Here's what Makes Deepika Bollywood's Most Successful Heroine
What has made Deepika Padukone Bollywood's most successful heroine? Hard work, mental strength and the right choice of films.
After Maxim India declared Deepika Padukone as the sexiest woman in the world in 2008, a well-known columnist wrote in her blog, "Are they kidding me? She would not win a Miss Dombivali contest. She is graceful and can act reasonably well. But she ain’t hot."
The model-turned-actress was 22 years old at the time, with one Hindi film, Om Shanti Om (2007), and one Kannada film, Aishwarya (2006), in her bag.
Admittedly affected by the rather bitter opinion, she placed a clipping of the article on her study. “I highlighted what she had said and I would look at it every day. I used that as a motivation to do better,” she revealed in a recent interview.
Five years since, with her films earning crores in multiples of hundred, it is evident Deepika's success was not a flash in the pan.
The three releases so far in 2013 -- Race 2, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Chennai Express -- have each garnered more than Rs 100 crore at the box office. Together, they have collected over Rs 500 crore, allowing the 27-year-old to overtake rivals Katrina Kaif and Kareena Kapoor and become the only actress whose films have surpassed this mark.
Two other projects, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram Leela and Rajnikanth-starrer Kochadaiyyan, are set to release before the end of the year.
Image: Deepika Padukone
Photographs: Tarun Vishwa
'People who are that beautiful don't appear vulnerable'
Between her big debut and the recent triumphs, things were not uniformly pretty.
Om Shanti Om with Shah Rukh Khan was the ideal break for a newcomer, most agreed, but while it showcased the statuesque actress’ beauty, it offered little scope for her to display acting prowess.
This was followed by a set of unremarkable roles in films like Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008), Chandni Chowk to China (2009), Housefull (2010) and Desi Boyz (2011).
It was perhaps a desire to break free of the rut that made her attempt some interesting characters, including glamorous, needy Veronica in Cocktail (2012) and feisty Meenamma in her last release, Chennai Express.
Some hold that Illuminati Films’ Cocktail set the turnaround in motion. Dinesh Vijan, who co-founded the production house with Saif Ali Khan, says Deepika was offered a choice between the characters of Meera and Veronica. “She called me back in 10 minutes to discuss the tougher role. After that, she became the character physically and mentally,” Vijan says.
She was so convincing in a scene where she breaks down in a bar that he had to walk off the set. The range of emotions Veronica showed made Deepika more “relatable,” says Anirban Das Blah of talent management firm Kwan which manages her business. “That was needed because people who are that beautiful don’t appear vulnerable.”
Image: Deepika Padukone in Cocktail
'It is her relentless hard work that has brought her to this enviable position'
Born to Ujjala and Prakash Padukone, former India badminton player, she played state-level badminton before turning to modelling and cinema.
Those who have worked with her speak highly of the actress’ diligence.“It is her relentless hard work, bang-on creative choices and sheer acting talent that has brought her to this enviable position,” says Siddharth Roy Kapur, managing director, (studios), Disney UTV.
The company produced her three biggest releases so far this year. In the past two years, she only took a total of 10 days off, adds Blah.
Sources on the sets of her next film say she was quick to make peace with creative changes that Bhansali is known to make on the spur of the moment.
Shah Rukh Khan once remarked that Deepika took one day to learn what takes him 30 days. This discipline is attributed partly to her sports lineage and middle-class upbringing.
“I believe it is best for children to work hard to make their dreams come true and to not have things handed to them on a platter,” Padukone said in a letter to his daughter, published in Legacy, a book by Sudha Menon.
Her family, including younger sister Anisha, a golfer, lives in Bangalore, while the actress stays in a Rs 16-crore flat in Prabhadevi in Tinseltown.
When she is in Bangalore, the Padukones treat her as a “daughter first and a film star later.”
The face of Tissot watches and former cover-girl for Maybelline makes her own bed there, clears the table after meals and sleeps on the floor if there are guests at home.
Image: Deepika Padukone
Deepika refused to work in Fast and Furious 7
Deepika’s successful box office run has been also boosted by strokes of luck, says Suniel Wadhwa, a trade analyst and independent distributor. He points out that the string of blockbusters had been signed a long time ago but fortuitously released in quick succession and grabbed attention.
Before Deepika landed Ram-Leela, it was offered to Kareena Kapoor and then Priyanka Chopra. Kochadaiyaan was rumoured to have been planned with Katrina Kaif as the female lead before the announcement of Deepika’s signing came last year. Nevertheless, the attention has allowed Deepika to bump her fee up to Rs 5-6 crore per film, according to industry sources. Kwan is struggling with a backlog of endorsement offers for the actress.
While her popularity is higher in the metros, what would work as an advantage going forward is that there is no significant difference in her popularity across gender and age, observes Gautam Jain, insights head at entertainment business consultancy Ormax Media. Deepika is currently the second-most popular actress on the firm's list of Stars India Loves.
From 10 per cent for the last three years, her popularity share went up to 33 per cent in August post the release of Chennai Express.
In the Rohit Shetty venture, critics praised Deepika’s exaggerated south Indian accent more than Shah Rukh Khan’s stab at physical comedy.
While she usually came prepared on the set, layers such as “instinct and spontaneity” are developing in her performances, offers Vijan, who will be working with her again during Homi Adajania’s Finding Fanny Fernandes. The actress is not averse to considering international assignments, says manager Blah.
It was widely reported that Deepika refused an opportunity to work in the seventh installment of Fast and Furious, the action film series starring Vin Diesel, because of unavailability of dates. However, this could not be authenticated.
Image: Deepika Padukone in Chennai Express
'Deepika looks stunning and doesn't come across as someone who is terribly conscious of her looks'
The hints of talent and versatility are unmistakable, reckons film critic Mayank Shekhar.
"She looks stunning and doesn’t come across as someone who is terribly conscious of her looks. She gives the acting portion of it her best shot when she is on screen.”
However her choice of films, mostly with popular directors and banners, seems to be safely within the realm of commerce.
“I don’t think she is aiming for a National Award-winning performance. She is yet to have a Vidya Balan kind of moment,” he says.
The year 2012 was close competitor Kaif's, who had superhits Ek Tha Tiger and Jab Tak Hai Jaan as well as the popular item song, Chikni Chameli.
Kaif has had a quiet phase now but will see big films releasing in 2014. It is difficult to say for how long Deepika will be able to sustain the phenomenal accomplishments. The pitfall of commercial cinema is that the heroine is still a safe accessory for the male star, with financers likely to repeat lead pairs based on box office numbers.
“Her role will be as good as the number of people who see the film,” notes Shekhar.
In his advice, father Prakash prepares her for the eventuality, “The cameras that follow you everywhere and the arc lights will eventually fade and what will remain is the real world.”
For now, however, as producer Vijan puts it: “Destiny is knocking and Deepika is at the door, welcoming it.”
Image: Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh in Ram Leela