On her 36th birthday, looking at how Deepika Padukone has forged ahead in film career, with signature grace intact

Deepika Padukone exudes a sense of wellbeing that comes naturally only to those who are secure in their lives. With her next release Gehraiyaan promising to be her career-best, 2022 looks more promising than the last two years.

Subhash K Jha January 05, 2022 11:43:33 IST
On her 36th birthday, looking at how Deepika Padukone has forged ahead in film career, with signature grace intact

Deepika Padukone in Gehraiyaan

At one point in her career, Deepika Padukone was trying to compete with Priyanka Chopra Jonas, which was like Waheeda Rehman trying to compete with Mumtaz. Or Hema Malini with Zeenat Aman. Malini thinks Padukone is her true inheritor.

Personally, Padukone reminds me of Jaya Bahaduri. Both would not take crap from their co-stars. Bhaduri refused to work with the then-reigning superstar Rajesh Khanna. Even when Hrishikesh Mukherjee persuaded Bhaduri and Khanna to come together in Bawarchi, they were not paired opposite each other.

Similarly, you will not see Padukone in a Salman Khan film because heroines are expected to behave a certain way in his company. Padukone would not comply. Not that she is  headstrong. She is just not into pampering egos.

Like many beautiful women, Padukone craves for acceptance, love, and approval from family and friends. She is  among the lucky few to have found all three from her loved ones, and from the world at large, and that includes the biggest Indian female star of all times, Hema Malini.

The eternally beautiful Malini once told me, “If there is one contemporary actress I like the best, it is Deepika. She is so beautiful and so talented. And so dignified in her public conduct. There are so many of contemporaries who keep shooting off their mouths to get attention. Not Deepika. I think she is more talented, beautiful, and dedicated to her work than I ever was. And so graceful!”

Padukone is also more competitive than Malini ever was. She does not come across as being competitive. But she is. The only reason she went abroad was to give Chopra a run for her money. And no harm in that. Shabana Azmi would hound a director she wanted to work with until he or she said yes.

Padukone does not know this but she makes some of the biggest legends of our celluloid feel insecure. I remember this incident at the 50th birthday of a director where beauty queen, diva, icon, and bahu of a distinguished family turned up her nose the minute Padukone walked in. “What is  she doing here?” she asked. Errr, exactly what you are doing?

On her 36th birthday looking at how Deepika Padukone has forged ahead in film career with signature grace intact

Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone as Kapil and Romi Dev in 83

The first time I heard about Padukone was when my friend Priyadarshan was planning to launch her in a film called Pirates. “There’s a new girl from Bangalore. I think she has great potential,” he told me excitedly. The next thing I knew, Padukone was being launched by Farah Khan. Since Padukone knew nothing about the Hindi film industry, she was advised that Farah was a safer bet than Priyadarshan, though that is debatable.

Our conversations back then were warm but formal. Then one day, she surprised me by asking, “When do I get to meet you?” It was unexpected. We did not get an opportunity to build a stronger bond. But I am  happy to see Padukone in such a happy marriage after an unhappy relationship, where she was totally devoted. I would not like to go into why that relationship ended. But she gave it her all, as she does to everything she does.

The last two years were not very kind to Padukone, and it was not just because of COVID-19.

But Padukone always shows grace under pressure. I have never seen her do anything undignified.

She is a very proper lady, likes all her ps and qs in place, and never errs in her duties. I am sure Padukone will make a great mother soon. Ranveer Singh will agree with that.

Padukone will agree with me when I say Cocktail in 2012 was a turning point in her career. She had said to me in an interview, “I was ready to take the risk of playing grey characters. Veronica in Cocktail was very different from what I've done so far. She didn't live by any of the rules. But even Veronica was finally looking for the same things that all girls want: permanence, stability, and faith in a relationship. The film's writer Imtiaz Ali and director Homi Adajania had the faith that I could pull it off. Their faith gave me the confidence to just go out there, and play this wild child. It was fun to play wicked. I'd like to do it more often.”

When she came in, she found the scrutiny of her personal life very discomforting. “All this is very new for me. My father (badminton champ Prakash Padukone) was also a celebrity, but we were never exposed to media coverage. Before I went into the modelling profession, I did go into my dad's profession. It was the expected thing. I played badminton at the national level. But I realised my heart was set on modelling. Movies weren't even in my range of vision. But after two years of modelling, I started getting film offers. I was only 18 then. I didn't want to jump into anything.”

Deepika made her debut in a Kannada film, Aishwarya. Deepika is from Karnataka, and it was directed by a young and talented man, Indrajit Lankesh. Furthermore, she was paired with a huge Kannada star, Upendra.

Recalled Deepika, “I learnt Kannada in school. Farah Khan had already offered me Om Shanti Om. But we were to shoot a year later. So I did the Kannada film. Initially, I was very nervous about working with Shah Rukh Khan. But Farah and Shah Rukh made it very comfortable for me. We did readings together, we met socially so that we were comfortable when we faced the camera. He's again someone I grew up watching.”

Now happily married, Deepika exudes a sense of wellbeing that comes naturally only to those who are secure in their lives. With her next release Gehraiyaan promising to be her career-best, 2022 looks more promising than   her last two years. And she does look drop dead gorgeous, doesn’t she, as Mrs Kapil Dev even in that ridiculous wig in 83?

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.

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