It is interesting that the two Hindi film actresses, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra, who have made a mark in the West in recent times, also began their film careers with a film down South. What’s more, they are both also daughters to career professionals—Deepika’s mother ran a travel agency and her father is internationally renowned badminton ace, Prakash Padukone.
Considered Queen Bee for almost half her ten-year tenure in Hindi cinema, Deepika first made a mark of sorts in badminton, just like her father, at a national level. However, she realized that her true forte was never in that zone and she soon rose to be a highly successful model.
In a way, Deepika’s journey to become what she is today is akin to the transformation of a beautiful butterfly. From an anonymous caterpillar to an under-wraps chrysalis, she has spread her wings like a fully evolved and colorful butterfly, transforming magically at every step.
As a model, Deepika was successful and noticed— winning even a few awards in a very brief yet distinguished career. From here, she was noticed and signed by top composer Himesh Reshammiya for the music video of his track ‘Naam tera’ in what became his sellout album, Aap Ka Suroor (2005).
Though she signed and did the successful romantic comedy Aishwarya (2006) in Kannada, her Hindi film career took off only because director Farah Khan noticed her in Himesh’s video and cast her in Happy New Year. The film was shelved, but Farah then gave her an author-backed role in Om Shanti Om.
Not many actresses get to star in a central role opposite a superstar, that too in his home production, and that also in a double role, and Deepika diligently took acting classes and observed veteran divas from Hindi cinema to make a mark. The film was the biggest hit of 2007, and Deepika set foot on her journey to stardom.
However, things rarely run smooth on the path to stardom. Her next lot of films included a dual role again (Chandni Chowk To China—her third film), and her second film, Bachna Ae Haseeno did average business. But just two films were successful (Love Aaj Kal and Housefull) to salvage a flop run of six box office misses in the next three years of her career.
Yes, the big makers were there, like Yash and Aditya Chopra, Ashutosh Gowariker, Imtiaz Ali and Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani, but Deepika was persistently criticized for both performances and wardrobe, and of the lot, she truly impressed only as a blind girl in Pradeep Sarkar’s Lafangey Parindey.
In 2011, she sizzled in a cameo in Dum Maaro Dum, but the film never got really noticed. Desi Boyz recovered costs, but Deepika never made a mark. And then came Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan, and this tall and lissome actress matched Amitabh Bachchan both metaphorically and literally!
A family source informed this writer that the ever-ambitious and wanting-to-get-better Deepika, almost overnight, decided to take herself in hand and work like a woman possessed on every aspect of her performance and persona. The diligence paid off.
And so, though Aarakshan was a commercial write-off, Deepika’s dazzling avatar emerged out of it.
For Deepika, it was an uncannily perfect mix of taqdeer (destiny) and tadbir (hard work) that opened the doors of superstardom. Effortlessly, she glided through a plethora of films that could only be termed as milestones in a suddenly sparkling career—Cocktail (2012), the quartet of Race 2, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Chennai Express and Goliyon Ki Rasleela—Ram Leela (2013), Finding Fanny and Happy New Year (2014) and Piku, Tamasha and Bajirao Mastani (2015).
Never mind if she had nothing to do in the animation-rich Kochadaiiyaan (2015) or was overshadowed despite her impactful turn in Bajirao Mastani, Deepika was as good as the hero in all the other movies. And, irrespective of whether her films crossed 100 crore or not (which many did), Deepika’s USP was looking stunning, and acting well enough to outclass every lead co-actor, come Ranbir Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, Arjun Kapoor or (again in Piku) Amitabh Bachchan!
What’s more, this complete package of a true-blue superstar danced like a dream, sizzled when the glam quotient had to be upped, and took on every kind of role, from a Bengali executive to a rural South Indian woman, a courtesan in a period film to a Maharashtrian dance teacher!
With most of her movies hitting the bull’s-eye, and her roles being substantial enough and yet distinctive and varied, Deepika was termed to be nothing less than “a female Khan.” On the other hand, the actress, but for her three home productions of Shah Rukh, had nothing to do with the other five superstars—she has yet to work with Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn or Hrithik Roshan and has yet to do a second film with Akshay Kumar after 2009’s Chandni Chowk To China!
It was not for nothing that she was virtually handpicked for xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage by Vin Diesel. Yes, it was a sketchy role, not perhaps truly worthy of her stature here, but Deepika grabbed the international assignment and did an expert job of it, action and all.
As she put it once, “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 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.”
With beauty, charisma, talent, brains and a focus apart from being a grounded persona, Deepika is now just the perfect choice to play the regal queen in her title-role in Padmavati, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s third outing with her in four years. The Diva is choosier now, but is still set to gather more glories.