Deepika Padukone spells power. The poise that comes from being self-made. From scoring on sheer merit. Being a superstar, glamour is her fiefdom. Evolving as an actor, film after film has lent her gravitas. In her private world too, marriage seems to have brought in equanimity. We caught up with the actor-producer about her evolution, on- and off-screen as part of Lifestyle Asia India’s inaugural cover story.
In her fifteenth year at the movies, Padukone has added several designations to her resume – actor, producer, entrepreneur, humanitarian… But above all, she remains the undisputed empress… custom or competition cannot ‘stale her infinite variety’. Her astute mindfulness is her lightsaber. She knows reinvention is the name of the game. And that success is a demanding paramour. That explains her on-the-ball demeanour. And why 83 The Film‘, where she played wife Romi to Ranveer Singh’s Kapil Dev, a project she also backed, hit the ball out of the park.
The next two years spell blockbuster for her with the biggest boys in the business. She’s headlining Amazon Prime Video and Dharma Productions’ Gehraiyaan, has teamed up with Shah Rukh Khan in YRF’s Pathan, Hrithik Rohan in Siddharth Anand’s Fighter, Prabhas in Nag Ashwin’s pan India film Project K and Amitabh Bachchan in her co-production of The Intern remake. Her other confirmed projects include the Hollywood rom-com developed by STX Films and the epic Mahabharata.
On the global panorama, she continues to be the face of high-end international brands and amongst the most tracked celebrities. At 36, Deepika Padukone is a juggernaut, cheered on by an army. May the force always be with her…
Excerpts from my conversation with Deepika Padukone, who’s currently enjoying her downtime after a whirlwind year…
How were the birthday celebrations this year?
Honestly, keeping the current situation in mind, it was nothing extraordinary. Luckily, I’m with my husband (Ranveer Singh) on our small getaway, so we just got to spend some time together.
The year-end holiday has become somewhat of a fixture for you both…
It has become a thing in the last few years. You know we work through the year, and its Christmas and New Year anyway when most people are also on their year-end breaks. It then goes into my birthday, so yeah, it’s a good one week to 10-day break. Sometimes it’s just me and my husband, sometimes it’s the whole family and sometimes it’s us with our friends. It’s important for us to take these breaks, even the shorter ones which sometimes happen during the year.
Your last project, ‘83 The Film‘ released to rave reviews from all corners. Does success taste sweeter when you are also the producer?
Absolutely! I think it’s the large-heartedness of Kabir Khan, and of the other producers for having me on board as a creative producer and helping me bring my vision to the film as well. And, yes, we’ve all been overwhelmed with the unanimous love that the film has received, something I don’t think has happened to any film for many years now. I think the last time a film that received this kind of love was probably Lagaan and 3 Idiots. So, to have been a part of it in my own small way definitely feels rewarding and this is what we work for at the end of the day… The love and the appreciation from the audience and from our fans.
Coming to the acting side, you have 7 potential blockbusters lined up ahead. What’s your state of mind like for the coming few months?
Well, I’m just ready to conquer. That’s really my state of mind.
But you’ve already conquered…
I would say conquer the next height or the next peak which is again exciting and also challenging in its own way. Scaling a new height or conquering a new challenge is what I’m looking forward to now. My father would always say, and you know he still says, getting to the top is easier than being there. Getting to the top is much easier than actually being able to stay there and survive there. And that’s the journey I’m on, that’s the journey I’ve been on for the last couple of years. Therefore I think one needs to constantly challenge themselves and also challenge what is thrown at them to be able to scale new heights.
In the last few years, you had become particularly selective about your projects and suddenly we see you giving a nod to 7 films. What changed?
I won’t say it’s something new, or I won’t call it a change. But I’ll definitely say that it’s part of the journey. I think we all go through different phases in our journey and 2012-2013 (A period in which Deepika Padukone delivered back-to-back box-office hits in a span of a few months) was a phase in my journey. The choices I made after that were also a part of that journey and this is again a part of that journey. I don’t look at them as individual blocks or individual pieces. I look at it as part of the same journey. And I guess a lot of that also comes from what we spoke about earlier, which is wanting to scale new heights or wanting to evolve not just as a performer but also as a person.
We spoke about how maintaining the top position is more important than reaching there. What are the factors which fuel the fire within you to stay so focused?
The one quality that I had within myself even as a young girl was to always challenge the system. And when I say challenge the system, I don’t mean to rebel. I mean to observe how things have functioned for years, what are the things that people have done historically and how can I do it in my own way. How can I constantly keep pushing the limits of what I have done or also of what people have done? How can I push those limits, how can I push those boundaries and how can I pave a new path for an entire younger generation or a newer generation that will follow? So, constantly pushing the boundaries is the thing for me.
Your husband Ranveer Singh is an equally ambitious and constantly evolving actor. How much does it help to be in his company, and do you feed off each other’s energy?
I definitely find him to a huge source of strength. I hope he feels the same way about me, too. Again, it’s not like we planned it like this, you know it just happened like this. The fact that in our own ways we are constantly trying to push boundaries and then to have a partner who understands that and not only understands that but also supports that, encourages that, is the best place to be. I really couldn’t have asked for more.
Media and your fans have bestowed titles like Queen Bee, Numero Uno, Game Changer upon you. How do you perceive them?
It’s not something that I would ignore or brush aside because these are certainly very flattering adjectives, and also not something that has fallen into my lap. It’s been a long and hard journey for me to get to that place where people identify me with those adjectives today. Having said that, I hope that, and I know that I haven’t let it get to my head because if it had, my parents or my family and friends would have told me by now. But I hope that it never gets to my head. I hope that I’m able to continue to put my head down and continue to go on this journey and this path that I have set for myself. But like I said, it is not something that I would brush off either because I know the sacrifices, the hard work, the commitment, and the dedication that has gone into achieving that.
The world and the way people look at it has changed since the start of the pandemic. How do you look back at the last two years?
To be honest Rahul, I was personally already on this journey of empathy and mindfulness. It took a pandemic for a lot of people to get on to that journey. And that’s absolutely fine because people find these things along the way, some people may not even and that’s also okay. The pandemic has made people a lot more empathetic and a lot more sensitive. But for me, that journey began in 2014, when life for me almost seemed meaningless. So whatever a lot of people are saying now or are learning now is not new to me. It’s not something that I’ve been unfamiliar with. I say it with all humility that I’ve been on a journey where every choice that I make, whether it’s a film, whether it’s a personal choice, whether it’s human interaction, whether it’s my relationships with people, I think to be present, to be mindful and to have empathy.
The last two years have also shown us the importance of allotting time for yourself. What’s downtime like for you and Ranveer?
You’re absolutely right. Downtime is important. Maintaining a work-life balance and nurturing the girl in me are also important things. And if you ask me what downtime means for me, well it’s just doing regular things and cutting away from work. See I’m not someone who can constantly think about work or constantly be at work. For me the minute I leave a film set, or whenever I step out of the time I have dedicated to work, then I am not Deepika Padukone the actor anymore. Or I’m not Deepika the professional anymore. I’m Deepika the daughter, I’m Deepika the sister, I’m Deepika the wife, Deepika the friend. That’s who I am. I’m constantly nurturing that. So, you know whether it is chores at home, whether it is visiting or spending time with my family, with my parents, with my sister, with my in-laws, running the house, or even just sitting in bed watching movies. It could be meditation, it could be listening to music, it could be going to the spa, it could be cleaning or just playing some games. I keep myself busy. I’m not someone who ever says I’m bored; I don’t understand how people get bored. I’m someone who’s constantly doing something. And I think these are my ways of relaxing, unwinding.
Do you think this is your key to a good life?
I don’t know if it’s a ‘good life’ but it’s my key to a balanced life that gives me a lot of joy. Ranveer keeps saying, “God you’re constantly doing things around the house, something or the other, tell the staff to order the vegetables or tell the staff to order the fish.” But growing up I’ve seen my mother do everything and that’s also a life that I want for our family – to be hands-on as a wife and as a mother. I think there’s a certain simplicity with which we’ve been brought up that I would like to retain for our family moving forward.