Deepika Padukone
Deepika Padukone

She’s at the Piku of her career now. Yes, we are referring to the Numero Uno since at least two years—Deepika Padukone. Less than six years after her Hindi debut in Om Shanti Om, Deepika Padukone, who played the super-star in this film (in one of her double roles), actually emerged as one.

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Peppy, pragmatic and practical Padukone has all fundas perfectly in place: she is convinced that films are teamwork, that music often sets the tone for a film and composers thus have a huge contribution to a star career, that she knows how she will be judged as a person and a superstar, that it is important to remain level-headed and that such stardom, however much it lasts, is always transient.

The actress also attributes her fighting spirit and constructive sense of competition to her sporting background. Finally, while declaring that she loves watching romantic films and comedies the most, she does not wish to restrict her art to any genre, and yet wants her audience connect intact as well—as with a Piku.

However, in nine films since, Deepika was still learning on the job, and only Love Aaj Kal and Lafangey Parindey saw her impress. And at that stage, she was also criticized—with some justification—for her dress sense.

It was in 2011, that her evolution began by matching up to the author-backed role of Amitabh Bachchan in Aarakshan. This is where observers, despite the film’s b-o. failure, first noticed a definite and focussed change. Earlier the same year, she had oozed oomph in her song cameo in Dum Maaro Dum, enacting the re-created hit of that name.

Love Aaj Kal had been a Saif Ali Khan-Dinesh Vijan production, and their common friend Homi Adajania had sensed the hidden X-factor in this girl enough to try her out as the uninhibited Veronica D’Costa in Cocktail. When Deepika virtually carried the film on her shoulders, the industry’s perspective finally began to change. Even more important, so did that of the audience. Here was someone who had what it took to reach a different stratosphere from the reigning beauties around.

Abbas-Mustan, as adept at thrillers as at spotting exceptional talent, cast her as the gangster’s sister Alina in Race 2. For Ayan Mukerji, no one fitted the nerdy Naina who transforms in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani more. Yes, Deepika and Ranbir had ended a personal relationship long before, but both were too professional to miss a solid script. It was career above ‘split’ ends, right?

Industry mechanics work at breakneck speed, and even faster does Destiny if it has made someone its favourite child. Shah Rukh Khan signed Deepika for his return to masala cinema—Chennai Express. And Bhansali jettisoned others to sign Deepika Padukone for his Gujarati love epic, Goliyon Ki RaasLeela-RamLeela.

And so in 2013, Deepika struck gold with all these films, chalking up almost Rs 600 crore domestic nett in one year. And this is where she became known as a ‘hero’ rather than a heroine, because no A-list male star had done that! Even more vitally, she was no decorative doll in any of these, but had given solid performances in diverse roles and overshadowed everyone else in acting as well as song-and-dance!

Deepika thus entered 2014 on a dizzy high—with Rajnikanth, no less, she signed Kochadaiiyyan, and she boldly balanced her Mumbai career with Homi’s offbeat English comedy Finding Fanny and a second tryst with Farah Khan—the whacky Happy New Year.

That Kochadaiiyaan tanked never mattered—she had nothing much to do in this (originally Tamil) Rajni-thon, but she held her own against the formidable Dimple Kapadia, Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapur in …Fanny, and then it was back to “overshadow all” time in her next Hindi release Happy New Year—a huge hit again.

The Deepika magic and mystique continue unabated with Piku, as this master actress and first complete super-star package (looks, figure, dancing skills, acting brilliance, charisma and professionalism) after Madhuri Dixit and Kajol, etches another memorable persona and matches her co-actors, going beyond the script as always. Witness her outburst after her reel father returns home after an orgy of cycling—here is one magician whose acting talent dominates her magnetic persona and box-office draw. Maharashtrian, Gujarati, Catholic, Tamilian and Bengali—Deepika effortlessly brings alive every community equally well.

Yes, Deepika today, like Madhuri and Kajol, has a big draw all her own, and co-stars can only add to it. Tamasha and Bajirao Mastani should positively gain big from her very presence, and she has yet to work with Salman Khan—which would be the ultimate combo!

– Rajiv Vijayakar, a Senior Journalist, Film & Music Critic and Historian for Hindi cinema and Film Music is also an Author and Twice Jury Member at 58th and 62nd National Film Awards.

Rajiv Vijayakar tweets @rajivvijayakar

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