Interview | Deepika Padukone on handling death threats: I can take care of myself – As expected, Padmaavat has crossed the coveted Rs 100 crore mark on the first weekend itself. While the hype and hysteria (positive and negative) around it refuse to die down, the period drama’s star cast has finally decided to step out in the open and talk about the film to which they have given over a year-and-a-half of their lives.
Take Deepika Padukone, for example. The actress chose a Saturday evening to treat members of the media to a Rajasthani meal at a restaurant in Mumbai. Over various delicacies, she walked them through the emotional journey of playing the historical character of Rani Padmavati. Excerpts from the chat…
Were your parents afraid for you because of all that was happening around Padmaavat?
Concern is natural. However, my parents know that I can take care of myself.
What was their reaction to Padmaavat?
I FaceTimed them after they saw the movie in Bengaluru. We do that after each of my films. But this time around, it was different. They were emotional, speechless and in awe. I could feel them questioning, ‘Is this our daughter?’ But then again, I could see them say, ‘Yes, she is our daughter.’ There were so many emotions that they were feeling and looking at them, there was a lot going on, within me.
They had a special screening the first time. Naturally, there were a lot of people walking up to them and congratulating them. But my parents mentioned to me that they would like to see it again.
Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor sent you flowers…
Yes, it was very sweet of them. I was touched. I’ve worked with them in Love Aaj Kal and I have fond memories.
What is the best compliment that you have received for your performance in Padmaavat?
Well, it’s a bit awkward but it would have to be the one given to me by Javed Akhtar saab. He said, ‘This is your Mother India.’ I just bowed my head in front of him. Sanjay Leela Bhansali sir was also present when he said it.
Are there any thoughts on all the strife that surrounded the release?
The success of our movie is the biggest victory. The love that the film and my performance is receiving, the blessings that I’m getting from people is the biggest achievement.
The ‘jauhar’ scene has come in for flak and praise…
Let me put things in perspective. We are not endorsing jauhar. You must see the scene/practice in context to the period in which it was shown. And when you do that, you will realise, it’s so powerful. You do not feel like she is doing anything wrong. You want her to embrace the flames because she is going to be united with the man she loves.
For me, it was the most difficult scene to perform. We shot it in peak summer at Film City in Mumbai. I cannot tell you how challenging it was. After every single take, I would go up to my van, have a shower, get ready for my scene and go back. With my heavy costume and jewellery, the heat was oppressive. It was such a difficult thing to execute. There is absolutely no dialogue. And when I saw the scene during the cast and crew screening, Sanjay sir, Ranveer (Singh) and I, who were sitting together, started bawling. Everyone stood up and clapped. We are part of this film, we know the story, we have been through the journey, yet it moved us. Then, Janhvi (Sridevi’s daughter), who had gone for a screening, told me that people there were standing and clapping. I do not know how Sanjay Leela Bhansali could hold a climax of 15 minutes with no dialogue. It is sheer performance and the way he has treated that entire scene is genius. It is one of the best climax scenes that I’ve ever seen.
We hear you did the speech before the scene in just one take?
Yes, Sanjay sir asked me not to discuss it with him but just do my thing. I did it in one take and people on the sets started clapping. I wasn’t sure about the result, so I kept asking him, ‘Sir, are you sure?’ He assured me that it was fine because he felt that my voice came from a different place. He told me, ‘People will remember this forever.’
Is it true that he wanted to make Padmaavat with you for a very long time?
When we were shooting Bajirao Mastani, Sanjay sir had spoken of a film called Padmavati that he wanted to make. To him, the film was a tribute to the power, strength and beauty of a queen. It was always his vision to have celebrated this woman’s power, courage and dignity. And I can understand that. To me, the ultimate thing was that she led from the front. She led like a warrior without being one. So, it’s a very special film.
Did you research your part?
Earlier, I didn’t know much about Rani Padmavati. I knew just as much as other people do. I’m not a history student and my knowledge is what I had gathered in passing. Obviously, when you are offered a film, you get into the depths of it. So, I started looking at images and studied some more about her.
In your opinion, were you able to infuse life into her?
With every role that you play, you put a little bit of yourself into it. Piku would not have been Piku if I hadn’t lent some part of myself to her. That’s how characters come to life. They are written on paper. How you put a part of yourself into that role and bring it to life is the actual secret of the character’s success. It’s a combination of all these things. It’s also important to make it relevant to the times we are in.
Did Padmaavat take a toll on you mentally?
Playing Rani Padmavati was tough. The most challenging part was that there were no crutches available to her. As a queen, she cannot scream or yell. She has to hold fort because her husband has been captured. She can’t break down because the entire kingdom is now looking at her. She’s the strength and courage for the entire community. So, she has to bottle up every emotion that she is feeling. When I played Mastani, I thought that was tough. But at least she went to war and had a sword in her hand, so there was a release. Over here, it was different. I found it more challenging than some of the other parts that I’ve played.
Are you saying Padmavati will never leave you?
I do not think you can ever move on from a character like Padmavati. One phase is when you are shooting it and the other phase is when the film releases and you start getting reactions to it. You feel a sense of relief and when you start moving on to other films, it takes a long time. Next week, I start preparing for my new movie, so I do not have the luxury of letting Padmavati possess me completely, but I know she is someone who will always be within me. She is going to live within me forever.
What thoughts crossed through your mind when you saw yourself as Padmavati in the mirror for the first time?
I think it was just meant to be. Mr Bhansali has blessed me with three such amazingly strong and powerful characters. Leela, Mastani and Padmavati are all so different. There was a lot of apprehension when people knew that I was doing my third film with Sanjay sir. They felt how much different is it going to be than what he has made with me earlier. Now, it is there for everyone to see.
This is your third film with Ranveer, too.
In this case, I don’t feel that Ranveer and I have shot a film together because we didn’t have a single moment together.
Any other historical character that you would like to play?
Not after this. I don’t think I can top Padmavati, so at least for a long time to come, I will not attempt any other historical character. I know people say, ‘Never say never.’ I’m an actor and I may get tempted to do another historical character, if I’m offered one. But I know it will not be for a long, long time.