More Than Skin Deep – EXCLUSIVE interview of Deepika Padukone

It is Deepika Padukone’s birthday month and her film Chhappak releases at the Box Office after two years of Padmaavat. In the last two years, the doe-eyed actress has stayed in the top of news, be it her much talked about wedding with Ranveer Singh, their light-hearted banter on twitter, featuring in commercials, winning awards, walking red carpets, more recently shaking a leg with Kartik Aryan to turning producer with KA Productions. Her debut as a producer with Chhapaak is directed by Meghna Gulzar and depicts the story of real-life acid attack survivor/warrior Laxmi Agarwal. Ad nauseum, the actor has been asked the question of how brave she is to take up a role that challenges the very notion of outer beauty. Deepika however is candid in her opinion. The thought never occurred to her. All she thought was how well would her prosthesis depict the character in varying degrees of recovery. Also, this is her first film where she plays a real-life character and so, there were challenges galore. Manju Ramanan speaks to the actor who pushes boundaries with all her roles.

In an industry that is “look-ist”, does it take guts to enact a role like this one?
I have been getting this question all the time. But honestly it never crossed my mind.  If you are in a profession where you are known for your looks, that is peopleís perception of you. As an actress, what occurred me was the prosthesis that would show different stages of recovery and how to achieve that. When we did the look test that took many hours and when I looked at myself in the mirror I felt like myself. Physical appearance is a miniscule part of the film and we achieved it with the right prosthesis. Also the film talks about how beauty is skin deep indeed and what is more lasting and alluring is a beautiful personality.

When a film is based on a true story how do you keep in mind that there is one girl who will watch the film more intently than others?
I have never done a role based on a real-life todayís character ever and I was consumed by telling the story of Laxmiís undaunted spirit, grit and gumption. I was a bundle of nerves when I was told that Laxmi was visiting us on set. Her validation was very important to me because it was her story I was telling. A real-life character would react to the onscreen me. But I will never forget the moment she came to with a big, huge smile and saw me in her role – I felt I was looking at a mirror image. And she felt the same.

What does Meghna Gulzar draw out of you?
I felt very secure with Meghna from day one. It was important to feel that safe when you are working with a sensitive subject. If it was another director doing the same story, I might not have agreed to do it. She handles emotions with such great sensitivity. While it is a compelling story to tell, 50 percent of the film is also the way it is told.

The film also depicts collective angst we all share as women- do you see yourself anchoring that angst?
It is a role with great responsibility and that has been possible with an ace-film maker such as Meghna Gulzar. Yes, in the role I have depicted the angst but as an actress feel that it is only a process and only if we impact society to stand up against violence, that change will happen.

You have advocated the fight against depression – how did you see this film in that space? 
They are very different situations and there is no comparison between the two. For me, my fight with depression was a life-altering situation. For Laxmi, what she encountered was a life-changing situation as well but the circumstance was extremely different. But the commonality was, both of us refused to be reduced by it and didnít succumb to our experiences. We chose to overcome the obstacles to choose the path of light. That is the similarity.

How many acid attack warriors did you meet and how did they impact and impress you?Yes, the film has three acid attack survivors who have acted as well. While the film is anchored by the character of Laxmi, it is also about the entire acid attack syndrome.
Uyare in Malayalam is a story on an acid attack warrior. Have you watched it and what has been your reaction? No, I havenít watched it. I also know of a film that Shabana Azmiji did. The more the better I feel since all of this addresses a cause we need to stand up for.

A debutante producer acting in her own film – is it taxing?
It certainly is tough. I think I found my own formula. I have put my name to a project and I want it to succeed. Do you see there are a handful of men who are breaking barriers when it comes to support women? Yes, 100 percent! Somewhere we have misunderstood feminism. It cannot be driven by women alone. We need men in the fight too. One thing we are averse to is calling Chhapaak a woman-oriented film. It is a film for everyone ñ for all genders, all age groups. We need to recalibrate ourselves while consuming content.

Watch the review of Chhappak here




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