It won’t be wrong to suggest that Deepika Padukone has become a force to be reckoned with. She carries the voice of an actor who not only has an impressive line-up of films – right from Project K with Prabhas to Pathan with Shah Rukh Khan – but also one that carries empathy and values mental health. In an exclusive on-ground session, celebrating a year of FC Front Row, the actor talks about the importance of work-life balance, the changes she’d like to bring in the industry as a producer and her process of gauging success and failure.
Anupama Chopra (AC): I was looking at all the movies you’re doing, and it’s amazing. You’re doing Fighter with Hrithik Roshan, Pathan with Shah Rukh Khan and Project K with Prabhas. These are big event movies, irrespective of what the content is. When you do these films, how do you ensure that the role you’re doing has enough depth?
Deepika Padukone (DP): Today, directors with those kinds of roles don’t even approach me. They are like, ‘Don’t even bother because she’s going to say no.’ I don’t think I’ve been in that situation for a while. I’ve worked hard to get to a place today where I can give feedback and they’re open to feedback. I wouldn’t say that the roles are written poorly – the roles that are coming to me are pretty well-written. Then once I’m in [the project], I make it my own and add a little more depth to it. The directors that I am working with have been open to that.
AC: Even in these big superstar movies, would you say we are past that place where the women are just decoration?
DP: In my world, yes.
AC: I saw a conversation that you did with Abhinav Bindra that you did with The Live Love Laugh Foundation lecture series. At one point, you asked him, ‘When does something go from being pleasurable to being pressurizing?’ I want to ask you the same question. Does what you do ever become pressurizing?
DP: I think it can. That’s also where I draw the line in terms of my schedule. That’s the only place where I could start feeling that I’m not enjoying what I’m doing. The only other time I felt like that was when I was experiencing depression, but that’s very different because you have no control over your thoughts and feelings. Many years ago, I realized the importance of finding a work-life balance. I don’t intend to burnout, I’m not going anywhere. Somehow, in our country, including the corporate world, taking leaves or wanting time for yourself carries a connotation of being unprofessional, not hardworking or driven enough. And I disagree. You can be all of those things and still make time for yourself. How are you going to replenish and put energy back into your work if you don’t?
AC: Your production house is called Ka Productions, which means soul in Egyptian – specially the part of your soul that you leave behind after you’re gone. You said that you’d like to do just that – leave behind a body of work that people can keep coming back to. Are the things you’re interested in as a producer different from the things you’re interested in as an actor?
DP: The place where it comes from is the same, which is my gut. For 83, for example, when I received the narration for Romi Dev’s part, I said I wanted to produce this film. I don’t think many people saw the point in me doing so but I did. The choices come from the same place but the roles, of course, will vary depending on whether I’m the producer, the actor or both. Primarily though, it’s always been my gut. That process has always been sacred for me. I don’t think I’ve even tried to experiment with that because you just know. Deep down, we all have that voice that is guiding us and telling us what the right thing for us is. The payoff for that may not necessarily be in that moment, it can come two days or even 20 years later but that voice inside us is always telling us something. It’s very important to tune-in to that, even if its wrong. At least you’ll listen to yourself and process it better – making wiser choices moving forward.
AC: As a producer, what are some of the things you want to see done differently in the film industry?
DP: To begin with, streamlining the hours that we work, especially for the crew. There is this sense that if you make people work extra and continuously, you get it done faster. My thinking is the exact opposite – people need to be given enough downtime and rest so that they come back with better energy. That’ll help you work faster and better the quality of your work too.
Step 2 is to be compensated for overtime. Actors, at the end of the day, are going to walk away the awards and the rewards, and so do the directors and everyone above board. The crew, on the other hand, comes in much earlier and leaves much later. Overtime may happen but we need to find a mechanism where they’re at least compensated for that on an hourly basis.
Step 3 is the kind of food that the crew is served. Nutritious food needs to be served to them. It’s a very small thing. I always feel that if you keep the crew happy and feed them well, they’ll go out of their way.
I’d also like to have a mental health expert on set. It could be for anybody, for a technician or an actor. Even if its not a full-time professional, [there should be] a call sheet including helpline numbers or the contact details of a counsellor that the team can reach out to, if required.
AC: How do you gauge success? Is box office a measure or do you have other barometers of success?
DP: I think the numbers are important because somebody has put the money and they need to make their money too. But I can also say that what is equally important is the impact you’re able to have on the audience and the society. I measure success like that. If you’re able to shift the needle and impact people’s lives in a positive way, bring about change or just have people think or see differently, then that, for me, is success.
AC: How about failure? Do you have a process for handling it?
DP: It’s internal. Maybe that’s because of the athlete in me. When you lose a match, you’re trained to do it very differently. It has a lot to do with reflection rather than expression. If you’ve played a badminton match and lost, what you do is that you relay the match in your head, the different strokes you played, where you made mistakes and what you could’ve done differently. I pretty much apply the same here too – I would relay the film and the experience in my head, think about whether I approached it correctly or if I could’ve done something differently. It has never crushed me though because I don’t think I have that in me yet. My inherent nature is to seek my learnings from it.