nor­mal things, such as what they ate for lunch, or what’s play­ing on their iPods. It wins her in­stant loy­alty and af­fec­tion,” says Ja­yara­man.

Deepika’s spirit of in­de­pen­dence cou­pled with tire­less hard work is some­thing young In­dia should take in­spi­ra­tion from. It of­fers us hope that no mat­ter how bad life may get, the en­ergy of our next gen­er­a­tion can even­tu­ally make things right.

On that up­lift­ing note, wish you all a Very Happy and Pros­per­ous Di­wali.


(Aroon Purie)

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