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 Bhaag 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.