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    Single-minded in getting where she is today, Deepika Padukone says the title ‘queen of Bollywood’ is a reminder that she needs to ‘work harder.’ 

    Deepika Padukone has the looks and attitude, and she is the highest paid heroine in Bollywood today. It’s a good place to be at 27. As of January 2013, the actress’ worth was estimated at `25 crores, with the most number of endorsements (Tissot watches to Luxor pens). Yet, Padukone is astoundingly self-effacing, politically correct and traditional. Perhaps it was my fault for expecting a no-holds-barred Veronica from Homi Adajani’s Cocktail to resurface and bring along that crazy approach to life. After all, it was her coming-of-age movie, and her wild-child character got her noticed.

    Chennai connect
    As a child, Deepika remembers visiting her aunt in Nungambakkam, the Marina beach and Hot Chips. She frequented the city for her Badminton matches, and got her first pair of silver anklets from GRT. As for her association with the movie Kochadaiyaan, and her views on co-star Rajinikant, she says, ‘‘You live in Chennai. There is nothing more I can add to what has already been said about him. But he has attained ‘god dom’ (as in stardom). I am fascinated with Rajinikant the person more than the actor. When I was offered the film, I was not bothered about the length of my role, I just wanted to be part of it.’’

    This ability to slip in and out of character is what makes Deepika the reigning queen of the box office, with four back-to-back box office hits (Cocktail, Race 2, Yeh Jawaani Yeh Deewani and Chennai Express). Her next release, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram-Leela, where she plays the spunky and passionate Leela to Ranveer Singh’s Ram, set in the backdrop of Gujarat, is proof of her ascent to the big league of performing actresses. Are such expectations unnerving? “Not really. I have never felt bogged down by expectations. For the past one and a half years, I have done films that I liked. It feels great,” says the actress.

    All work, no play
    Five years is too brief a period to find a footing in Bollywood. Most of our Superstars swear that the first few years are about learning the ropes. But Deepika’s career has not seen too many twists and turns. How many actresses can boast about being picked by an A-list filmmaker to be paired with Shah Rukh Khan in her debut film? Having said that, that star-studded debut didn’t make her complacent. She patiently worked her way up, studiously choosing between commercial and relatively challenging films. Today, her CV boasts of a Bachna Ae Haseeno, an Aarakshan, a Chennai Express and a Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. When we talk about her racing far ahead of her contemporaries, she laughs, “It’s obviously a nice feeling. I don’t take these things seriously. It just means that I need to work harder.”


    The stars were shining on me when Deepika agreed because of all the people in the film, her contribution and commitment was the deepest. She holds her own against Ranbir. You love Ranbir because of Deepika
    Ayan Mukerjee, director, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

    But then slacking off is one thing Deepika has never been accused of. So much so that she is a paparazzi’s nightmare — no spicy quotes or temper tantrums, with a masters in diplomacy! She has let that image slip only a few times, one of them being the famous Koffee with Karan episode, where her cheeky response to a question about her ex-boyfriend was, “I would gift Ranbir a condom.” Her Love Aaj Kal director, Imtiaz Ali, has a story about how he was caught off guard when he saw an otherwise prim and proper Deepika jumping up and down to catch his attention, which eventually prompted him to cast her as Veronica in Cocktail. Otherwise, she lives up to her image of being Miss Congeniality. Padukone quickly defends herself, “I know a lot of people say that I am politically correct, and I think too much before I speak. But that’s a result of my upbringing. I did try to be honest about my relationships in the past but that was blown out of proportion. So now I am more cautious.”

    Mind over emotions
    Over to Ram-Leela which, in true Bhansali style, is expected to be a big costume drama with opulent ghagras, antique jewellery and striking colours. Was it difficult to pull off? “I enjoyed wearing all the costumes sourced from Gujarat by Sanjay and restored by designer Anju Modi. For an actor, it is always exciting to be part of a costume drama,” she says. I steer the conversation towards the man she is said to be currently dating — Ranveer Singh, who has gone on record to state that they shared the most passionate on-screen kiss in the history of Indian cinema. The two have been spotted together at coffee shops and at cinema halls in the recent past. As expected, Padukone easily dodges my question with, “The audience is smart enough to understand the ploys. Ram-Leela is a love story and obviously it won’t work without an amazing sense of chemistry between the lead actors. It is as simple as that. Such rumours are good for the film.”
    The only time she opens up is when the topic changes to her director du jour, Bhansali. Can she now tell us why he is on every heroine’s wish list? “It’s the way he presents his heroines, not just in terms of looks but he has this ability to extract fluent performances from them. There is so much intensity and passion in my Leela,” Padukone says, admitting to being petrified on the sets. “ You can say that I started breathing on the last day of the shoot. He is so unpredictable that it is crazy. If you come prepared on his sets, he makes sure you unlearn everything and start afresh.”

    Love and leading men
    Deepika hasn’t had it easy on the relationship front, with the media merciless in exposing all her romantic associations. Be it her first boy friend Nihar Pandya (whom she is said to have dumped after her debut film), Kingfisher scion Siddharth Mallya (he is said to have called it off after gifting her an apartment worth `16 crores, leading to speculation that the relationship was staged) to Ranbir Kapoor (reportedly, he was two-timing her with Katrina Kaif). Except for Ranbir, she has been tight-lipped about the rest. “When I was truly in love and the relationship was important to me, I talked about it. But after that, I haven’t, because maybe I don’t feel as strongly about any other relationship. Over time, though, I have learned to handle the scrutiny,” she reveals. She’s admitted to being a lot more closer to Ranbir post her break-up, especially during the making of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. “Maybe because we have no emotional baggage left. Today, we can talk to each other about everything under the sun,” she tells me.
    Though she has always maintained that it is difficult for two actresses to be friends, the same cannot be said about her equation with her male co-stars. From Shah Rukh Khan — she used to be in awe of him, but now pulls his leg — to her most comfortable co-star, Ranbir Kapoor, she’s had an envious rapport with all. “I haven’t yet figured out the secret. But yes, they have been equally wonderful co-actors and an integral part of my journey. I am surprised myself,” she dimples. It is said that her one girl pal in Bollywood is actress Shahana Goswami, and it’s a friendship that started from the time she was a newcomer in Bollywood. The two are often seen going scuba diving together.

    Shiny possessions
    Padukone makes for the perfect red carpet girl, working the sari and the gown alike (rare among Indian actresses). Be it a Naeem Khan trouser dress or a risque black Prabal Gurung gown, or accessories like a Hermes or Alexander McQueen, she pulls it off easily. “I have never taken that seriously. It’s a job that is handled beautifully by Anaita Shroff Adajania. I trust her choice with all my red carpet ensembles,’’ she says frankly. She recently launched a clothing line with Van Heusen called Deepika Padukone Limited Edition. ‘‘It is something that defines me, my idea of style and comfort,” says Padukone. And while she claims she almost never splurges on clothes, shoes are an exception. “I love everything, from Jimmy Choos to Kolhapuris. I can’t be fussy about brands as it is extremely difficult to find something in my size. But I hate ankle length boots,” she confides.

    When I signed Deepika for Aarakshan, many thought I was making a mistake as she was this typical glam doll. I was amazed at her dedication
    Prakash Jha,
    director, Aarakshan

    Deepika owns three luxury cars, with the Audi 7 being a recent acquisition. She is said to be an F1 fanatic. As for gadgets, she admits to being “traditional” and prefers seeing photographs in an album than on an iPhone. Addicted to video games, she loves getting competitive on her tablet. She is generous with tips. “Hammacher Schlemmer’s Electrical Adapter s the best for a girl who travels often and needs different plus sockets for her phone charger, blow dryer and iPad. It works in 150 countries,” she shares. So does she think people toting smartphones have invaded her privacy? “Nothing like that. We need to get used to it. Occupational hazards of stardom,” shrugs the eternally polite Padukone.

    Ram-Leela is scheduled to release in November.

    – Neelima Menon

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