Deepika Padukone is brimming with a newfound confidence. After five years in the film industry, she comes across as self-assured, parrying interview questions like a pro. And no wonder. She’s had a good run at the box-office recently, and this year, she has some big films in hand, including Race 2, Chennai Express, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Ram Leela.
But Deepika is rarely happy with her work. "I’m glad my efforts have been appreciated so far," she says. "But I have a hunger, and it’s not necessarily for success. I want good work."
We are in Deepika’s new home in Prabhadevi. The house visibly reflects her personality. "It’s like me in a sari — modern yet traditional. Look at the art work. Those are pashmina shawls beautifully framed as paintings," she smiles, pointing to the colourful canvases covering the walls. The house has a distinct south Indian touch, with lots of dark woods and gold and dull brass. Yet the 26th floor apartment feels breezy and free.
"I have actually lived through the entire journey of owning this house," says house-proud Deepika. "First I dreamt of owning a house, then I worked hard towards earning the money, then I went house hunting, and finally I bought it."
It’s been five years since you made your debut in Om Shanti Om. Have you found your footing in Bollywood?
It feels as if it were yesterday! It was so unnerving and unclear when I first came into the industry. I was a 21-year-old in a new city, living all by myself, and I got into in an industry where I didn’t know a soul.
Okay, I was taken good care of in my first film; presented beautifully. But after that, I was all by myself again. I had to make my own decisions and choose the right films. From there, I have come into my own. I do feel a lot more confident, especially when I find a lot of my friends still struggling to find the right vocation. I feel blessed.
You once lived as a paying guest. What was that like?
Living alone affords you the opportunity to become more independent. It was work, party and back to work. I would come home tired, order from outside, or make myself an omelet or Maggi, or just eat leftovers. Mom’s visits would be the most exciting times as those were the only days I could get to eat decent and healthy food. She would even cook and stock up the fridge before she left. I had a great time.
Who were the people who guided you at that point?
Initially, it was my agency and Farah Khan and Shah Rukh Khan who I was working with. But I didn’t take their help. I’ve always been scared of coming in people’s way. I thought they were offering help out of courtesy. I was like, how can I just call up Shah Rukh Khan for my personal problems? It would have looked silly.
Today I have a different equation and support system in them which I didn’t see and utilise then. Today I can pick up the phone and call Karan (Johar), Ayan (Mukerji), SRK, Farah, Imtiaz (Ali) and Ranbir (Kapoor), and they will be there for me because they have known me a long time.
Salman Khan is on top of your priority list to work with. Why?
Show me one person who doesn’t want to work with Salman Khan! And now, let me tell you, I may have debuted with Shah Rukh Khan, but Salman was the first person to offer me a film. He spotted me way before Om Shanti Om, when I did my first Liril and Close Up ads. I had just hit the modelling circuit then. So the proposal is pending. I want to work in a romantic film with him, a nice love story. I have always shown my fondness for him. He comes across as a very romantic person and that will reflect on screen.
You refused a film with Salman Khan!
I wasn’t ready. I was too young and unclear about which profession to choose at that time. A lot of people thought I was foolish to let it go, but I guess it was destined. But I am glad that I didn’t do the film, because I know I wouldn’t have done justice to it and our pairing then.
‘I have no time for commitment at this point’
Rana is on hold as Rajni sir was unwell. We are working on Kochadaiyaan now, which is a prequel. So now Rana can happen any time. Kochadaiyaan will be India’s first international film. We have experimented with Hollywood’s new technique called motion picture, which is not real and not 3D either. It’s in between; something like this will be seen for the first time in Indian cinema. It’s going to be in Hindi, Tamil, English, Japanese and other languages.
Are there any screen idols you are in awe of down South or in Bollywood?
I am not as much in awe of films stars as I am of sports stars. I come from a sports background and didn’t watch many films while growing up. If you ask me which superstar I am in awe of, then it is Sachin Tendulkar.
We’ve heard your sister is also preparing to get into movies.
If she is ever interested in cinema, I will be there for her, but I can tell you that being in front of the camera never excited her. She’s always been interested in sports. As a child, she excelled in whichever sport she took up, so when she grew up she couldn’t decide which to take up as a profession. Recently she accompanied dad to a golf game and liked it so much that she decided to pursue it professionally. She’ll be a golfer.
Is your family interested in your career? Do they get upset when they read reports about your link-ups?
Like all parents, the basic concern is always there. But I am glad that they think I am responsible enough to conduct and handle myself without their being here. We don’t call and update our lives on the phone every day. We talk once in two-three days as we are all busy. And no matter how much you say that they are now used to the side effects of their daughter’s stardom, any parent would be affected by such reports. But we never discuss it as I am updating them anyway and they know exactly what happens in my life. And neither are they the type to interfere too much in their children’s lives.
How come you’ve never committed to anyone after your break-up with Ranbir Kapoor?
When I get into a relationship, I give it 100 per cent, because I do not know how to be casual in a relationship. I take cues from my parents and uncles/aunties who have grown beautifully together in love. Relationships are for keeps and I know if I get into one, I will have to give all my attention to it. But at this point of my career, I cannot afford to do that. This is why I am not in a relationship and not in a frame of mind to commit.
Have you got over Ranbir Kapoor?
He was the first serious relationship I ever had. In life there are certain people who influence you in a big way and he was definitely one of them. Only good things have come out of that relationship and the break-up. That’s why we have so much respect for each other, because today we may not be a couple, but I know that I have also influenced his life in some way. The relationship taught me lot. That’s why I feel, even though we are not together, the bond between us will never be broken. We may not talk every day but we are constantly in touch as we are doing a film together.
There were reports that you and Anushka Sharma had some problem.
I’ve known her since the time we were modelling in Bengaluru. The last time I met her was at a party organised by Ayan (Mukerji). She also came home when I had a small house-warming party. Even after that, I have socialised with her. If the equation has changed somewhere, I am not aware of it. I am a straightforward person, and if I have a problem with anyone, even if I’m not at fault, I will go up and apologise. I don’t like uncomfortable and awkward situations. I can’t live with bottled up feelings.
And what about your alleged cold war with Katrina Kaif?
I am not aware of any such thing. It’s a close knit industry and I acknowledge everyone, be it Priyanka, Katrina or Kareena.
How do you deal with negativity around you?
I am a fighter. The spirit of fighting comes from being a sportsperson. It prepares you for the world. Whether it is defeat, success or a difficult situation, somewhere you know how to tackle it.
Back home, are you a star?
Not in my own house. But when we have community gatherings, it feels nice to be patted on the back and considered the pride of the community. They treat me as an achiever, not a star.
You were the third choice for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram Leela. Does that bother you?
Films have their own journey and own destiny. For the audience, it doesn’t matter who was the first or the last choice. I guess it was destined to be my film. Are you dating Ranveer Singh? You both seem to be spending a lot of time together.
Going out with someone for coffee or dinner is a normal thing amongst youngsters. I don’t understand why such a fuss is being made about it. If I want to go out on a hundred dinner and coffee dates, I will go and no one has the right to question it. I am going about my life as a normal 26-year-old.
And by the way, I have a lot of good-looking cousins in Mumbai and we party and go out for dinner. Tomorrow, if I am spotted with any of them, I will be 100 per cent linked up. So I don’t care. I am focussed on my movies and work.
As for Ranveer, we spend a lot of time together, go for lunch and dinner, but I am very much single and not seeing him. He is a friend, a co-star, and when you are doing a romantic film you will end up being written about.
Do you feel that someday you and Ranbir will be back together?
That’s something I haven’t given thought to. Yes, we care a lot about each other. I am there for him and he is there for me. I know he cares a lot about me. Sometimes you do not have to be in a relationship and I think that’s more special. We value each other and respect each other.
I don’t need to clarify this. Because it’s so disrespectful for someone who’s been working so hard. I know where these reports have come from and I choose not to talk about it. It’s a bit silly. When the man himself is living with his father, where would he have the money to buy me a house?
But the point is not that. It’s disregarding someone’s hard work. I know I can come home and sleep peacefully and that my parents can walk into the house with pride, knowing that it’s the result of their daughter’s hard work and effort.
Deepika’s top five actors
Imran Khan/Saif Ali Khan: They are both the complete man. Not so ambitious and happy with what they have got. Very intelligent and well informed too. Imran is a walking encyclopedia and very sorted. He’s a great role model for men his age.
Ranbir Kapoor: He is God’s child — gifted, effortless and charming. There’s something about him. I can’t explain, but he knows what I am talking about.
Ranveer Singh: He has the ability to make people feel special and good. He spreads happiness. He’s a giver of unconditional love.
Shah Rukh Khan: He’s charming, intelligent and can sweep you off your feet. Even Ranbir, Ranveer and Saif can sweep women off their feet with their inherent charm.