Instantaneously, social media went into overdrive about Deepika Padukone's surprise appearance on the campus either as courageous or as a publicity gimmick. Leading newspapers were ready with editorials, most of them being supportive of the actress' resolve to come out in public to emphasise that the nation is going through politically tumultuous events. Indian Union Minister Smriti Irani, for her part, was clearly upset and made her displeasure evident on Twitter.
By the time, the Meghna Gulzar-directed Chhapaak opened on January 10, it was deeply mired in controversy. The readers of this column would know that already. Today, my point is that, for the protestors, Deepika's support - be it spontaneous or mulled over - will be remembered forever as an act of faith. Reportedly, she was dropped right away from a campaign video for Skill India, a Government of India project, presumably for taking a stand with JNU in their protest against campus violence.
On an aside, it may be mentioned that it's the women of the Bollywood firmament who have been way more forthright than the men in their criticism of the political system, notably Swara Bhaskar, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Richa Chadda and, to a degree, Sonakshi Sinha.
Gratifyingly, Deepika's husband Ranveer Singh - who is at the peak of popularity today - gave her the much-needed back-up support. Meanwhile, Chhapaak, on its first day, was welcomed largely with rave reviews and, at a matinee show at a city multiplex where I saw it, drew in a packed audience, interestingly comprising a majority of female viewers.
Trade trackers stated that the film had opened fairly well with collections close to Rs5 crore. Perhaps it could have attracted way more footfalls had a clash with Ajay Devgn's 3-D magnum opus Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior and superstar Rajinikanth's Darbar been avoided.
Chhapaak itself is a disturbing and brave film, inspired by the true story of acid attack survivor Laxmi Aggarwal. Co-produced by Deepika, here was a project which was certainly off-the-beaten track, and showcased her in a different light altogether - the classically beautiful heroine was shown as a woman whose physical features were irrevocably damaged but her inner strength to lead a normal life wasn't.
In fact, the terrifying incident merely served in making her stronger, and fight a court case for the ban for the unchecked sale of acid. Directed with utmost restraint by Meghna Gulzar, topped by a nuanced portrayal by Deepika, edited at a crisp running time for a few minutes over two hours, and speaking out loud and clearly on a topical theme, the film surely deserved a standing ovation.
Now, the question is will the career of 34-year-old Deepika, who is among the highest-paid actresses of Bollywood, be deleteriously affected? If there is any justice, top filmmakers won't shy away from her. Her upcoming projects are 83, directed by Kabir Khan and co-starring Ranveer Singh, and an untitled film from Dharma Productions with the Gully Boy actor Siddhant Chaturvedi, to be helmed by Shakun Batra, who is known for the dramedy Kapoor & Sons (2016).
There has to be that proverbial calm after the storm. After all, Deepika's acting chops, dancing skills, plus the audience-friendly glamour quotient are unquestionable. Besides Chhapaak, her career-best performances have been evidenced in the Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed Goliyon Ki Raasleela Raam Leela (2013), Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Padmaavat (2018). On the downside, she couldn't make much headway in her bid to strike it big in Hollywood, despite featuring in the mega-budgeted xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017), starring Vin Diesel.
Incidentally, to date, Deepika has been associated with frankspeak, even admitting some five years ago that after her break-up with her then steady boyfriend, Ranbir Kapoor, she'd struggled with chronic depression and had to resort to medication.
"I felt exhausted the whole time," she had stated, adding, "People confuse depression with being a bit sad. But it is not a choice. When I overcame it, I felt such relief. It was liberating, like a crushing weight had been lifted off me. I'd do it all over again. Also, it made me more aware of myself."
Consequently, she set up the Live Laugh Love Foundation to reduce the stigma associated with depression and spread awareness about mental health.
Quite curiously, Deepika has never teamed up as a heroine with either Salman or Aamir Khan through her 13-year-long career in Bollywood, beginning with Om Shanti Om. Indeed, her co-star in the film Shah Rukh Khan went on to assign her top billing over his name in the credit titles of Chennai Express (2013).
In sum, here are two thumbs up for the star actress, then, who's refreshingly bold and beautiful - with a heart and mind of her own.
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