Overnight success is a misnomer. Behind a successful enterprise or an individual are years of frustration and toil. Like running the marathon perhaps? The public sees only the finishing line and the glory it brings the runner.
Deepika Padukone had started her race even before the audience applauded her in her high-profile debut, Om Shanti Om. In fact, director Farah Khan ‘discovered’ her in a Himesh Reshammiya music video!
Deepika’s journey to the top has been carefully thought out and executed (she even took acting lessons), proving yet again how a focused mind can achieve anything.
YourStory presents Deepika’s story in an exclusive interaction with the star where she admits it was her dream to be an actor from a very young age.
Early self assessment
She’s the only actor today who is called a “hero” in the film industry. Six and a half years down the release of her debut film, Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om, Deepika Padukone is the only heroine to have an audience draw all her own, a phenomenon last seen with Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit and to an extent Kajol.
But at one point, she realized that this was not something she wished to do all her life. She had a frank talk with her parents, who encouraged her decision despite their reservations about modeling, and Deepika self-metamorphosed into a svelte, savvy model, shifting to Mumbai eventually.
Maybe the seeds were sown after doing some ads at the age of eight, for she once told me, “I just do whichever films excite me as an actor, because acting is what I planned to do since I can remember!” However, even in her modelling career, Deepika excelled, beginning with a smash-hit debut at the Lakme Fashion Week in 2005.
From there came the chance to do a Himesh Reshammiya video for Aap Ka Suroor (the 2005 chartbuster non-film album), and an offer to play the lead in the Kannada romantic drama, Aishwarya, which became a hit too. Farah Khan saw Deepika in the Himesh video and decided to cast her in Om Shanti Om.
But Deepika, unlike so many models who plunge headlong into the gold rush of movies when offers to act finally come, knew that modeling and films were two completely diverse occupations. She enrolled with Anupam Kher’s acting course before taking up films.
A consistent track-record since the 2012 Cocktail, followed by Race 2 and three 100-crore (domestic nett) films Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Chennai Express and Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela have been just one factor in her phenomenal success story.
More importantly, in a field where many seniors and contemporaries bagged as many or more blockbusters, Deepika stood out by seeing to it that she was not just eye-candy in any of these movies. Still more important, Deepika made it a point to histrionically overshadow each and every co-star in her films, come Saif Ali Khan, John Abraham, Ranbir Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan or Ranveer Singh! Again, something only male superstars down the decades did with consistency!
Add the fact that every role she has done is drastically diverse, and we see what the audience – and thus, also the trade and the industry – saw as special in her: a complete star package of charisma (the most important factor), looks, glamour, talent and versatility.
The right fundas
But all this magic never happened overnight – despite an elite Hindi debut in a double role in a Farah Khan film, that too opposite Shah Rukh Khan in his own production! The determination was always there, the opportunities not so many in her early films, but as soon as the actress began to realize where she stood vis-à-vis where she needed to go, Deepika’s focus changed. And so did her career-graph.
Said the actress to me some years ago, “Whatever format a film may be in, and whatever its genre, it has to be entertaining for me. Farah Khan, Imtiaz Ali and Homi Adajania make totally different kinds of cinema, but they all are entertaining films. Critical acclaim may be important, but entertainment is most important. And the lines between genres are blurring. Delhi Belly was different, but extremely entertaining. And that’s what the audiences, and I as one of them, want.”
Sagely, she looks upon a project also in totality, rather than concentrating on her role alone. “Besides my role exciting or challenging me as an actor, I realize that it is very important to have the correct set-up, like the right banner, and a good director who knows how to entertain audiences,” she added.
Scoffing at another age-old myth, Deepika pragmatically stated, “I do not understand at all how one can be a better actor by doing a certain kind of cinema or by wearing less make-up! At the end of the day, films are also a visual media and I think that it is an actor’s business to look good!”
Even about doing negative roles, the actor understood the fine difference between acting well in them and being loved – or hated – by the audience! A ‘today’ actress, (when stars are closer to their fans through the media) she rightly feels that it is vital that the audience loves you, unlike “so many villains of the past who did their work so well that viewers started believing that they were really evil!”
Finally, when her career turnaround happened in 2012 with Cocktail, Deepika just said that it was the people’s perception of her that had changed more than anything within her. And like so many titanic achievers led by Lata Mangeshkar, she firmly believes in destiny.
However, a cousin of hers who is known to this writer recently stated, “I have seen a huge change in Deepika recently. There was sudden and amazing focus on only her career, and on the smallest details. She even hired a diction coach when she was already at the very top!”
Turning weakness to strength
Co-star and one-time boyfriend Ranbir Kapoor is awestruck as he reveals, “Deepika has actually turned all her disadvantages into advantages!” Proof of this lies in her role of a South Indian girl in Chennai Express. Director Rohit Shetty asked her to put on the same accent for which she was made fun of when she first landed in Mumbai!
On the show Koffee With Karan, Salman Khan raved about her hard work. Asked to choose among three (other) young actresses he would like to work with, Khan, ignoring the three names, said, “Deepika Padukone!”
Said Sanjay Leela Bhansali, her …Ram-Leela director, “Deepika’s spontaneity, timing, rhythm and pitch are just spectacular. I would often change scenes and lines after rehearsals and she would adapt despite all the pressures that are always there on the sets.”
And working on multiple films simultaneously last year found Deepika nothing but positive about the work-pressure.
I am enjoying myself and I do not mind the loss of personal time and family time when I am doing good films. It feels nice to be wanted, to be reading and hearing good things about me, so I have to push myself. When I am told that I am a huge star, I accept it, knowing that success is relative – the films that I do have to work. I only hope that the love and appreciation continue with the films I am doing. It can get difficult to live up to something like this. But I enjoy the challenges; like when I was working on both my Tamilian and Gujarati characters simultaneously!
Today her Kochadaiiyaan director Soundarya Rajnikanth Ashwin, has no qualms about offering Deepika the lead role because of the mix of professionalism and talent that she is. “Deepika was the choice for the lead in Rana¸ which was never made. Since this film is a prequel of sorts to Rana and has the same character being played by my father, it was obviously Deepika who was the first choice even here. The question of changing her never arose!”
About the author
Rajiv Vijayakar is a veteran film journalist based in Mumbai.