Chhapaak: As the 'face' of an acid attack survivor's story, Deepika Padukone rises above conformist notions of beauty
In an industry where cosmetic brands enjoy ownership over physical features of the 'faces' who endorse them, Deepika Padukone has invoked the actor over the brand for Chhapaak.
When Deepika Padukone made her maiden appearance on the big screen in 2007, she was introduced as the 'Dreamy Girl' in Farah Khan's reincarnation saga Om Shanti Om. As she stepped on the red carpet and waved at the audience, her ethereal grace grabbed the collective attention of a nation in search of the "next face" of Bollywood. Clearly, Deepika Padukone was born a brand.
Over the years, the equity of that face has only grown by leaps and bounds. This year, Deepika became the first woman to enter the top 5 of Forbes' richest Indian celebs list, with a valuation of Rs 112.8 crore and over 20 brand endorsements. Days later, her face was replicated, imperfectly yet commendably, by Madame Tussauds London for her wax statue. Her face then went on to grace the cover of Vogue US magazine, sharing the space with Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson.
Back in India, Deepika has now surrendered the same face to Meghna Gulzar as the canvas of her next film, Chhapaak, based on the journey of acid attack survivor-turned-activist Laxmi Agarwal. The first look was released on social media on Monday, when the film went on floors. Deepika, who plays acid attack survivor Malti in the social drama, is seen peeking out from behind a standing mirror. The camera projects her "disfigured" face as objectively as the mirror. While the face that turned her into a brand overnight 12 years ago stands altered to depict that of an acid attack survivor, what remains constant is the Julia Roberts-like-$30-million-worth smile. Equally refreshing is her decision to look away from the mirror, rather than towards it.
Inversely, there is a promotional still of Deepika for her clothing brand All About You, facing the mirror. As she looks into the eyes of those in awe of her beauty, her reflection in the mirror apes the act. Brand Deepika Padukone is in the driver's seat here as she poses confidently in the outfits of her label. But in the first look of Chhapaak, she hides behind the mirror, indicating that the clothes are not as important as the face that tells her story. With minimum cosmetics at play, her face defies the conventions of brands, or society itself — conventions that have slotted beauty into certain boxes.
Deepika's stylist Anaita Shroff Adjania, who has styled her since her Cocktail days, applauds her decision to choose the actor within over the brand that they have built together for six years. "It shows an actor's mettle when they commit unabashedly to a character. We all know Deepika is absolutely beautiful looking, but chucking that aside to play a strong character whose resolve and beauty shine brightly from the inside, and giving us a true life story that must be told, is so inspiring," Anaita tells Firstpost exclusively.
However, it must have been a tough process of unlearning for Deepika to enter the world of Chhapaak. Days before the shoot, her face adorned the Vogue cover. To steer clear of that vanity in order to channel her inner Malti would have required a lot of questioning. In an interview to Film Companion last week, she said, "While you see me at a red carpet, unveiling my figure or on the cover of a magazine, somewhere inside that character is still brewing. It’s simmering. I just want to be done with my previous commitments and deep dive into it. But that deep dive is not possible unless you’ve started that process many months ago and have been living with it for a while. So it’s a work in progress."
Malti must have been a gradual work in progress for Deepika, long before she was offered the role. In 2015, she opened up on her battle with clinical depression and hence has been actively involved in spreading awareness about mental health through her Live, Love, Laugh Foundation. Since the struggle of an acid attack survivor is as much mental as physical, Deepika seems to have organically responded to her journey. This might also be why she has turned producer with Chhapaak.
It is nonetheless a courageous move on Deepika's part to experiment with her face for her role. It is rather convenient for an actor of her stature to forget that her face is her own, given that it is owned by the various brands she endorses. Cosmetic brands have proprietorship over certain physical features of the actresses who are their 'face' in the public sphere. For instance, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, who endorse the same cosmetic giant as Deepika, reportedly have a contractual clause to not appear in public without make-up. While there is no harm in this agreement since the two actresses enjoy dressing up, to see their rosied lips and touched up faces at funeral ceremonies and prayer meets is a rather excessive consequence.
These legal constraints imposed by the cosmetic brands extend to their film choices as well. That is partially why the infamous "no make-up look" has become a farce since there is ample amount of make-up applied to "de-glam" the actresses. In an interview to Vogue, when Priyanka Chopra was asked if she would go bald for a role, she said, "I would totally do it but Pantene (a haircare brand) would sue me. Not allowed!"
With the influx of designer labels and red carpet events (airport and gym looks included!), actresses seem to find telling their story through their clothes extremely challenging. A Ranveer Singh is expressing himself more, while also pushing fashion boundaries, with his sartorial choices. The only exception in the current crop of actresses seems to be Sonam, who confessed why she resorts to dress up "like an art instalment," as filmmaker Zoya Akhtar puts it. In the 2016 Actresses Roundtable interview to News18, as her contemporaries looked on, Sonam revealed that since she has faced sexual abuse as a child, it has been a coping mechanism for her to shield her insecurities through attractive clothes.
Deepika's first look of Chhapaak seems to have struck a similar chord, not only with the audience but also other actresses. Deep down, every actress wants to rise above the brand that she has built for herself and just play an ordinary girl with an extraordinary journey.
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