At a time when Bollywood’s crowned queens like Katrina Kaif and Kareena Kapoor are too caught up with their private lives; and fresh talent is making flash appearances and fizzling out rapidly, action at the top slot is clearly missing. But Deepika Padukone, with some tailor-made roles, has managed to make her place under the sun. With three back-to-back hit films — Cocktail (2012), Race 2 and now, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (YJHD) — she has not only wooed the audience, but also affirmed her position at the top at the box office (BO).
While many monikers are currently being coined for her — the audience’s darling, the BO’s golden girl and the next big thing — reports suggest that even iconic filmmakers, like Mani Ratnam, and other Bollywood biggies are vying to sign her. With Chennai Express set to take off this Eid, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Ram Leela also in the pipeline and another epic with Rajinikanth (Kochadaiiyaan) due, Deepika is on a roll.
While she accepts congratulatory messages from various bystanders, we meet her at a centrally located five-star hotel. Dressed casually in a white shirt and cotton trousers, Deepika looks simple and alluring. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.
Are you still on cloud nine after the plaudits you received for your performance in YJHD?
Fortunately I don’t believe in sitting on my laurels. YJHD released on Friday and even before I could truly enjoy the moment, I had to get back to work on the sets of Ram Leela on the Monday after.
You proved your mettle as an actress in your debut film, Om Shanti Om (2007). Why did it take so long to reach the top?
Like I said earlier in your interview, I was protected, like a baby, in my first film by Shah Rukh Khan (co-star) and Farah Khan (director). I didn’t realise that life would be tough once I was on my own. And it was. After the movie released, I was back to being on my own. Even though both of them (SRK and Farah) were there for me, I felt awkward to reach out to them. And it was good that I didn’t do that because the films that I did thereafter (about 12 or 13 of them) were products of my own experiences. To get to where I am today, I’ve fallen, lifted myself up, dusted myself and learnt from the experiences. The fruit of your own hard-work is the sweetest.
You are at a crucial stage in your career right now — unattached and raring to go. Will you now strategise your moves and be, perhaps, a little more ambitious?
It’s good to be slightly ambitious, but I believe one shouldn’t be too calculative. It’s good to be on the edge, but I have never followed my mind. I have always followed my heart. And it has yielded the right results. So why do I need to change that? Today, whatever I have become is because of the decisions I have made in the past. And I stand by every decision of mine, however good or bad it has been.
But what’s the harm in being wiser?
I don’t disagree. I’ve seen tremendous inner growth and learnt new things, but I’m not going to change myself and I’m not going to stop following my heart.
Are you in touch with Ranbir Kapoor (former boyfriend) now? He once said he would be the godfather to your children.
We talk on the phone constantly and our conversations have got nothing to do with our movies. I’m sure he’ll make for a great godfather. My relationship with Ranbir is for a lifetime.
Looks like you still haven’t managed to get out of your relationship with him?
Honestly, I’ve never questioned my feelings for Ranbir. I haven’t revisited them. Our relationship is beyond just that of a boyfriend and a girlfriend. You have to understand that relationships or friendships that are built at the beginning of people’s careers have greater longevity. Life is about accepting what is being presented to us.
Ranbir has mentioned that he wants to direct a film at some point?
I’ve heard that. He’s a very evolved artiste. So maybe at some point he may expand his art and get into direction. His visions are clear and I’m cent per cent sure that he’ll make for a great director. But I don’t think he has any immediate plans. I’d love to be Ranbir’s first heroine when he directs a movie.
Your next release is Chennai Express. How was it working with Shah Rukh Khan after a gap of six years?
I was pretty raw in Om Shanti Om (2007, OSO) and was completely in awe of him. I don’t remember anything from my first meeting with SRK, except driving down to Mannat (SRK’s Bandra residence) dressed in a white salwar kameez with Farah Khan in tow. My heart skipped a beat when he appeared with a coffee mug in his hand. All throughout our meeting I was sitting on the edge of the sofa and staring at him. But Chennai Express has brought me closer to him. Today I can have an interesting conversation with him and beat him up. I can’t explain my equation with Shah Rukh.
No, I can’t explain my feelings for him. It’s unconditional love and respect.
So you’re saying it’s easy to fall in love with SRK?
I think it’s beyond all this. I can’t put it in words. He feels protective towards you. He’s caring and makes you feel special. Essentially he makes falling in love seem so easy. I don’t think he is just called the quintessential lover boy for no reason.
What happened to Kick? You lost out on working with Salman Khan again?
A film belongs to the person who ends up doing it. Kick was not meant for me. Let me say that Salman and I are destined to do a film together someday and this was not the film meant for us. Somehow we always get so close to doing a film and than it never happens. Salman and Shah Rukh are actors whom I have adored since the beginning of my career. Salman and I are in touch. When he sees my films or watches my ads or spots my posters somewhere, he lets me know what he feels about them.
And then when we bump into each other, we exchange very knowing smiles. Anyway, whichever film I do with Salman will be a special film.
You are being called the next big thing. How do you feel?
Firstly, I don’t understand the number game. But tell me who wouldn’t aspire to be the first girl in class? If things are happening for me, great, I want to enjoy them.
You’re working with Ranbir Kapoor and Imtiaz Ali again?
Most definitely. I would want to work with both of them, but they’re yet to revert. It’ll be very special.
The success of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (YJHD) was compared to that of Jab We Met (JWM, 2007), as both the films had former couples coming together. Did you realise that your film will be compared?
I heard about the comparisons. But I believe all films have their own life and fate. When I was watching JWM, it didn’t cross my mind even once that Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor are exes. It was the story and the performances that hooked me. Imtiaz’s direction was brilliant. Similarly, I don’t believe that people came to see YJHD because Ranbir and I had a break-up and are working together again. Maybe that could be one factor, but primarily the basis of the movie — that was youth-centric and universally appealing — other than the music, was what attracted the audience.
Has YJHD given you a new lease of life?
Absolutely. This is another result of my hard-work and so far the most special film for me. My house is full of bouquets, notes and greeting cards sent by well-wishers. This has never happened before. Compliments from my liftman, neighbours and people who I encounter everyday mean a lot to me.
Apparently for one of your celebration parties, you invited Ranbir, Ranveer Singh and Siddharth Mallya — three men who you’ve been linked to recently. Was it awkward?
Once the movie is over, one gets busy and tends to move on. So I took the initiative and told Karan Johar, ‘Let’s celebrate’. By the way, we have one more celebration party tonight. And why would anything be awkward? Nothing has gone wrong between Siddharth and me. We don’t meet up often because he keeps travelling. But whenever he is in town, we catch up. Ranveer is a co-star and a friend. I don’t know why everyone keeps on talking about the same thing. It’s boring to talk about it.
So you’re single on record?
Yes. But I’m not ready for a relationship as I’m scared to be hurt again. I give in too much in a relationship. For me, it becomes my universe and everything revolves around it.
Isn’t it great that you can now fully focus on your work?
I disagree when people say that I wasn’t focussed earlier. I have always been focussed on my job. No profession allows you the luxury of being half-focussed. If you’re not into it, you’re not there. And the film industry is all the more harsh in these cases, perhaps because it’s a business of the limelight. I agree it’s a great time for me and I want to utilise myself fully.
You still seem to be recovering from your recent break-up?
Heartbreaks are not easy. I dealt with it and I was my own emotional anchor. I emerged from it as a stronger person. But if you ask me today whether I want to fall in love again, I don’t have the courage to go through it. I know it’ll be difficult to put myself together this time. But yes, life has to go on and you have to match its pace. I understand that.
Why haven’t you signed any film post Ram Leela?
I don’t sign projects, I do films. There are so many offers, but I’m not jumping and signing everything.
Tell us honestly; are the Ranveer Singh-Deepika Padukone link-up reports fabricated to promote Ram Leela?
I’m tired of saying that Ranveer and I are just friends. And reports like these are not going to change our equation. Give me a break please! As co-stars and friends you hang out together and we do that. I do the same with my cousins too. I go out with Sanjay sir (Bhansali), but nobody is interested in writing about all this.
How has your family taken to your new success?
They’re very happy and proud of me. It’s sweet and touching when dad and mom forward all the congratulatory messages they have been receiving for my performance in YJHD.
Do you want them to shift to Mumbai with you?
I miss them, but luckily I have a life of my own, which keeps me from getting homesick. I wouldn’t want them to uproot their lives from Bengaluru just to be with me. I don’t feel the need. It’s won’t be fair on them as they already have their own lives. They have been my silent support.
We heard your sister may get into the film industry?
Absolutely not. She’s a professional golfer and is doing great at it. Moreover she is camera-shy.