'Women have been silent for too long’

There is positivity if we look at the stronger parts being written for women. It is a matter of time before equality takes over in all aspects of the film industry.

December 21, 2015 01:05 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:05 pm IST

It is the day after the release of Bajirao Mastani. >Deepika Padukone is at the iconic Mehboob Studio, posing for the shutterbugs. She has been much appreciated for her luminous, smouldering presence as Peshwa Bajirao 1’s second wife, who is half-Rajput and half-Muslim, in the Sanjay Leela Bhansali period film. The collections too are showing an upward curve. With Piku and Tamasha already behind her, it has been an unusually good spell for Deepika, with both commercial success and critical appreciation coming in equal measure. It is another year to be declared Heroine No. 1.

In a golden skirt and striped shirt, the willowy actor towers over her own bouncers, and looks just as luminous off-screen as she does on it. Is it the spark of success? “I honestly don’t know what it is but everyone has been saying that that there is an inner glow to me,” she laughs. Interspersed with many reflective pauses, she speaks to The Hindu over fries and sandwiches on the strong roles being written in Bollywood for women, the contentious issue of wage disparity, her favourite heroes, and the long vacation ahead with the family. Excerpts:

2015 has been a great year for you…

It has been a fantastic year. I recently had a very successful 2013 and didn’t expect that I will have another good run so soon after that.

Odd numbers seem to favour you…

(Smiles) I have never thought about it like that. In fact, I was initially uncertain about how 2015 would pan out for me. Piku was an unconventional film and came to me all of a sudden. I started the year with that and then went on to do Tamasha, which got delayed. And Bajirao Mastani had been in production for almost a year and a half. Then they all came together in one year. It was unplanned; just fell into place.

Heroine No.1 again. Do you feel a sense of achievement?

Yes but not for the reason you mentioned. It’s the kind of work I have managed to do, the films I have delivered, the kind of films I have been a part of collectively within a year. Last few years have been an eye-opener for me in terms of the good films I have been offered, the kind of directors I have been able to work with.

>How is 2016 looking at the moment?

As we speak I have no films on hand. I have not signed on any film for next year. And this is exciting too. I am taking things as they come. On the one hand is a year with three releases and on the other there is one in which I don’t have any films yet. I have been reading a lot of scripts but nothing has excited me enough, I haven’t felt I would do justice to those roles or films. And I don’t pick up films that don’t excite me because I would end up damaging them.

What do you look for in a script?

I look for the overall feeling, of connecting with the larger story. I look at what feelings it would leave the audience with. A script narration is like watching a film and I react to it like an audience with my own instinct. After that I look for what is my character, what will I bring to the table in that role, how challenging will it be. My only priority now is the film first and then what is there in it for me. Never the other way round.

Filmdom is a fickle world. Highs are followed by lows. Does that ever bother you?

Not up till now. I have not given a thought to the highs and the lows. I don’t rule out the possibility that a low might come soon but am prepared for that. It can happen to anyone at any time. Last 3-4 years have been great. But I am not taking the good work and this successful phase for granted. I take pride in the fact that whatever films I have picked up till today, whether they have worked or not, have been my own decisions. My decisions for doing the films have been only and only creative. No other aspect of filmmaking has tempted me to do a film other than the script and the story itself.

The one film that was the game changer for you?

Cocktail.

Any particular character you played in this journey since 2007 that you have identified with?

I would say Naina Talwar. The way she blossomed in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, in a way that has been my journey too. I have also seen a growth and a sense of evolution in myself over a period of time.

What about Piku? So many single, urban women took to it…

My parents are not that old yet but the film has prepared me for old age, for my parents aging with time. We are all in a different stage of relationship with our parents but as a child we all react to the film in a similar manner. It reaches out to every girl, every child.

It is much more difficult to play such real, life like characters isn’t it?

Certainly. Piku was driven by subtleties. Most films come with the padding of the sound, the visual, the drama. This was like dal-chawal, much more difficult to pull off.

>What about Mastani ? Do you have her impetuosity?

I identify a lot in terms of the attitude to life, the silent inner strength, the determination within. Women identify with it because of the power and strength they have. We are all faced with challenges everyday, sometimes not in a pronounced way, and these traits come out at the time of reckoning. I relate to what Mastani went through, what she believed in and stood for.

Of late women’s roles have been changing/evolving in Bollywood. In fact, getting better than roles for men. What gives?

(Long pause) I wish I knew you’d ask this question. I would have thought about it a bit more. But something coming to my mind at this point is that it’s the general sentiment right now, the feeling that women have been silent for too long. Vice versa it could be that the films are having an impact on the society and we are getting strong and brave to address crucial issues. I guess it’s a little bit of both. Plus the audience is ready for different kinds of cinema now. They are not necessarily driven by grand visuals alone, they need to see the heart and soul in a film. Whether the film is driven by a woman or not they need to connect and identify with these films. They want more than pure entertainment, something that has a lasting impact.

Women-centred films have been delivering the numbers, the hundreds of crores. And yet women don’t get the same remuneration in Bollywood as men. Does that irk you?

Yes it does but I also feel that we are moving in the right direction. We are taking a huge step forward in terms of the kind of films being made. There is positivity if we look at the stronger parts being written for women. It is a matter of time before equality takes over in all aspects of the film industry. Also, I feel this issue is part of a much larger conversation. It is not restricted to Bollywood or the entertainment industry alone. It is a global issue. Patricia Arquette raised the issue about wage disparity in her Oscar speech. It concerns women at large.

You have been actively campaigning for mental health issues…

At this point I want to stand and speak for mental health issues and create awareness about them. But the cause I choose has to come to me organically. For every celebrity it has to be either something he or she strongly feels for or something that stems from their own experience. I have fought my own battle with depression and it was important for me to bring a little awareness about it for others.

Does sharing such an intimate detail of your life make you vulnerable, especially as a celeb?

When I opted for the campaign I never thought of the consequences at all. Now it’s too late anyhow. Only thing I thought of was sharing my experience with the world, on what impact it would have and if it could save others.

Everybody talks about your smouldering chemistry with >Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh but I thought you paired off really well with an unconventional hero like Irrfan Khan

I love Irrfan. He is a lovely person, I can’t wait to do another film with him. I had this preconceived notion, thought of him as an intimidating personality but he is a darling.

Who are the heroes you love working with?

SRK, Irrfan, Ranbir, Ranveer…

Any wishlist of films or roles?

Not really. The idea is to strive and make every film as special as possible. But yes as a genre I would like to attempt an action film.

But you did Chandni Chowk to China…

Yeah but an out and out, full on action role.

Any characters/performances of other actors that you’d have wanted to do yourself?

I don’t think of it like that. Any actor who has done justice to a role, pulled it off well makes the film belong to her. Having said that, of the films I have seen lately, Blue Jasmine, Still Alice and Amy have had a huge impact on me.

So you do watch a lot of films?

I have begun to watch a lot more now.

Do you read?

There are already enough scripts to read.

What do you do in free time? Do you get enough time for yourself?

There can be no time for yourself unless you create it. I just like resting my mind, catching up with friends, hanging at home or cooking. I am not a party person, I am very socially awkward.

What are the immediate plans after a glorious year at the movies?

I definitely need to take a break, and a long one at that. I am looking forward to it. That is the most immediate plan. I need to spend some time with my family. I think both my family and I deserve the quality time. I do keep going home every now and then and they keep coming over to Mumbai but I haven’t gone for this long. I will go for about a month. I am looking forward to days of waking up and not doing anything.

namrata.joshi@thehindu.co.in

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