Deepika Padukone: “I don’t give up, it’s in my DNA”

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Deepika Padukone is one for making a grand entrance. A star of both Bollywood and Hollywood, she has become a red-carpet favourite at Cannes and the Met Gala, where she has appeared adorned in dramatic tulle confections and voluminous satin gowns.

But growing up, she was more familiar with sportswear than high fashion. The daughter of India’s first major badminton champion, Prakash Padukone, she played the game competitively in her youth. “My father sort of put India on the map as far as sport was concerned,” she tells me from her home in Mumbai. “I didn’t start off wanting to be an athlete, it began as this extra-curricular activity after school when my parents didn’t want me to sit in front of the television. But before I knew it, I was playing badminton with commitment.” As a teen, her days would start at 4.30am with an initial round of training, then she would attend school and finish with a second session before doing her homework. But at the age of 16, she took a break from the sport to study for her exams, “and it was after that when I said: ‘OK, I’m done with being a professional athlete’,” she explains. “That’s when I decided I wanted to pursue modelling.”

She has since become an ambassador for L’Oréal and is the first Bollywood actress to star in a global campaign for Louis Vuitton. “It’s iconic. Truly, truly iconic,” she says of working with the French house for the past several years. While her style is greatly influenced by her mother’s, which she describes as being “simple, elegant, timeless”, she will fully commit to a moment of fantasy when the occasion calls for it. “Fashion for me today is a mix of what is trendy, along with a little bit of my personality. There’s a part of me that loves the classics and keeping it subtle. Then there’s the part of me who will wear a fuchsia-pink Ashi Studio dress or a neon-green Giambattista Valli gown to Cannes. They’ve been my most bold, out-there looks, but probably the most fun I’ve had on the red carpet,” she says.

Photo credit: Emma McIntyre - Getty Images
Photo credit: Emma McIntyre - Getty Images

Modelling soon transitioned to acting when she was offered the leading role in Om Shanti Om in 2007, which won her the Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut. While the film industry had always enthralled Padukone, she says that at home “movies weren’t really a thing”. “We’d watch literally just a couple of movies in a year, but somehow I was still fascinated by the few that we’d seen.” In particular, she was compelled by the roles of women and the stories being told – “Films where the characters are real, honest, vulnerable and relatable,” she says, citing Blue Valentine and Vicky Christina Barcelona as particular favourites. “I always knew or felt that film was where I’d be.”

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

At just 36 years old, she has starred in more than 20 films, including the romantic comedies Chennai Express and Cocktail, as well as the Hollywood blockbuster XXX: Return of Xander Cage opposite Vin Diesel, rising to become one of India’s highest-paid actresses and amassing 63.5 million Instagram followers. Her latest project, Gehraiyaan, explores modern relationships and their complexities, and has already been touted as one of Padukone’s best performances to date. “I’ve always wanted to work with Shakun Batra, our director,” she says. “I’m fascinated by his mind and the kind of stories that he tells.” While it has been historically difficult for Western viewers to access Bollywood films, OTT platforms (services that allow video content to be streamed over the internet) make it possible for Gehraiyaan to be watched in 240 countries. “Sitting in the comfort of your home, you can watch absolutely any piece of content from anywhere in the world. I think that’s incredible,” says Padukone.

Her favourite films to be involved with have been those “that can push the needle, that hopefully touch and influence people’s lives in a positive way”, she says, and so she focuses on making choices based on purpose. “There’s a part of me that loves sinking my teeth into these delicious characters that I get to portray. It gives you a kind of high that you can’t explain,” she reflects. “When the audience starts referring to you by your character’s name and forgets the person you are, for me that would be the most rewarding experience.”

In 2018, she founded her own production company, Ka Productions, allowing her to tell the stories that feel important to her – for Padukone is never one to shy away from difficult discussions. She advocates for women’s rights, in an industry where equality is an ongoing battle; but as she states, “It could be any workplace or any part of the world, women in general are fighting their fight. It happens everywhere.” While she says that tabloid scrutiny is something she has experienced since the very start of her career, it’s not something she dwells on. “Having said that,” she adds, “at least as far as our industry’s concerned, in the last couple of years we have come a long way – but we still have some way to go.”

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Padukone is also a leading voice for mental health in India, having established the Live, Laugh, Love foundation in 2015 to open up discussions around mental illness after she was diagnosed with clinical depression the previous year. “It’s different for different people, but my symptoms were a lack of focus, lack of motivation, not wanting to wake up, and sleep was almost an escape because I didn’t have to face reality. Constantly breaking down, having this pit in my stomach. That’s how I felt for a very, very long time, and you’re constantly battling this demon in your head, thinking: ‘Why do I feel this way?’” While dealing with her illness, she also felt she had to keep it a secret because of the stigma around the subject in India at the time – so when she started to feel better, she began to talk publicly about her experience to help others struggling with depression to identify what they were going through. “I don’t think I’d have ever anticipated that it would snowball into such a big moment for the mental-health conversation in India,” she says. “It made me realise that just doing a bunch of interviews wasn’t enough: this needed to be an ongoing effort.”


Self-care is now an important part of Padukone’s routine; she consciously makes time for herself amid her busy schedule. “I made the mistake of letting my professional life overshadow and overpower my personal life,” she explains. “I burnt my fingers and learnt my lesson, and I think in the past several years now I’ve found that I’m very comfortable in the work-life balance that I have found.” She describes herself as a “spa junkie”, revealing that “It could be in an airport – anywhere. I just absolutely love to get massages.” She also practises meditation in her down time and delights in the joy of food. “I just love eating,” she says. “I’m always thinking about food. I finish breakfast and I’m thinking about lunch. Food for me is a big, big companion.”

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Anyone who has achieved some level of success is subject to experiencing feelings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, but when your feats reach the heights of the world stage, I wonder whether such exposure might amplify those thoughts. “I think everyone deals with their own set of struggles or their own insecurities in their own way,” says Padukone. “If someone woke up saying: ‘I’m super confident,’ every single day, I’m not so sure – I guess some people are better at managing it or better at concealing it than others. If they truly are super confident, then kudos to them.”

What becomes clear when talking to Padukone is that she always faces adversity head on, whether it be a challenge at work or in her personal life, or when combatting her own inner saboteur. “I don’t give up, it’s in my DNA,” she says. “Being an athlete, you fight until the last moment. When you play a match, you don’t give up mid-way, right? You play ‘til the end because you never know.” It is exactly this kind of tenacity that will continue to keep Deepika Padukone at the very top of her game.

‘Gehraiyaan’ is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video.


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