Thoughtful. Measured. Sensitive. These are not adjectives one usually deploys to describe movie superstars. But at 34, after 13 years in the Hindi film industry, Deepika Padukone has emerged as a performer of incredible strength and a woman of quiet power. Chairperson of the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image and founder of the Live Love Laugh Foundation that works in the area of mental health, she has repeatedly stood up to bullies, whether it is those who have been critical of Padmaavat or her visiting the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University to show solidarity with students. She knows her own mind, has found a unique voice, and is now a global celebrity much in demand for her beauty and grace. In an interview upon her return from the World Economic Forum at Davos, where she won the Crystal Award for her work in raising awareness about mental illness, which she described as “extremely gratifying”, she spoke to Kaveree Bamzai about her sensitive performance as acid attack survivor Malti in Meghna Gulzar’s film, Chhapaak, and returning to the movies after two years of “replenishing emotionally”. Unafraid to show her vulnerability, she says, “At a time when we are all struggling to cope, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for humanity is to be ourselves.” Excerpts from the interview:

Did you spend a lot of time with acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal by way of research for the character of Malti?

We had to find a balance because at the end of the day Chhapaak is not a biopic. It is inspired by Laxmi Agarwal’s life but at no point did we intend to make me look like her. A large part of it was a discovery for us as well through the process. The similarities that people see, the resemblance in spirit and body language, they just happened organically. I did spend adequate time with her to understand her spirit but in terms of physicality, we had to find a balance between her personality and what I bring to the table.

What was the lesson from her life?

Her courage, her spirit, her determination, her attitude to life, her sense of humour. It’s quite layered. Her confidence, her love for social media, there were a lot of takeaways for me from the film.

At a time when we are all struggling to cope, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for humanity is to be ourselves.

Has the film changed your perception of beauty?

I get asked this question often. I’d like to believe that I’ve had a slightly broader understanding of physical beauty. I didn’t have to learn or discover that through the film. I see beauty in different personalities. Right from the time I was a child, I’ve found people fascinating. I’ve largely been a quiet, shy and awkward person, but with that comes observing a lot of people in my life and I’d like to believe I’ve always found unusual things attractive. That’s what drew me to this character. I find self assured people beautiful. Or authentic people beautiful. Those are the people who stand out in a crowd for me.

Also Read: Chhapaak Leaves You Emotional, Thoughtful And More Human

How was it working with Meghna Gulzar, the director? What advice did she give you to approach Malti’s role?

We found a beautiful balance between her guiding me half of the way and letting me find my process for the other half. That’s how we managed to achieve part Laxmi and part Deepika. Without really discussing it too much, I kind of knew what Meghna wanted and she didn’t overdirect. She had enough faith in me as an actor.

deepika padukone
Chhapaak brings to the fore stories of acid attack survivors and their journey but more importantly their spirit.

The temptation for accomplished actors is to always bring their bag of tricks with them. Did you? Do you have a bag of tricks?

What does that mean? You feel an emotion, you feel a moment and you perform. I’d like to believe my craft doesn’t involve any gimmicks, or any tricks, or games. I try and keep it as honest and organic as possible.

You took an acting break after Padmaavat. How did it affect your performance?

It was much needed. If I hadn’t had that time to replenish emotionally I would not have been able to put so much into Chhapaak. It’s very important for every actor to go through that process of nurturing emotional and creative fertility.

Why did you choose to make Chhapaak your first movie production?

I’d like to believe my craft doesn’t involve any gimmicks, or any tricks, or games. I try and keep it as honest and organic as possible.

I am at a point in my life where I’d like to be part of things–whether it is films or otherwise–that are meaningful, that bring about change and impact people’s lives. Chhapaak was one such film that brings to the fore stories of acid attack survivors and their journey but more importantly their spirit.

Also Read: Deepika Padukone Speaks About Mental Health At World Economic Forum

What draws you to a film now?

The process of choosing instinctively and honestly hasn’t changed. But a lot of other factors come into play now in terms of my personal evolution and where I am in my life. After all, you are defined by your choices.

What is your advice to young women who want to be you?

Don’t be me, be yourself. Be authentic, be honest, don’t be afraid to be who you are, especially in these times when we are anyway all struggling to cope. The best thing we can do for ourselves and for humanity is to be ourselves and to be honest.

First in a series of interviews special to SheThePeople.TV.

Kaveree Bamzai is a former editor of India Today and author of No Regrets: The Guilt-Free Guide to a Good Life. She has been a journalist for over three decades and is an active member of several juries and committees on her three pet passions: women, cinema and children.
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