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“Today, I have to push much less to be appreciated”

Guest Editor Deepika Padukone speaks to Box Office India about her upcoming release Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, her journey in Bollywood, her goals and her strengths and insecurities

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (YJHD) is very hot among the trade. What are your expectations from the film?

I think we all expect the same from whatever we do. We all hope for immense love and appreciation from the audience, that our work is appreciated and that our films do extremely well. But some films – and I said this during Cocktail too – are more special than others. But there is really no reason for that because, at the end of the day, all the films I do are special and they are all my choices.

There are many reasons a film is special. It could be the process of making the film, certain experiences while making the film, or because you get attached to certain characters along the way. In Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, I identified perfectly with the character whereas in Cocktail, my personality was completely different from that of the character Veronica. On the other hand, Naina of YJHD is a character I truly identify with.

I have asked Ayan (Mukerji) many times whether he wrote the film keeping me in mind but he says he didn’t. I went with the flow effortlessly, whether it was the way Naina reacts in certain situations or the transformation in her from the first half to the second half.

Did you ask Ayan this after reading the script or while shooting?

(Cuts in) I hadn’t read the script. Ranbir (Kapoor) and I both signed the film without reading the script. This just shows the faith we have in the director. Ranbir had worked with Ayan before and he got a lot of critical acclaim for Wake Up Sid. On the other hand, I knew Ayan as a friend but had not worked with him before this film.

When Wake Up Sid released, I concluded that Ayan was one of the very few directors we have who understands exactly how to project human emotions, very basic emotions, on the screen. He’s done the same thing with Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.

While the promos seem like – and I hate using these words – ‘commercial’ and ‘masala’, there’s a lot more to the film than just Ranbir and me coming together. There’s a lot more than Badtameez dil, Balam pichkari, and there’s a lot more heart and soul. Ayan is very good with handling human emotions, which I think is very difficult because he shoots it in a very conversational way. It’s like these genuine moments that I would have with a friend or a lover or with my father or with my parents. To not make these emotions boring and make them entertaining is a gift few people have.

You just mentioned Veronica from Cocktail. But weren’t you offered the other role and you insisted on playing Veronica instead?

Precisely! Meera is a character I identified with. She was similar to the character I essayed in Love Aaj Kal. The characters were similar in their energy and body language. I felt that I couldn’t bring anything new to the table. On the other hand, playing Veronica was extremely challenging.

I took a huge risk when I chose to do that film and to play that character. But something within me told me I could pull it off. I also felt I was ready to do something like that.

Back to Yeh Jawaani… After watching the trailer, there is a sense that you are playing both Veronica and Meera in it?

(Laughs) You can say a bit of both. Yes, in my journey in the last couple of years, the person I was, like held back, never really expressed myself too much, low on self-confidence… And along the way, you meet certain people, you go through certain experiences… that opened me up as a person. Naina’s graph resembles mine.

Low on self-confidence? We have never seen you low on self-confidence, not even in your first film Om Shanti Om.

(Laughs) A lot of people say that but I think that’s a battle I have had to fight with myself. I guess the difference is that today, I have to push much less to be appreciated. Farah (Khan) had to push me a lot and had to work really hard on me to be able to deliver that performance. I think actors are generally very insecure people and are very low on confidence.

There are some who may not agree with me but I believe actors are insecure, and more than that, we lack confidence. Which is why I think we draw a lot from what people tell us, especially the audience. Which is why I feel that fan following and audience reactions are so very important. We need constant validation that we are doing a good job. I think it’s a good thing. Otherwise, you become complacent and take things for granted. It’s a reality check and it’s better than being overconfident.

Would you say that Bollywood is competitive?

Yes and no. I think it’s about how you want to deal with it. Sure, you can get caught in the trappings that come with this industry and trying to pull people down. You can do all that or, you can believe that all that matters is the work you’re doing. I genuinely feel that all that matters is making great films and delivering great performances. Only then does everything make sense and feel wholesome.

Since you are friends with Ranbir and Ayan, was shooting this film a picnic?

Well, I wouldn’t call it a picnic entirely because Ayan had set out to make a big film. So, for the kind of film it is and the places we shot at, it wasn’t as easy as it is shooting in an air-conditioned studio in Mumbai. It was physically challenging. In fact, I kept saying that it felt as if he was making an action film. That’s how much we had to physically push ourselves.

He took us to Manali and Kashmir when it was very cold, and he wanted us to trek half an hour up a mountain in snow. I guess, unless he tortured his unit and actors, he didn’t feel like he had done any work! There were days when he knew we would have bad weather but he’d still wanted to take the whole unit, trek 45 minutes in knee-deep snow. We were panting and gasping for breath. And it wasn’t for a few days; we did that for a month and a half, every single day. Then, in April and May, he took us to Rajasthan! So it was extremely demanding. Love stories should be fun and easy but this one wasn’t.

You just said you and Ranbir didn’t read the script. But Wake Up Sid was made on a very modest budget. Wasn’t it a big risk to go ahead without reading the script?

I think it was a bigger gamble for Ayan because the film hasn’t yet released. From making a small film like Wake Up Sid, which is set in Mumbai about the boy next door, to suddenly having Ranbir and Deepika and this massive film with this huge budget… I think that’s why he didn’t have the time to just hang out with us. I think every day was very stressful for him. Plus, the weather derailed our schedule. In April and May, when summer is at its peak, we had rain in Rajasthan. We’ve also had snow storms. But we managed to meet our deadlines and did some really good work.

It was not a start-to-finish film; we shot it over a year and a half, and people can begin to get disinterested. But Ayan is a great team leader and he kept the team going. It is very commendable that he could pull off such a good film and he is so young.

The talk in the trade is that 2013 belongs to Deepika Padukone. You have already delivered a successful film in Race 2 and now there’s Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani followed by Chennai Express and Ram Leela.

I won’t deny that I have heard this. But, honestly, I haven’t changed in my approach to work, the films I select or the roles I choose since I made my debut five to six years ago. It’s easy for people to say ‘it’s her time now’ but I don’t believe in it.

I didn’t plan this amazing line-up. It just happened that I got Race 2 first and then Yeh Jawaani… and then Chennai Express. Then, suddenly, I got a call from Sanjay Leela Bhansali for Ram Leela. All this happened in the span of a month. That and the fact that all these films are releasing within three to four months is something that just happened.

Since you were shooting for three films (YJHD, Chennai Express and Ram Leela) simultaneously, how difficult it was to play three different characters?

It was tough but I can say that quite easily now because it’s over.

But how challenging was it to play one character one day and another, completely different one, the next day?

It’s not like it was Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in a row. But, sure, it was very difficult. Every 15 to 20 days, I was jumping from one film to another. More than physically exhausting, it was mentally exhausting and if I had it my way, I would have done it one film at a time. But I didn’t have that luxury and maybe that’s a good thing because sometimes you need the strength to pull it off this way. I have really pushed myself in the last year or so, I have been working every single day. Hopefully, it will be all worthwhile.

So what is going to happen on May 31 when YJHD releases?

Oh, don’t ask!

What do you predict?

I think Ranbir, Ayan and I are feeling like three little children right now. Like, there’s a big birthday party that’s coming up or a concert, butterflies in the stomach. You’re excited and nervous… so many mixed emotions, a little sad too. Sometimes, when a film is over, you feel bad but you feel, accha ab promotions bhi hai so you feel a little happier. Now, suddenly, the promotions are happening and we are fighting against the deadline to finish dubbing. There’s still so much to do!

You must feel a sense of relief since everyone is saying it’s going to be a blockbuster.

No, you can’t take these things for granted. I mean, the buzz is right, the music is great but you cannot sit back and say ‘this film is going to be a hit anyway’. By that logic, this film was a hit since it was announced. But we still trekked up the mountains. The thing is to not let these things get to you. To keep the focus. Because, finally, it’s only the film that matters.

You were not keen on taking up Race 2. Are you now happy with the outcome?

Absolutely! It had nothing to do with me not wanting to do the film or me not being happy with the film. When you do a multi-starrer, there is so much you have to do to make it work. Sometimes, it falls into place easily and sometimes it doesn’t. But I am glad I did. Now, when I am driving around and see these massive posters of the film’s TV premiere, and this massive blow-up with Saif (Ali Khan) and John (Abraham), it feels great to be a part of this blockbuster.

Till Yeh Jawaani…?

Yeah, till now. I mean. It’s my own film so I am going to say that it was great to follow up Cocktail with Race 2 and now this film.

Talking about friendship… Karan Johar and you have been good friends. So why did it take Dharma productions so long to offer you a film?

I have always wondered that myself. I know Karan liked my performances in my first few films. But I am also not the kind of person to ask why someone hasn’t offered me a role. I also knew that he would offer me a role only when he had something solid for me. He watched YJHD and sent me this lovely long message about my performance. In fact, I almost broke down when I read it. In my reply, I said that I often sat back and wondered why it took so long for me to bag a Dharma film. I am glad that I did that because I couldn’t have asked for a better launch at Dharma.

You can share Karan’s message with us…

No no! (Laughs)

It’s been five years since you worked with SRK. What was it like working with him again in Chennai Express?

Today, I can call him a friend. I think that is also related to the fact that I am a little more confident now. In my first film, I was too new and I was – and I hate using this word – in awe of him. There was so much that happened all too suddenly. To this day, it is hard to believe that my first film was with SRK. It hasn’t sunk in yet and I have to pinch myself! I guess I just went with the flow.

Whose idea was it to cast you in Chennai Express? SRK’s or Rohit Shetty’s?

I think Rohit. I don’t think Shah Rukh has ever been involved with things, like, ‘I think you should take him or her’.

What was it like working with Rohit Shetty? Did he make you fly in cars/on bikes?

(Laughs) Yes. I must say that’s what’s amazing about Rohit. He can manage to make a film that is so commercial and mainstream yet dabble in such different types of films, whether a Golmaal, which is an out-and-out comedy, or a Singham, which is an action drama. And now Chennai Express, which is the same in terms of scale. But it is a Rohit Shetty film, a simple love story, a romantic comedy. And you need talent to do that.

When a director has a string of hits, he or she tends to stick with that. But Rohit is so confident about the stuff he does and about his craft and stays in the zone while making it universally entertaining, domestically and internationally. His films are global and he still makes different kind of films.

And what was it like working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali?

Sanjay, for me, is a mind reader more than anything else. It’s like he knows his actors inside out. It’s not like we have had these great bonding sessions but he still knows what I am thinking. His intuition is amazing, the ability to know a human being without really knowing them. As far as the craft is concerned, he has done more than enough work for people to judge that. He is an artist, a painter, a magician. He needs magic in every take, he will not settle for mediocre. Every take has to have that little sparkle that blows his mind.

Where does YJHD stand in your career, in terms of something new that you’ve done or any new shade that you have portrayed?

While I say I identify more with my character in the first half, I have tried to maintain my own body language. I hate talking about my performance before a film has released. But there was a constant struggle to not make the character boring or annoying.

So you had to make the character nerdy?

Yeah. The thing is, the minute you start wearing frumpy clothes, or start donning geeky specs, you also need to keep the character endearing, lovable and not boring. That was the first thing Ayan and I discussed, that people should love her before and after the transformation in her. Although the transformation is not drastic, she becomes a completely different person. You can still see shades of Naina from the first half but she has become more beautiful, more confident, she has understood the world and understood life.

You say you haven’t planned your career. But do you have a general idea of where you want to go as an actress?

I don’t know what I want to do, but I definitely know what I don’t want to do. I am not the kind who would say I want to do an action film and then go and say ok now let me find out who is making an action film. I can’t function like that. It’s like if you want to make a film, you come to me and give me a narration. If it excites me, great; if it doesn’t, I will pass.

An actor has to be really excited about doing a film. It can’t be just about the project. There’s nothing specific that I want to do but I certainly know that if something good and exciting came up, I would take it on. I also don’t like to label films as ‘commercial’ and ‘an art film’ and so on. Film is about the effort I put in, the work I do, the way I approach it… It’s all the same. Cinema is changing. I think the lines between art house and mainstream are blurring.



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