A Mighty Heart





She was threatened, ostracized, blamed and victimized by political groups for her role of Rani Padmavati in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s famed film Padmaavat. Not to be cowed down by inane threats, Deepika Padukone held her ground and stood by her role and the film with great poise, dignity and self-belief. Unlike the last scene of the film in her reel life role where she surrenders to fire, Deepika in real life has risen like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of the fire of anti-propaganda, to fame and glory. With the super success of Padmaavat that swept all charts across the world where Indian cinema is consumed, the film not only reinstated her as an actor par excellence, but also as a woman with great resilience, grit and gumption. A‘warrioresque’ actor who let her work speak for herself than her words do.

After the sensational Jauhar scene, can anything in your reel- life be more dramatic and mind numbing?

It is one of the most cinematic moments I have been part of. It is such a tricky thing to shoot. Only Sanjay Leela Bhansali could have done it. It is overwhelming to see how people have felt and reacted. I think it will go down in the history of Indian cinema as one of the most important scenes. It happened because of the immense amount of trust Mr Bhansali had on me. It was shot aesthetically and conveyed immense amount of respect and leaves you either inspired or thinking. It created magic!

Any other such film scene that has numbed your senses?

Yes, there are many. Taare Zameen Par for instance or scenes from Piku that have had a huge impact on me. Lagaan for instance and the patriotism it portrayed. But very few films impress you with their cinematic climax. Javed Saab (Javed Akhtar) called it your Mother India. Both yes and no. An acknowledgement for my work coming from someone like him is a huge honor. But I also have a long way to go and better what I have done. That moment will be magical. I remember distinctly when Javed Saab mentioned this. Sanjay Leela Bhansali and I were chatting after a private screening of Padmaavat and Shabanaji and Javed Saab walked out after the screening and he looked into my eyes and told me that Padmaavat was my Mother India. It still gives me goose-bumps!

Was it your toughest role as yet?

Yes. It has been extremely tough and emotionally draining. I was drained after scenes in Bajirao Mastani as well but this was more. It is like when you run a marathon and you are exhausted at the finishing line but you have an adrenaline rush. There was exuberance spilling out of every pore. There was so much to express through my eyes and I didn’t have props of a warrior – didn’t have the crutches a warrior might need like a sword or a spear. Everything had to be expressed through my eyes.

You showed exceptional bravery off screen too after threats directed to you? What did you tell yourself during that phase?

It is there for everyone to see. Not saying anything is powerful enough. Fear is not an emotion I identify with. I won’t allow any other being to influence me negatively.

Leela, Mastani, Padmavati, Veronica, Piku, Naina, Shantipriya and Meenakshi – what have each of these roles you have played across different films contributed to your life and how have they changed you?

Yes (Laughs). Each of these women have changed me and left their mark on me. Each one is distinctly different than the other and they have a little bit of me in them. A Padmaavat couldn’t have happened without a Veronica (her character in Cocktail) or a Naina (Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani) or Shanti Priya (Om Shanti Om). The experience of being these characters have lent confidence to my role in Padmaavat. Each of them lives on as a very special memory. I am happy to be not just part of a legacy of good films but also a legacy of significant characters in the films I have done.

Ranveer Singh and you and three historical films? Will you feel awkward without the period backgrounds/costumes working with him?

I am dying to explore a regular film with him with a contemporary story. Though Ram Leela wasn’t a complete period film, it does take us to a certain space with its costumes, set design etc. We have a lot more to explore and I am waiting for an opportunity.

Ranveer’s most admirable quality according to you?

Everything other than the most obvious. I am bored when people say they love his energy. The man has so much more! He is an extremely good human being. He is kind and good to people. He is very real, emotional and sensitive. He is a man who is not afraid to cry and I love that about him. He is a man!

How did you find Khilji’s character- we all love to hate? What did you observe that you can share with us?

The first time I watched him was onscreen since we never had any scenes together. I cannot think of any actor who would have done this role and brought in the kind of intensity he did with Khilji . It was an author backed part but he made Khilji his own, He gave justice to the menacing part of Khilji . Audiences had to hate him to love his work. Actors are usually scared of doing negative roles for the fear of being or typecast. I remember reading an interview of Rajat Kapoor as a child. This was about his role in Monsoon Wedding where he plays a child molester. He had said that, after the film, people started getting scared of him in real life as well. But today the audiences have evolved. They are more aware. They hated Khilji’s character but loved Ranveer in it.

Your favorite Ranveer Singh film?

It is Band Baaja Baarat. For his debut, he came across as convincing and confident. It says a lot about an actor.

Are you critical about his performances and any film of his that you have disliked?

I am very protective about Ranveer. When the world world gushes on him, I am honest with my feedback of him.

We lost Sridevi recently? We all are still unsettled, what memories do you have of her?

My relationship with Sridevi was beyond the movies. She was like a mother figure to me. After every single film of mind after Love, Aaj Kal, I would get a call from Boney Kapoor and after he congratulated me Sri would come on the line. I developed a sense of familiarity and comfort with her. A few days before she left for Ras al Khaimah in the UAE, she spoke to me saying “Nazar Utaro”. I told her if she would do it for me and it was agreed that I would go to her and she would do it for me. I am shocked and numbed that won’t happen ever. We would discuss maid issues, health, household stuff etc. She recognized that I lived alone in Mumbai like she did once at the peak of her career and would guide me to things so well. Between us it was ‘I know the star you are but I also know the person.”

When you heard of Irfan Khan’s illness did it make you vulnerable?

The last couple of weeks have been emotionally challenging. They are all reminders to us that life is extremely fragile and that we should be grateful for what we have. He’s the most genuine person I’ve ever met.




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