TEN years ago, fresh-faced newcomer Deepika Padukone walked the red carpet for the premiere of her debut Bollywood film Om Shanti Om in London.

The queen of Bollywood was due to march into cinemas globally this week playing a historical ruler in mega-budget epic Padmavati, but the movie has now been delayed until next year due to political pressure.

This hasn’t stopped Padmavati from being a hot source of discussion and one of the most anticipated Indian films of all- time. The award-winning actress has teamed up with director Sanjay Leela Bhansali for a third time to play the title role in a movie that also stars Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh.

The A-list superstar, who made her Hollywood debut earlier this year, was feeling quietly confident when Eastern Eye caught up with her to talk about Padmavati before all the controversy erupted.

Deepika lit up each answer with a winning smile and was still very much like the newcomer who made an award-winning debut a decade ago.

How do you look back on your amazing 10-year journey in Indian cinema?

It has been an incredible journey. I have evolved so much as a person. I have learned so much about my craft. It has been an amazing experience for me stepping into an industry that I had no knowledge of. When I look at where I am today, I feel like I have learned a lot.

Did you find it more challenging as an unknown newcomer or now when you are the number one leading lady in Bollywood?

(Smiles) I think it is equally challenging no matter where you are in your career. I think there are challenges at each step of the way and it is about what you make of them at that point or moment of time. I had my unique set of challenges back then at the beginning and face challenges now. It just depends how you choose to face them. But the enthusiasm, passion, commitment and dedication never dies.

How does it feel like being the muse of a great filmmaker like Sanjay Leela Bhansali?

Well, considering 10 years ago when I made my debut (with Om Shanti Om) and his film (Saawariya ) came out on the same day, I never thought I would ever become a Sanjay Leela Bhansali heroine. Today, when we have worked on three films consecutively, it feels amazing and surreal at the same time.

How has your relationship evolved with the filmmaker over the three films?

It has evolved to a point where we don’t even need to say much to each other. From Ram Leela to now with Padmavati, he has given me such strong female characters. In some ways they are so similar to each other, but in so many ways they are so very different. He has brought out the best in me as an actor. He has nourished and enriched me as a human being. I think our relationship today is full of trust, honesty and there is a lot of comfort that we share.

Would you say he pushes you harder than other film directors?

Yes, Sanjay Leela Bhansali does that absolutely. I think that is why his films turn out the way they do because he doesn’t settle for anything less than brilliant.

How does Padmavati compare to the previous films you have done together. They were huge and this seems as if it’s a lot bigger?

It’s so weird, Asjad. It’s bigger than the other two films but it has also been a much easier process for us. I feel like we needed to go through Ram Leela and Bajirao Mastani for us to nurture our relationship to a point where we trust each other blindly on this film. So while in terms of effort, scale and things like that, Padmavati does look much larger, but when you break it down to the actor-director relationship, this has been the easiest.

How did you go about constructing a character like Rani Padmavati, who is from so far back in history and we don’t know that much about?

Well, we definitely had research material. We also had an actor and director working together closely. That is where the actor steps in and you sort of create a character. Sometimes you have material to fall back on and other times you do have to create it from scratch. That is the most exciting part of creating characters. You read it on paper and then you bring them to life. That is the most fascinating part.

Everyone has been talking about the immense chemistry you have with Shahid Kapoor in your scenes; what was it like working with him?

We have known each other for so many years but never worked together, and a lot of our fans always ask when is it going to happen. I think there is a time and place for everything and Padmavati was meant to be. I couldn’t have asked for a better film for the two of us to come together in.

When you are acting in an epic like Padmavati , do you think about the sky-high expectations artistically and commercially?

(Smiles) Erm, yes and no! While we are filming, we don’t burden ourselves with the high expectations. I think now the film is complete, we are just excited. We are feeling confident but also keen and eager to show this film to people because we have made it with so much love, passion and enthusiasm. We hope the audience like it and I know they will. We are all getting this feeling of love already before its release. I can feel Padmavati is heading towards being something really special.

You have become a powerful role model; how important is it for you to play strong female leads like this?

It’s very important. It is a reflection of not just who I am, but a reflection of women in the world today. I’s important to play characters that are relatable.

You have helped introduce girl power into Indian cinema. You must be pleased women are coming to the forefront now?

Absolutely, and it was about time. I have been a part of that transition because we didn’t have that until recently. I have seen a shift happening right in front of my eyes in the last few years. It is very empowering, but also high time it happened. It was much-needed.

I have interviewed you regularly from your first film until now. For me, your most beautiful quality is that superstardom hasn’t changed you at all as a person. What keeps you so grounded?

(Laughs) Thank you so much Asjad, my parents will be happy to hear that. I think it is my family. They don’t treat me like a star at home. I am back to being their daughter when I am with them. It is the same basic lifestyle and routine. They keep me grounded.

You started the year in a huge Hollywood film and are next in a big epic Bollywood release. What is the masterplan going forward?

It is going to be wherever creatively I feel the most satisfied and challenged at the same.

You went back in time with Bajirao Mastani and are doing the same with Padmavati. If you could go back in time anywhere else, where would it be?

Right now, I don’t know. I don’t think I am in the frame of mind really to answer that question at this point. I feel like I have done a couple of historical films now and need to take a break from that.

Today, what inspires you?

I don’t know, I think it is my passion for what I do. My constant sort of quest I would say to get better, to keep improving, learning, to grow. That is what keeps me going.

Finally, can you give a message to your fans?

That I love each and every one of them! They have all been with me on this amazing journey, through all the ups and downs. They have fuelled every reason why I am here today. I am able to do what I do because of them.

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