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Blockbuster Express

It would be no exaggeration to call her ‘blockbuster actress’ as the collections of her films are growing with every successive release – Cocktail followed by Race 2 and now Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Let’s also not forget that her next release is the most anticipated film of the year – Rohit Shetty’s Chennai Express – and that she will be ending the year with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram Leela. Here’s Deepika Padukone, at the peak of her career, in conversation with Vajir Singh

Let’s start with the response that’s pouring in after the trailer of Chennai Express released.

(Laughs) You tell me since you know better. What do you think of it?

It’s outstanding and, from what I’ve heard, it’s unanimous that it’s outstanding.

I would like to believe the response is good because I get the feeling that everyone thinks it’s a family entertainer. That’s what Rohit has always been very good at. He has always managed to bring in the audience, whether kids, the older generation, family and also young people. It is a universal film.

SRK and I are coming back together, and the undercurrent of the love story in this film is very strong. I think the love story was always there but in the process of making the film, it’s come to the fore. It’s become one of the main USPs of the film. Obviously, it’s blended with Rohit Shetty’s style – the cars and the action, hilarious comedy and scale.

Have you also performed any action in the film?

I don’t have any action scenes in the film. I am a part of one of the important action sequences, the chase sequence, but SRK is doing the Hindi hero film-style action, the true hero-protecting action.

How difficult was it to pick up the South Indian accent?

It’s become a part of me now. The minute I walked on to the sets, my accent, the way I speak, the way I carried myself, would automatically become like Meena Lochini (the character’s name). I think a large part of that has to do with the costumes that Manish (Malhotra) has given me. An actor’s performance is also affected by the environment and the accent suddenly became very interesting.

I will admit that, initially, it was very difficult to get the accent right. Also, it’s a character that could have easily become a caricature. As South Indians, Hindi is not the primary language that we speak, so whether Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu or Tamil, we end up making a lot of grammatical errors. At the same time, the way Meena Lochini’s character had been written, it could’ve easily become a caricature. But we tried not to do that. Cracking that accent was very difficult but once it happened, it was easy.

This year is turning out great for you, isn’t it?

Yes, and the year is not over yet. Race 2 was a big success until Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (YJHD) happened. And it feels great to be part of films that are being talked about. Race 2 is being talked about as one of the bigger films this year and YJHD could be among the biggest films of all time along with films like 3 Idiots.

I think Pritam’s contribution is humongous. Dilliwali girlfriend, Balam pichkari, Badtameez dil… all the songs that played a large part in YJHD’s success came from Pritam. Besides that, there’s the pairing of Ranbir and me after a long time and the timing of the film. So it’s a combination of all these things that made the film a success.

Are you aware that the lifetime collection of each of your movies is growing? Cocktail’s business was surpassed by Race 2 and now YJHD is much bigger than your previous two films.

(Laughs) I didn’t realise that till you just said it. (Pause) Yeah, that’s true!

Do you track the collections of your films now?

It was never something I used to do. It’s the kind of information that reaches you anyway, whether through your producers, co-stars, people in the trade. But I think I am beginning to understand it better and with a film like YJHD, we don’t just have numbers but big reviews to back up the figures. That, for me, is a big high.

Most blockbusters today feature actresses who have a miniscule role in them but end up sharing the success. In your case, you have a large part to contribute to all your movies, whether Cocktail, Race 2 and now YJHD.

Thank you! I take that as a compliment. But again, it just happened that directors had faith in me. Homi (Adjania), for example, had faith in me before people even watched Cocktail. The audience watched it after the film released and then said that my performance was amazing. But credit should be given to Homi, who saw it in me before anyone else did. It was Imtiaz (Ali) who suggested in the first place that I should play that part. The same goes for Ayan (Mukerji). I mean the fact that he cast me in his second film.

I watched Ayan very closely when he was making Wake Up Sid! And I as an actor, always wanted to work with him. I think there are very few directors who can handle contemporary love stories so beautifully. Some of the scenes in YJHD are very touching and the reason people love the film is because they are so relatable… the characters, not just because they are a couple, even their relationship with their families. He has handled that so beautifully and it shows how evolved he is as a person and as a director.

As a performer as well as a star, you were accepted from your very first film, Om Shanti Om. But it took you a while to reach the peak.

A large part of that had to do with my self-confidence. I felt very protected in Om Shanti Om because SRK and Farah (Khan) took care of every aspect of the film. Everything from my hair, make-up, costumes, performance, what I should or shouldn’t say, was taken care of. Suddenly, after the release of the film, I felt like a newborn child left to experience the world on my own.

It’s taken me so many films to learn that process as I didn’t have anyone to guide me. It was all my own learning during the 12-13 films I did. Every film, every character, every hit and failure has taught me something.

How much does failure affect you?

A lot. And I did go through a professionally low phase, where my films weren’t doing as well as I was expecting them to. And that’s not a nice feeling. As an actor, you want each one of your films to do well and, at that time, they were not doing well, except for maybe Love Aaj Kal. So I am glad that things are looking great, I am being offered roles through which I am able to showcase my talent.

Since you have had four major films lined up, 2013 was dubbed ‘the year of Deepika Padukone’. Were you aware of this?

(Laughs) You said this to me when you interviewed me before the release of YJHD. I mean, it really doesn’t matter whether I have four releases a year or just one. Last year, I had only one release, which did really well. And I hope that all four releases this year will add value to my career.

Last year, you had one big release and four films this year. Now, post Ram Leela, you have only Homi’s film, which is not a big-budget film. Isn’t that unusual?

I understand what you’re trying to say and I did realise that myself. From going through one of the toughest phases of my career, where I was juggling three films and now with YJHD’s release, and Chennai Express to release, I am getting a little edgy but I am enjoying it too. I want to do that and not worry about what I am going to do six months from now. Hopefully, something interesting like YJHD, Cocktail or Chennai Express will come along.

Is it true that you have signed a big-budget film?

No, that’s not true. I have nothing in hand apart from Homi’s film, which I start in October. Of course, I am talking to people There are projects I would like to be a part of but until they show interest, I don’t want to say anything.

How much have you evolved as an actor?

I think I have become more comfortable with myself and the way people perceive me has changed. I suddenly feel people have started appreciating my work in a very different way.

Different way?

I mean, people have started appreciating my performances; they have started appreciating Deepika as an actor. And I believe that has everything to do with me becoming comfortable.

Do you agree that the success of a film changes the perception of an actor?

Definitely!

So you believe that, at the end of the day, it’s all about the box office?

Not only the box office, but also, appreciation for a film. There’s a lot of love we get from the trade, the industry, and the audience. You can’t explain these things. You can’t explain why it happens, when it happens, but it happens. And I think it happens to very few films.

Do you understand business better now?

(Laughs) Yes I am spending time with you and learning now. Yes, I am taking interest in these things but, like I said, I would be very disappointed if my film was doing very well at the box office but people didn’t like it. So when I am asked what’s more important, the box office or appreciation, I say both. What’s the point doing a film that does well but people don’t like; if it gets good reviews but is not a success?

It’s nice to know that you’re getting a hang of the trade. Cocktail did very well, Race 2 did better than Cocktail and YJHD is on its way to becoming one of the biggest successes of all time. Do you think Chennai Express will be the biggest film of all time?

Of course! I hope so. I am equally possessive of all my films and I am glad for 2013, the biggest grossers are both my films and I hope that with Chennai Express, I break my own record. (Laughs).

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