Bollywood: Deepika Padukone on 'Gehrayiaan', destiny and Ranveer Singh

Actress delves into uncharted territory in new relationship drama that's out on Feb 11


Ambica Sachin

Published: Thu 10 Feb 2022, 2:51 PM

Last updated: Thu 10 Feb 2022, 11:30 PM

Deepika Padukone is one actor whose Bollywood career has witnessed straight jacketed roles as well as extreme deep dives that one is often at pains to define her. She made her Bollywood debut with the bombastic Om Shanti Om (2007) starring alongside the Badshah himself, Shah Rukh Khan. And now 15 years later here she is romancing someone half his age in Gehraiyaan!

Padukone has been able to straddle the razzmatazz of mainstream Hindi cinema with over the top roles in Chennai Express, RamLeela, even a Race 2 alongside a subdued Piku or an intense Chhapaak or a genre bending Finding Fanny. Even when it comes to a presumably low budget, intimate relationship drama like the Shakun Batra-helmed Gehraiyaan that opens on Amazon Prime Video on February 11, it is her eye-popping appearance during the film’s promotions in some spectacularly over the top designer gear alongside her cool gang, Ananya Panday, Siddhant Chaturvedi and Dhairya Karwa, that has caught everyone’s fancy.

“Most girls love shoes, clothes, fashion and dressing up and I’m probably no different,” she admits when we catch up with her ahead of the release of the movie. She also credits her background in the fashion world where she has walked for some celebrated designers, for her propensity towards designer gear. But she is also clear that she loves being in her PJs (“when we were locked up I could be in my pyjamas morning to evening and I wasn't complaining!") as much as she loves dressing up and going out. “Both are part of my personality.”

And by extension it explains her choice of movies as well probably where she is as comfortable playing a disapproving daughter (Piku) and the wild and unconventional Veronica (Cocktail). In Gehraiyaan, she plays Alisha Khanna, a 30-year-old dysfunctional yoga instructor, caught between a desire for a better life for herself and the ghosts of her past, who is drawn to her cousin Tia's (Ananya) fiance Zain (Siddhant) and the repercussions of the affair on all involved. Excerpts from City Times' Zoom interview with the actor.

Does the emotional commitment required from relationship dramas like Gehraiyaan take a toll on you when compared to doing a typical Bollywood blockbuster?

A little bit, of course. When you do a Chennai Express or ("I don’t know what to label them…"), you are tapping into a different facet of your being and when you do a film like Piku, or Yeh Jawani or Gehraiyaan for that matter where the characters are closer to home, more relatable, you tap into a different facet. Yes, it is exhausting and demanding but that’s what makes it fun and exciting.

How do you safeguard Deepika, the person, behind the actor when you are called upon to have emotional breakdowns in public?

Through years of understanding myself as a person, growing into a person who is trying to lead an honest and authentic life every day, and years of therapy, today I am able to differentiate between the professional and the personal side of me.

And that’s also why I am able to in some way – I don’t mean to say the characters leave my system entirely, they never do - completely detach myself from that (filming) environment and come back home and do something completely unrelated and go back to set the next morning with renewed energy.

You’ve mentioned how you have drawn on past relationships to portray the character of Alisha. Was it cathartic as an artist to play this?

That is really the purpose of a actor –you live life. You have different experiences, sometimes you have to imagine it, sometimes you have the good fortune of experiencing it and you put that into your work. So I don’t know if I’d say it was cathartic – that is just the process of it.

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who keep me real and grounded. I’m able to put all the highs and lows of life into the characters that I play and if it is a character that I am not familiar with, then it is a little bit of imagination and conviction and honesty.

Infidelity has been tackled in Bollywood movies before, but when an A-list actor like you takes on these characters, it give these roles more legitimacy. You’ve also been pretty bold in your film choices.

At one point in my life those were not conscious decisions. Even now a lot of my decisions are really gut ones, and how I feel after a narration. What is it that I can say through this film and character and that’s about it! I don’t over-think the process, it’s never been complicated, and I intend to keep it that way.

Having said that, do I often think if any film that I do gives me an opportunity to push the envelope a little bit or do something differently or impact people’s life a bit positively in a slightly different way from before? Of course, these are thoughts that come to my mind, but that’s also an aspect that I apply not just to my film choices but in everything that I do in life. Whether it is an interview, a brand I’m launching, a mental health foundation that I am setting up, I try and find meaning and purpose in everything that I do.

Gehraiyaan is pegged as a movie about choices and consequences… but many of our choices often seem more like the only option we have…

Honestly that’s something even I am discovering through this film. Even I am not sure and that’s the point of this film. It keeps everyone thinking whether where you are is your destiny or it is a function of the choices you have made. I don’t think there is a straight answer to that.

Are we all just messed up, is one of the dialogues from the movie many of us can connect with…

I think everyone feels a connect with that at some point at some level. Now the level of messiness could vary from person to person but I’m pretty certain there is more to a person than meets the eye and that’s what that line in the movie is trying to say.

It’s interesting because in a way Tamasha said that – this is a play and this is the stage. And we are all playing different characters. But beneath all these characters lie the truth and the complexities and the turbulence and everyone’s set of challenges or struggles will be very different but that doesn’t mean that everybody shows up every day with some sort of baggage or the other…

And I think every day people are trying to put out this front that we are all at peace and we are okay and I’m sure a lot of people make a conscious effort to find that peace, or to find that balance in themselves. But to some degree I think every one is flawed, everyone has their own set of struggles.

I am assuming that most people identify with that line, and if you don’t – I am also certain that there are people who are in denial. You want to believe that you are leading a certain kind of life and maybe you are in denial that there are certain parts of your life that you don’t choose to recognise…

Deepika, you’ve gone through tumultuous times and being an actor you are forced to handle it in public – be it your mental health struggles or other stuff. Do you as an artist draw into that for your process of filmmaking?

Has the experience made me more vulnerable? I think the two experiences in my life are completely unrelated, the fact that I am an actor and the fact that I have had an experience with mental illness and choose to talk about it are two different things in a sense.

Yes, of course, I went public with it because with the platform that I have – by speaking out if I was able to impact people’s life or help other people suffering in silence identify their signs and symptoms, that’s the purpose over there.

Does being married to Ranveer Singh, someone from the same industry, help you through its ups and downs seeing how you are each others’ biggest cheerleaders on social media?

Absolutely. Again I don’t know what my life would have been like if I was married to someone else, who wasn’t a part of this fraternity, or was not an actor or didn’t know how this functions. But the fact is that we are (together) out of choice and destiny. I can’t now think about it in any other way.

But the fact is that it a huge boon and a huge blessing to have someone in the same profession who understands the ups, the downs, the challenges, the conundrums, the highs, the lows all of it. We understand each other – we talk about scripts about characters, the process – and then there is a part of our life where we are like every other couple or every other household where we don’t talk about that, we have other issues to deal with.

In what way has Gehraiyaan enhanced you as an artist?

As an artist and a performer I was able to tap into a place that one is not given an opportunity to do very often. We have seen it in broad stroke - a little bit in Piku, a little bit in Tamasha, but this is probably the most complex character that I have played. So that for me was extremely fascinating and the takeaway is more from the personal side than the professional side, which is that I have met some incredible people in this journey.

We were a group of like minded people – especially Shakun (Batra, director) and I – with similar tastes and interests – it is not often that you come across those experiences and meet like minded people so I think that for me has really been my biggest takeaway. Also the non-judgemental lens through which this film has been set is certainly something all of us need to learn from.

How would you describe your character Alisha?

I’ve been really struggling to put her in a box and find adjectives to really describe who she is really. There is a lot of emotional turmoil when you meet her in the film. The point where you meet her in the film, which is where the line comes - I don’t like being at home, I feel stuck…. So you kind of meet this girl who just feels really stuck based on her circumstances, her past, so she is quite an under-confident person in that sense, slightly unsure. Part of her is under-confident, part of her is searching and discovering and wanting a better life, and conflicted, scared…

Gehrayiaan will stream on Amazon Prime Video from February 11

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