The biggest Bollywood banners trying to sign Deepika Padukone hasn’t stopped her from being extremely selective about the films she chooses.
Although the award-winning actress will normaally dissect an entire script before green-lighting it, she agreed to play the title role in Piku after only hearing one scene of the comedy-drama about a father-daughter relationship by writer Juhi Chaturvedi and director Shoojit Sircar.
Eastern Eye caught up with the busy A-list star to talk about the movie, acting with Amitabh Bachchan and Irrfan Khan, coping with a demanding schedule and what keeps her grounded.
You say you were sold on Piku after hearing only one scene. What did you like about the film?
I think somewhere I connected and related instantly to the character, especially to the moments and the kind of film they were trying to make. It is very real and very relatable. I think every girl and woman today is going to identify with the film and with the character because Piku is a girl who is a multi-tasker – just like all women today. She works, she has her home to take care of, she has her social life and has her parents who she needs to look after. That is obviously what most of us go through in our lives at some point. So it’s very relatable in that sense.
I think the other thing that really drew me towards the film is the dialogue. The kind of writing in the film is very real and very conversational, in how two people would interact.
How was the writing translated on screen?
The way we shot the film is that every morning until almost lunchtime we would just keep rehearsing. Because once the camera started rolling, we would have to run the entire scene right up to the end. To work like that you need to do a lot of rehearsals. There is a lot of movement – you know when she’s loading the washing machine, cooking, laying the dining table and giving her father his medicine, all while having conversations with him. Very few scenes have cuts in them. So those kinds of scenes needed a lot of rehearsals before we shot them.
Amitabh Bachchan plays your father in the film. Did you know he was on board at the start?
Yes I did. I don’t think he had confirmed at that point, but yes, I did know they had approached him. I think they narrated the script to all of us around the same time – Irrfan, Mr Bachchan and me. It was like more or less we were all on.
You must have enjoyed having two of the best actors in the industry working with you.
Absolutely. I think they are both massive achievers. It’s always nice to work with new co-stars. I’ve worked with Amit-jee before, but I was working with Irrfan for the first time. I’ve always admired him; he is a fantastic actor and I’ve always loved his work. Working with new actors you get to learn so much more.
Everybody is talking about your chemistry with Mr Bachchan. Where do you think that comes from?
It’s actually very organic. You know, I think I’ve been very fortunate that right from the start of my career, he and Jayajee (Bachchan) have been extremely supportive of me. He has always encouraged me and whenever he has liked a performance of mine, he has always written me a personal note. When I moved into my first home and had a house-warming ceremony, both of them were there to congratulate me. I meet them socially and always feel very secure and very comfortable around them. I feel a lot of warmth from them. So I guess we’re lucky that we got to work on a film like this and it translated on screen.
Do you have a favourite moment in the movie?
It’s very difficult for me to pick one moment, but I did have my apprehensions initially because this was a largely male-dominated set. There were no other main female co-stars. The chief assistant director was a woman and the writer is Juhi Chaturvedi. Apart from them, there was predominantly men on set and I was like, “will I be okay and comfortable, will I get bored?” I have to tell you that I have had one of the best onset experiences with Piku.
You must have liked that Juhi has written a great female character?
She has done some amazing work. I think she and Shoojit work really well together. They did Vicky Donor too and I think she helped him on Madras Cafe as well. They worked well together and she is a fantastic writer. I would not be surprised if what Piku is as a character has come a lot from her own life experiences.
Are you consciously trying to balance the big blockbusters you are part of with smaller, more meaningful films like Piku?
No, not at all. For me as an actor, I don’t think it matters perception-wise if it is a big film or a smaller film or how the film is being mounted. For me the most important thing is to enjoy the script and know I’m going to have a good time being a part of it, knowing that this is a part that is going to be challenging and exciting. I don’t think I have ever chosen a film based on how they are presenting it or how they are mounting the film. For me that is the least of my concerns. That’s not what drives me or excites me at all.
You are perhaps the only A-list actress who is balancing big and lower-budget films. So are you just following your instincts?
Yes, it’s definitely instinct. Maybe out of that instinct when I have chosen certain films, it seems like ‘she is trying to balance between mainstream or big-ticket films and the smaller low-budget films’, but honestly, it’s not a conscious decision at all. It’s just very organic. Like I said, I go through a narration and read the script. If I feel like doing it, I do, if not, I don’t. It’s as simple as that. There is no map or science to it.
You have had an incredible three years and everyone is calling you the Queen of Bollywood. How do you remain so grounded?
(Laughs) Hurray, thank you! I take that compliment as humbly as possible and say a lot of people do tell me that. It matters the most to me when those closest to me like family and close friends say to me that I am the same and haven’t changed as a person. I take that as a huge compliment.
I think it has to do with the way my parents have bought me up. I also think it has to do with the fact that I love what I do and am surrounded by people who love what they do. We are in a very difficult industry and a very difficult business. I always say it looks very glamorous from the outside, but it’s a lot of hard work. I’m in a business where I am really fortunate that hundreds of people work together every day to make that one film possible. It’s just the actors and, of late, the directors who get the credit for the film. I think it’s important to value human emotions, value the people around you, the people that you work with, love what you do and stay focused.
How do you keep up with such a demanding schedule and do you get much time to yourself?
I do that consciously now. Of course, if I didn’t get the breaks, I would be working 365 days a year 24/7.
But after my anxiety and depression, I just make it a point to take a day or two off every few weeks. I think it’s very important to take some time off. Have some downtime to focus on yourself. At least I need to. I need to focus on myself and need some downtime regularly. Even at the end of the day I need that little bit of silence where I can just do some breathing and think. I believe that it’s important because we keep changing – life has become so fast-paced, especially in the last couple of years, and with technology we are using so much of our time now. We are constantly on the phone and surrounded by people. I think it’s important to consciously take time for yourself.
Finally, I’m going to watch Piku because you are in it. Why should others do the same?
(Laughs) The same reason why you are going. I think it’s a very warm film, it’s a film that really stirs up emotions within you. For me, even though I read the script and in spite of being in the film, when I see the trailers, it brings a smile to my face. It reminds me of my family, it reminds me of very real situations and of course, it also gets you thinking. It has a little bit of a message at the end of it. So it brings a smile to your face, but it also leaves you thinking. Most importantly, it entertains you for two hours.
Piku is in cinemas now