Deepika Padukone, who has made her name through smash hits such as Padmavati, xXx: Return of Xander Cage, and Bajirao Mastani, wears her Bollywood fame with practice and grace. And the glamour of Indian cinema follows her to the 2017 Cannes Film Festival as cameras flicker and flash and stars and reporters alike convene under the enticing aura of sunlight, specks of glass embedded in the pavement practically glittering, and take turns shaking her hand and congratulating Padukone.
And she’s dressed the part of the “Queen of Bollywood,” as she was dubbed on the cover of Femina India. Her form is swathed in stylishly draped pink silk, leading up to her neck. Padukone’s makeup is all in golden hues save her dusky eyes and glossed lips, and her hair arranged elegantly into a sleek bun atop her head with tendrils escaping to curl around her face and earrings dangling freely.
Despite the difficult road to success, Padukone focuses on where she has reached and the road ahead rather than the bumpy path to get there when reporter and film critic Anupama Chopra asks what is the biggest challenge about being in this amazing environment. She’s frequently discussed how much she loves challenges being thrown into a new environment.
“I mean, look at the view, look at this place,” Padukone told Film Companion, surveying the expansive oceanside beyond the glass gate of the room, palm leaves casting stripes of shade on her face. “How can there be any challenge? It’s really amazing. It’s just, I haven’t stopped smiling from the time I got here. It’s just such a happy place. I think the energy is really, really high energy. I feel so good, I feel so happy and it’s amazing. It’s just so good to be here. And I mean, look at the platform, look at what it is for cinema, and the fact that it just brings people together, brings cinema together, brings the world together. Everyone is here, it couldn’t be a better time and place.”
When asked if she’s had a starstruck moment yet, Padukone responded, “No, and I don’t think it’ll happen here.”
“No, Will Smith walks into the room, been there, done that?” Chopra jokingly questions.
“Not because I, I’ve not, I appreciate people,” Padukone laughs.
“Well, you know what goes on in there already,” Chopra said, and she certainly does, deeply immersed in cinema and Bollywood and an essential part of it, as well as one of the few actresses of Asian descent to rank on the Forbes list as one of the world’s highest paid actresses.
And while she remains locked in the proverbial fast lane, Padukone puts her experiences into perspective and continues to surge forward.
“It just doesn’t, it doesn’t excite me to that level,” she explained. “So typically, this year, you know, we had made inroads in terms of cinema, but this year, we’ve only got one film and it’s showing just at Center Foundation. It’s a student film which has made the grade.”
As Bollywood filmmakers aspire to attain global recognition and South Asian actors and actresses migrate to Hollywood, Chopra asks Padukone, a mainstay of Bollywood, what we can do to have more of a cinema presence.
“Here I understand that Indian cinema has always stood for something or has always had a certain colour and visual and content and all of that attached to it,” she said. “But I feel like we need to focus a lot more on our writing. I think that’s what we need to really focus on because cultures are so different. And we need to start making sense, if that’s, if we want people from other parts of the world which are consuming our senses. Well, I just feel like the language needs to change. I don’t mean that at the actual language, but I feel like the terminologies and the tonality, I think, that needs to be a little more inclusive of other cultures. And I think that’s what it is.”
Padukone has always been a global actor, but now her reach extends far beyond South Asian and traditional markets, and she shares how she wants to leverage this platform.
“I mean, obviously as an actor, I want to be selfish and use this platform as an opportunity to, sort of, be able to meet people, producers, directors, writers,” Padukone said. “I was probably looking at doing things with, you know, that where they might feel like I might sort of, you know, be appropriate for that cinema, for that part. But also something that I might be excited about or just from a learning point of view, just to see what is other people are doing to see what other actors are doing, to see what other kind of students are doing, and what films are being made in various other languages.”
And she has tailored her role as a L’Oréal brand ambassador to complement her work as an actress and the drama of Bollywood films, from painstakingly elaborate costumes and sets to breathtaking styles capturing the brand’s values.
“And then of course there’s, you know, there’s the L’Oréal angle of it for me, which is I think so important in a way because beauty and fashion is such an important part of film in a certain sense,” she said in the interview. “They help characters come alive and so I think it’s just like everything coming together and just, I think, just more from a cinema point of view, just to see different kinds of films and to soak it all in and to just interact with other people who are really passionate and talk the same language.”
She’s certainly paved her way in cinema, an immense and incredibly influential presence and icon early in her career. It is her tenth year of being an actor and the things she has done (and will continue to do) are massive, Padukone being the highest paid female actor in Hindi cinema. Does she pause to look back and take in the veritable empire she has built?
“It’s definitely been a very exciting and interesting journey considering I come from a different sort of background,” she reflected on in the interview. “And maybe people had expected me to be an athlete, maybe I’m meant to be a sportsman, I don’t know. But this is what I always wanted to do in the fact that there was no sort of formal training, as much the fact that I’ve just learnt on the job. And you know better than anyone else that there was a bit of writing off my career, so to be able to rise above all of that and to just focus on my craft and enjoy the process while I’m at it — all of that has just been such an amazing, you know.”
She’s struck a balance between celebrating her accomplishments and making new ones, and developed a healthier mindset, particularly after a battle with depression which she bravely opened up about when launching The Live Love Laugh Foundation.
“I think I went through a phase where I was like, ‘No, like, never look back. Just keep looking ahead and just, you know, keep moving forward,'” she admits in the interview. “But I feel like in the last couple of months, I feel like, ‘No, you know, I should not be so hard on myself.’ I think it is important sometimes to look back and appreciate something you’ve done and pat yourself on the back. Still move forward but it’s okay to sort of appreciate what you’ve done once a while. Pause for a little, yeah, say well done, difficult, yeah, pretty well.”
Padukone’s work is paving the way for South Asians and Bollywood to share their voice.
“You’re doing us proud, Deepika. Go forth and conquer,” Chopra lauds her.
Interviews may be the norm for celebrities and film stars, but for me, their luster never dulls with experience. Padukone is a reminder of that, her humility, grace, and hard work ensuring her light is not lost amidst camera flashes, and the vitality of speaking out and representing myself and the coalescence of cultures and stories that need to be heard.
As Bollywood and Hollywood markets and audiences blur together, the fabric of these stories will be twisted in new and fascinating ways, such as in the recent “Secret Superstar,” which emphasizes the heroine’s drive and potential, or ‘Padman,’ bringing to life activist Arunachalam Muruganantham’s mission to bring affordable sanitary pads to the female masses of India, and I will be here supporting the mission and fighting for representation.