Deepika Padukone for HELLO! India© HelloIndia

HELLO! 100 Most Influential: Deepika Padukone

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Prasad Bidapa

Why she matters: India’s highest paid actress, an internationally acclaimed brand ambassador, a youth icon and spokesperson for mental health, this global sensation has more than 200 awards to her name and was also on Time’s list of the ‘100 Most Influential.’ Fashion guru Prasad Bidapa profiles the superstar he helped launch…

I’ve often wondered why Deepika Padukone never signed a James Bond film. It could be that she never had the dates, for she’s one of India’s busiest Bollywood divas. She did find the time, though, to make XXX: The Return of Xander Cage with Vin Diesel, which grossed US$346.1 million worldwide!

We still think she’d make a great Bond girl. Her athletic physique and flawless demeanour fuse to create a new Pussy Galore or Honey Ryder. Imagine her in a black rubber bodysuit with killer heels, with the latest of weaponry, and it won’t take much effort to see her thrashing Bond and other assorted villains to a pulp!

The Early Days

One of India’s most bankable actors today, Deepika’s mere presence ensures a box-office hit. As an athlete growing up in Bengaluru, she was at the top of her game, winning awards and accolades in badminton. Even in her early days in the city, she was no stranger to adulation, with besotted fans following her everywhere, from practice sessions to national-level matches.

It was here that Deepika began modelling with my agency, and soon, both runway and photographic offers came pouring in. She’s a natural mannequin, possessing the height and slender frame that catapulted her to the top of the industry in no time at all!

It was after shooting for her first film, Aishwarya, in Kannada, that I think she found her true calling. And as is the norm in India, Deepika, like scores of others, moved to Mumbai, the epicentre of advertising and fashion and also the city that spawned Bollywood. It was here that she transformed into one of India’s top models, and a confident, self-assured beauty.

A milestone moment in Deepika’s career came in the form of the Kingfisher calendar. Being photographed for the glamorous spread catapulted her into the spotlight, and she became the face of the moment, her flawless image staring down at you from everywhere. She was now truly on her way, a new self-confidence evident as she moved higher in the pantheon of fashion and advertising.

The Spectacular Shantipriya

When Deepika received a casting call from choreographer-turned-filmmaker Farah Khan in 2006, it was for a screen test for a film she was planning with Shah Rukh Khan. A film co-starring a Khan can assure a newbie actor a chance to join the big leagues instantly. But Farah was a perfectionist, and she wasn’t impressed. Deepika’s diction in Hindi left much to be desired, and her dancing skills were, at best, of the common variety at the time.

In her signature straightforward manner, Farah instructed Deepika to polish her talent in acting, dialogue delivery and classical Kathak. With Om Shanti Om slated to go on the floors six months from then, she was willing to screen test Deepika again if she prepared herself successfully.

Determined, Deepika more than rose to the challenge and began an immersive process of training in acting, while perfecting her Hindustani. She started learning classic and contemporary dance, and it certainly paid off. Farah kept her promise, and the rest is cinematic history.

I remember watching Om Shanti Om when it was released in 2007. In the darkened theatre, Deepika was incandescent on the big screen. So much so that she walked away with all the ‘Best Debutante’ awards that year!

Several films followed, with her stardom rising with every release. The occasional miss hardly mattered, as her films were mostly well received. Till date, Deepika has acted in over 30 movies, winning many accolades and more than 200 awards.

A Mental Health Champion

Modelling and movies aside, Deepika has been lauded for her open discussion around mental health and its perils. Having battled clinical depression herself, she was one of the first Bollywood celebrities to discuss her illness publicly.

In 2015, she launched The Live Love Laugh Foundation to offer support to those diagnosed with depression and other mental health issues, and five years later, she received the Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum for her efforts on this front.

Second To None

In Bollywood, female actors are often relegated to props for the hero and eye candy for the masses. A few successful actresses dominate the choices, though only when they star in movies with one of five or six male Bollywood bigwigs. Not to mention the frighteningly short shelf life they have in the industry, forced to fade away as younger faces take their place.

Deepika, however, chose alternative films like Piku, pursuing female-centric movies that would ultimately allow her to be taken seriously as an actor of repute. Gehraiyaan, for instance, showcased the ease with which she could slip into the skin of characters, and Pathaan further cemented her No. 1 status in B-Town.

Deepika understands Bollywood better than most. She’s a part of a new generation that’s not content to play second fiddle to the top heroes. She’s signed some of the most successful projects in the industry and also secured herself by making great investments in real estate and businesses, in addition to sealing endorsements to become one of India’s most admired superbrands herself. In fact, her contract with Louis Vuitton and Cartier established her international credentials as a style icon!

Deepika is at the very cusp of her career, named among Time’s 100 most influential people and by Forbes as one of the 10 highest-paid actresses globally, and we expect to hear more from her as she moves into new roles and harvests the fruits of her labour in the years to come!

Photograph by: Errikos Andreou

To see who else is on the list, grab the copy of HELLO! India’s August 2023 issue right here!