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‘Stories of the human spirit connect with me’

In a quick interview, Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone reveals why she prefers to do films that speak to her

A race against time. It is ironical that this metaphor should describe my conversation with Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone, considering that the Swiss watchmaker Tissot set it up. As I walk up to greet her, I could imagine a virtual stopwatch counting down the precious seconds spent not conversing, but Deepika, 33, smiles, and assures that we’ll have a “more detailed conversation” another time.

The actor, who is married to Bollywood star Ranveer Singh, has not had a starring role in an Indian film since Padmaavat (which featured the couple) in January 2018. The dry run is likely to continue through 2019, as Deepika’s next film Chhapaak (which refers to a splashing sound in Hindi), inspired from the real life story of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal, is only scheduled for release on January 10, 2020.

The X factor

Ask her about playing the role of Malti in Chhapaak, and Deepika prefers to play coy. She says, “It is obviously a story of the human spirit, and that is what drew me to the film. There are lots of inspiring stories that one experiences or comes across — in human interactions or in the form of scripts. Sometimes, some of these stories speak to you slightly more than the others. [Chhapaak] was that for me,” she says, adding that Meghna Gulzar, the film’s director, had to narrate only a “couple of scenes” to her before she felt an “instant sort of connect” with the story.

But for Meghna, Chhapaak wouldn’t have happened for the actor. “I was not in the head space, honestly, at that point to do a film like Chhapaak. I was looking for a love story but I still gave it a shot, and she (Meghna) came and narrated it. I surprised myself, and I actually ended up doing something completely different,” adds Deepika.

A few days ago, the actor took to Instagram to announce that filming for Chhapaak, which she is also producing, was complete. “It has been a very involved process. Because when you’re an actor and a producer, I think you’re a little more invested and involved creatively. You feel that you’re contributing a lot more to the film beyond just being an actor. I hope January [2020] comes soon,” she says.

She is also part of 83, the Kabir Khan film about Kapil’s Devils, the moniker given to the victorious 1983 cricket world cup winning team. Deepika, who is set to play the role of Romi Bhatia, wife to Dev’s character played by Ranveer Singh, is also one co-producing the film. “Again it was the human spirit that drew me to the film. It’s a story of human triumph, and of grit and determination,” says Deepika, who adds that she would apply the same metric to choose a project for digital streaming platforms, if one were to come her way. “It is about where I am in life at that point, both creatively and emotionally,” she says.

Live, love and laugh

In 2015, Deepika chose to open up about her battle against depression, and has since then gone on to found The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF). Its primary work concerns the state of Karnataka with the focus on confronting the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and to spread awareness on the same. Ask her how best to take the cause to rural India, where misinterpretation of mental health problems is still commonplace, she says, “Contrary to popular belief, rural India is way more open to the idea of seeking help, at least, from our experience. They are way more open to having a conversation on the importance of mental health than what we’ve seen in urban India.”

The actor believes that funding is what that has been lacking in this fight. “The minute you see money coming in… automatically you have doctors, psychiatrists and counsellors going into these [rural] areas on a weekly basis, and meeting people for follow-up sessions.” And that’s the area where TLLLF is supporting Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), who are already engaged in this line of work. “The foundation has been clear on one thing. It is that we do little, but impactful work,” the actor says, adding that they’re looking to expand their rural outreach programme in Karnataka.

At this point, I’m reminded that my time has run out. But I find a nano-second to squeeze in another question. Will we see Deepika Padukone in a south Indian film anytime soon? And she goes, “Sure!”, only to be dealt with a follow up query — when? “Whenever,” she smiles, and bids goodbye.

Tissot’s new boutique is now open at the VR Mall, Anna Nagar.

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