Deepika Padukone, the real wildcat in real life. Deepika stretches her legs like a cat, making use of the extra room in business class. Her long, black sun-dress is clinging to her toned, luminous body. “When gay men tell you they would go straight for you, it’s the ultimate compliment,” she whispers, looking out of the window as the plane lands at Goa airport. In that moment, Deepika Padukone, 27, is not a woman afraid of her sexuality. Unlike many others of her age and in her position-image conscious, hesitant to reveal more than their carefully crafted public relations spin would have you see-she is intent on being perceived as honest.
This rawness is integral to who Deepika is. The equation is simple for her: Since she cannot feign affection or establish subsistence-level niceties, it is necessary to seduce, and fall in love with, everyone. “There comes a time when I give myself so completely to the role that it becomes necessary. I am the character. And I must, in that process, fall in love with everyone I work with,” she says.
It is a quality that attracts a burgeoning entourage of loyalists, but it is a risky game to play. To make her way from the monochromatic Shanti of Om Shanti Om (2007) to the bold, seductive Leela of Ram-Leela (forthcoming), she has had to break out of her shy babe-in-the-woods cocoon to emerge as a confident, full-blooded woman, an unparalleled metamorphosis in Bollywood.
Barely six years into the film industry, she is now an actor with Rs.700 crore riding on her. She has signed 11 top-end endorsement deals, including one that makes her the future face of Lux soaps. She has starred in three box-office blockbusters this year alone: Race 2 (Rs.110 crore), Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (Rs.184.79 crore), and Chennai Express (Rs.218.29 crore). She is on the cusp of a fourth hit with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram-Leela. In terms of her peers, she has inched past her closest rivals Katrina Kaif, whose films collected Rs.319 crore in 2012 and whose year now rides on the strength of Dhoom 3, and Sonakshi Sinha, who has collected less than Rs.100 crore this year.
Vajir Singh, editor of the trade magazine, Box Office India, points out that Deepika is also number one in terms of personality. “She scores highest with trade people, filmmakers, advertisers, co-actors. She builds relationships. Scripts are written keeping her in mind-that alone says a lot about an actor,” he says.
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