Deepika Padukone

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10 mins read
Photo courtesy of The House Of Pixels (Vaishnav Praveen and Apeksha Maker)

Deepika Padukone was born on 5 January 1986 and is an Indian actress who works predominantly in Hindi films. She is one of the highest-paid actresses in India.

Padukone was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, to Konkani-speaking parents. Her father, Prakash Padukone, is a former professional badminton player and her mother, Ujjala, is a travel agent. Her younger sister, Anisha, is a golfer. Her paternal grandfather, Ramesh, was a secretary of the Mysore Badminton Association. 

The family relocated to Bangalore, India when Padukone was a year old. She was educated at Bangalore’s Sophia High School and completed her pre-university education at Mount Carmel College. She subsequently enrolled at the Indira Gandhi National Open University for a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with her modeling career.

Padukone has said that she was socially awkward as a child and did not have many friends. The focus of her life was badminton, which she played competitively from a young age. Padukone continued to pursue a career in badminton throughout her school years and played the sport in national level championships. She also played baseball in a few state level tournaments. While concentrating on her education and sporting career, Padukone also worked as a child model, first appearing in a couple of advertising campaigns at the age of eight. In the tenth grade, she changed focus and decided to become a fashion model, realizing that she was playing the game only because it ran in the family. In 2004, she began a full-time career as a model under the tutelage of Prasad Bidapa.

Early in her career, Padukone gained recognition with a television commercial for the soap Liril and modelled for various other brands and products. In 2005, she made her runway debut at the Lakme Fashion Week for designer Suneet Varma and won Model of the Year at the Kingfisher Fashion Awards. Padukone’s fame increased when she appeared in a popular print campaign for the 2006 Kingfisher Calendar. The designer Wendell Rodricks had spotted her at a Ganjam jewellery class he was teaching and signed her up with the Matrix talent agency. At the age of 21, Padukone relocated to Mumbai and stayed at her aunt’s home. That year, she gained wider recognition by featuring in the music video for Himesh Reshammiya’s song “Naam Hai Tera”.

Padukone soon began to receive offers for film roles. Believing herself to be too inexperienced as an actor, she enrolled for a course at Anupam Kher’s film academy. Following much media speculation, the director Farah Khan, who had noticed her in Reshammiya’s music video, made the decision to cast her for a role in her upcoming film, then named Happy New Year. Rodricks also takes credit in helping her get the role. Khan was looking for a model to star in the film, and got in touch with Malaika Arora. Rodricks, for whom Padukone had been modelling for roughly two years then, recommended her to Arora, a close friend of his, who in turn recommended her to Khan.

Padukone made her acting debut with Aishwarya (2006), a Kannada film directed by Indrajit Lankesh. The romantic comedy was a remake of the Telugu film Manmadhudu, and she was cast in the title role opposite the actor Upendra. By the end of 2006, Farah Khan’s Happy New Year was shelved, and Khan had instead cast Padukone for the melodrama Om Shanti Om (2007). Set against the backdrop of the Hindi film industry, the film tells the story of a struggling actor who is reincarnated to avenge the death of a film star. Shah Rukh Khan starred as the lead, and Padukone featured in dual roles of a star in the 1970s, and later, an aspiring actress. In preparation, Padukone watched several films of actresses Helen and Hema Malini to study their body language. Her voice was dubbed by the voice artist Mona Ghosh Shetty. For one of the songs in the film, “Dhoom Taana,” Padukone drew upon Indian classical dance, and according to Dorling Kindersley, “mesmeriz[ed] audiences” by using hasta mudras (hand gestures).

Padukone next played one of star Ranbir Kapoor’s love interests in Siddharth Anand’s romantic comedy Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008). Her first release of 2009 came alongside Akshay Kumar in the kung fu comedy Chandni Chowk to China, in which she portrayed dual roles of Indian-Chinese twin sisters. Produced by Warner Bros., it had one of the widest international releases given to an Indian film. Padukone learned jujutsu and performed her own stunts. She appeared alongside Saif Ali Khan in the romantic drama Love Aaj Kal from the writer-director Imtiaz Ali. The film documented the changing value of relationships among the youth and had Padukone play the part of Meera Pandit, a head-strong career woman.

Padukone had five film releases in 2010. In the psychological thriller Karthik Calling Karthik, she played the supportive girlfriend of a depressed man (played by Farhan Akhtar). Pradeep Sarkar’s drama Lafangey Parindey (2010) starred Padukone as a blind girl determined to win a skating competition, for which she observed the interactions of blind people and rehearsed scenes while blindfolded. Padukone’s final release of 2010 was Ashutosh Gowariker’s period film Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey opposite Abhishek Bachchan. Based on the book Do and Die, the film is a retelling of the 1930 Chittagong armoury raid. Bachchan featured as the revolutionary leader Surya Sen and Padukone played Kalpana Dutta, his confidante. Padukone said that she was unable to research her role as there was very little information on Dutta and relied on Gowarikar’s direction.

Padukone began 2011 with an item number in the film Dum Maaro Dum. She referred to it as “the wildest song any actress has done”; the song’s sexual content attracted controversy including a court case for indecency. Her next film was Prakash Jha’s socio-political drama Aarakshan, which dealt with caste-based reservations in India. Her final appearance that year was in the comedy Desi Boyz alongside Kumar and John Abraham.

Padukone has said that her starring role in the 2012 Homi Adajania-directed romantic comedy Cocktail marked a turning point in her career. The year 2013 was key for Padukone, as she starred in four of the top-grossing Hindi films of the year. She reunited with Saif Ali Khan in Abbas–Mustan’s Race 2, an ensemble action thriller that served as a sequel to Race (2008). Ayan Mukerji’s romantic comedy Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani paired her opposite Ranbir Kapoor. She was cast as Naina Talwar, a “shy wallflower,” which marked a departure from the glamorous characters that she had a reputation for portraying. Her next appearance was opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Rohit Shetty’s action-comedy film Chennai Express, as a Tamil girl on the run from her father (a local don), which required that she adopt a Tamil accent.

Padukone next played opposite Ranveer Singh in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, an adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy of Romeo and Juliet from director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Her role was Leela, a Gujarati girl based on the character of Juliet. Initially titled Ram-Leela, the film’s title was changed after a court case was registered against Bhansali, Padukone, and Singh for “offending the religious sentiments” of the Hindu community by showcasing sex and violence under a title that referred to the life of Rama.

In 2014, Padukone featured opposite Rajinikanth in the Tamil film Kochadaiiyaan, a period drama shot using motion capture technology. In Homi Adajania’s satire Finding Fanny, Padukone played a young widow on a road trip with her dysfunctional friends. Later that year, she starred opposite Shah Rukh Khan for the third time in Farah Khan’s renewal of Happy New Year. She played a bar dancer who trains a group of underachievers for a dance competition. Padukone later remarked that production on the film was difficult for her as she suffered from depression and anxiety.

Following an appearance in Homi Adajania’s online video on feminism, entitled My Choice, Padukone took on the role of a headstrong Bengali girl who cares for her hypochondriac father (played by Amitabh Bachchan), in Shoojit Sircar’s comedy-drama Piku (2015). She was drawn to the depiction of a realistic father-daughter bond, which she thought was rare in Hindi cinema.

Later in 2015, Padukone played a vulnerable young woman in love with a psychologically troubled man (played by Ranbir Kapoor) in Imtiaz Ali’s romantic drama Tamasha. She reunited with Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Ranveer Singh in Bajirao Mastani, a historical drama about a tragic extramarital affair. Singh was cast as the maratha general Bajirao I, while Priyanka Chopra and Padukone featured as his first and second wife, respectively. To play the warrior-princess Mastani, Padukone learnt sword-fighting, horse-riding, and the martial art form of kalaripayattu.

The action film XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017), in which Padukone played the leading lady opposite Vin Diesel, marked her first project in Hollywood.

In 2018, Padukone portrayed Rani Padmavati, a Rajput queen who commits jauhar (self-immolation) to protect herself from the Muslim invader Alauddin Khilji, in the period drama Padmaavat; it marked her third collaboration with Bhansali and Singh. She was challenged by the need to convey her character’s courage through silence, and was emotionally exhausted by the experience. She read history books on the era and researched the various depictions of Padmavati.

Following Padmaavat, Padukone took some time off work to focus on her home and family. In 2018, she formed her own company, named Ka Productions. The company’s first release was Chhapaak (2020), a drama by Meghna Gulzar, in which Padukone starred as an acid attack survivor (based on Laxmi Agarwal). She found it taxing to film in extreme heat wearing prosthetic makeup on her face, and considered it to be the most physically challenging role of her career.

Padukone’s next production venture was 83 (2021), a sports drama about India’s victory at the 1983 Cricket World Cup, starring Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev, in which she also took on the role of Dev’s wife, Romi. The film was delayed several times chiefly due to the COVID-19 pandemic in India. Padukone was director Kabir Khan’s first choice as he considered casting a real-life couple as an onscreen pair to be a good marketing strategy. Padukone next took on a leading role in Shakun Batra’s Gehraiyaan (2022), a drama about infidelity which was released on Amazon Prime Video. She described her part of a troubled woman engaged in an affair as the most layered of her career. She served as a jury member at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.

Padukone reunited with Shah Rukh Khan in Siddharth Anand’s action film Pathaan (2023), set in the YRF Spy Universe. A song in the film, “Besharam Rang”, featured Padukone in a saffron bikini, which became controversial once right-wing Hindutva groups deemed it obscene and objectionable. The Central Board of Film Certification cleared the film for release after some edits were made to the song sequence.

Padukone will next star opposite Prabhas in Project K, a Telugu-Hindi bilingual science fiction film from filmmaker Nag Ashwin, and in another action film for Anand, named Fighter, alongside Hrithik Roshan.

Padukone shares a close bond with her family, and visits them regularly in her hometown of Bangalore. She lives in Prabhadevi, a neighbourhood in Mumbai, and has admitted to missing the presence of her parents there. A practicing Hindu, Padukone considers religion to be an important aspect of her life and makes frequent visits to temples and other religious shrines.

In addition to acting, Padukone has written opinion columns and has been involved with women’s health and fitness magazines. She has also supported charitable organizations, and has performed for stage shows. In 2009, she was hired by Hindustan Times to write weekly columns for their lifestyle section; through these columns she interacted with her fans and passed details of her personal and professional life. In 2010, Padukone adopted the Maharashtrian village of Ambegaon as part of NDTV’s Greenathon Campaign, to provide the village with a regular supply of electricity. She visited Indian jawans (troops) in Jammu, for an Independence Day special episode of NDTV’s reality show Jai Jawaan.

Padukone took part in the opening ceremony of the third season of the Indian Premier League at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. Three years later, she performed alongside Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, and Pitbull for the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League. In 2014, she participated in a concert tour across North America, entitled “SLAM! The Tour”, in which she performed alongside her co-stars from Happy New Year. Padukone has also been involved with the Olympic Gold Quest team, established by her father and Geet Sethi to support Indian athletes at the Olympic Games, along with sports personalities such as Leander Paes and Viswanathan Anand and several other actors. In 2022, Padukone and Spanish footballer Iker Casillas unveiled the FIFA World Cup Trophy at the competition’s final match in Qatar.

In 2013, she launched her own line of clothing for women, in association with the retail chain Van Heusen. Two years later, she collaborated with the fashion portal Myntra to launch another line under her brand “All About You”. From 2019 to 2021, she served as the chairperson of the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image. Through her own company, Ka Enterprises, Padukone has invested in several startups, including Drum Foods International, a fast-moving consumer goods company, and Blu Smart, an electric taxi. In 2022, she launched her own self-care brand, named 82°E, beginning with skincare products. The brand raised $7.5 million in seed funding to launch new products.

Padukone has also been outspoken on issues such as feminism–in a 2015 interview, she also spoke about her personal experience of overcoming depression, and in October of that year she formed a foundation to create awareness on mental health in India, named The Live Love Laugh Foundation. The following year, she launched a campaign named More Than Just Sad to assist general physicians in their treatment of patients suffering from depression or anxiety. Also in 2016, the foundation teamed with Facebook and the AASRA organisation to launch multilingual tools and educational resources in Facebook’s networking site to support people with suicidal tendencies. Padukone became the brand ambassador for the NGO Indian Psychiatric Society and on her foundation’s first anniversary, the two organisations collaborated to launch the video and poster campaign #DobaraPoocho dedicated to victims and survivors of depression. The World Economic Forum presented her with the Crystal Award in 2020 for creating awareness on mental health.

In 2020, Padukone attended a protest for students who were brutalised during the 2020 JNU Attack due to their protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party criticised her decision and asked people to boycott her film Chhapaak. Many others praised her for standing up against a crackdown on dissent, as mainstream Bollywood actors avoid making political statements fearing backlash and consequences on their films.