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“Cinema is like Love and Love is Universal!”: Deepika Padukone

“Do they serve Chicken Madras here? I have never had it and want to taste it!” Bollywood diva Deepika Pandukone states when I tell her about the popularity of this dish in the UK.

The stunning actress was in London last week with her co-star Shah Rukh Khan to promote their forthcoming release ‘Chennai Express’, hence my query to her.

There is no doubt that Miss Padukone is now a Bollywood A-lister after the massive success of her last release ‘Yeh Jawani Hai Deewane’ (‘YJYD’) which is apparently the third highest grossing Bollywood film of all time.

With contenders like Katrina Kaif preferring to holiday in Spain and Kareena Kapoor enjoying marital bliss, it looks like Deepika has slowly but surely taken the coveted ‘numero uno’ spot.

After debuting in 2006 in a Kannada film (‘Aishwarya’: irony, eh?), Deepika made her Hindi entry opposite the ‘King Khan’ Shah Rukh Khan in the blockbuster ‘Om Shanti Om’ (2007).

A few flops later and a highly publicised break up with Ranbir Kapoor, it looked like Miss Padukone was losing her grip in the highly competitive Bollywood race.

2009 was a turning point with the success of ‘Love Aaj Kal’ where her performance was appreciated.  She followed this up with the awful but seriously successful ‘Houseful’ (2010), a star-turn in ‘Cocktail’ (2012) and in this year’s biggest hit to date ‘YJYD’.

If ‘Chennai Express’ hits the bull’s-eye as it is expected to, there is no doubt that Deepika would have cemented her position as the current queen bee of Bollywood.

We met for an informal one to one at a five star hotel in central London.

Clad in a tight-fitting black and white dress (“It’s by my Indian designer friend called Harsh; I hope he appreciates the exposure I have given him”), Deepika is chatty, friendly and eager to speak about her role in the film.

After the feisty Veronica in ‘Cocktail’ and the nerdy Naina in ‘YJHD’, Deepika's latest film incarnation is ‘Meenamma’.

The actress explains: “She is a Tamil girl from Tamil Nadu.  The ‘amma’ bit is just a term of endearment similar to how we add ‘ji’ to ‘Pinkyji’ in the North.  My character has been brought up strictly by her single parent dad who wants to marry her off to a guy she does not know so she runs away and that’s how she meets Rahul (SRK).”

Deepika adds that she had ‘a blast’ working in the film: “I had to kick Shah Rukh’s butt in a scene and I could have done it in one take but I deliberately goofed up many times!  Shah Rukh would always say that our next film together has to be as special as our first. I’m glad ‘Chennai Express’ happened and excited.”

Was she apprehensive about working with director Rohit Shetty who makes immensely successful but rather crass commercial films (‘Gol Maal’ trilogy, ‘Bol Bachchan’)?

“I was apprehensive yes but not about the director who has a proven mega-hit record but about the genre of the film. It is a complete comedy and this is a difficult genre to get right. You have to be prepared to make a fool of yourself and you cannot fake comic timing. I was not comfortable in my first few films and was slightly inhibited. Today, I give it my best and I love dancing.”

I ask Deepika if she considers herself to be following in the tradition of South Indian girls (Vijanthimala, Hema Malini, Rekha, Sri Devi) ruling the roost in Bollywood. “It does not matter where you come from; I am just happy that my films are reaching a global audience. I can watch Chinese, Russian and other foreign films and connect with most of it so it is great people all over the world can connect to my films. After all, cinema is like love and love is universal!”

After those profound words, I emphasise that Bollywood has not crossed over to global audiences as yet with audiences remaining largely Indian. What’s her opinion on this elusive lack of crossover?

“You know ‘crossover’ is a very interesting thing but at the end of the day it’s a group of people doing their best to make a film. I do not think that whilst they are working they are thinking about the ‘Oscars’ or even ‘Filmfare’ awards.  Some films work; some don’t. You know, you should direct a movie as you seem sure of what could cross over to a wider audience.’

Was that a backhanded compliment, I wonder! 

Whether or not ‘Chennai Express’ crosses over to a wider audience remains to be seen.

It may happen especially as it is getting the widest release ever for a Bollywood film in the UK (170 screens). It is undoubtedly the most anticipated film of 2013 and will probably mash up the box office.

I bid farewell to Deepika wishing her good luck for her latest cinematic journey and wondering if she would really have that ‘chicken madras’ for dinner that evening.    

- Anil Sinanan

Dr Anil Sinanan is a legal expert and Bollywood buff.  Catch him on the Nikki Bedi Show on BBC London, dissecting the latest Bollywood and Hollywood releases, every Friday at 10 pm.

‘Chennai Express’ opens in the UK on Thursday 8th August.

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