Last week, the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) announced their nominations for the 15th annual edition of the awards show that will be taking place in Tampa, Florida, this April (and you can still get tickets to attend!). This is the first time the awards show is being held in the United States, but that fun fact aside, this year’s nominations are particularly notable for the fact that a single actress garnered three nominations in the “Performance in a Leading Female Role” category. That actress is none other than my current favorite, Deepika Padukone.
Padukone is one of the few actresses in Bollywood who has made huge strides in her acting skills since entering the industry, instead of just banking on her sex appeal alone to carry her to success. Her sweep of this season’s “Bollywood Oscar” nominations is proof enough of her winning year, but we can’t fully appreciate Deepika’s present performances without taking a look back at her career in its entirety.
The daughter of famous Indian badminton player, Prakash Padukone, Deepika was playing national level badminton when she decided to fully pursue her passion for the film industry in her late teen years. It didn’t take very long for Deepika’s career to be set in motion. A few modeling gigs led to a music video with Himmesh Reshammiya, where she was reportedly spotted by director Farah Khan (sadly, not me) who would ultimately cast her in her debut Bollywood film.
Written, directed, and choreographed by masala movie queen Farah Khan under Shahukh and Gauri Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment production house, this film launched Deepika’s Bollywood career in 2007. As both film star Shanti Priya and her reincarnate/look-a-like Sandhya aka Sandy, Deepika adequately portrayed the “dreamy girl” required of her by this role, but there wasn’t much substance beyond that. Personally, I don’t remember being impressed by Deepika much in it other than being in awe at her giant eyes. But Om Shanti Om was a huge hit and just the kind of exposure that many actors and actresses hope for with their debut films.
What better way to follow-up your first super hit movie than a Yash Raj Films production starring the soon-to-be next big hero in Bollywood? This 2008 romantic comedy featured Deepika as Gayatri, the hard-working MBA student who funds her education by being Australia’s most beautiful cab driver. She ultimately won the heart of Ranbir Kapoor’s character, ladies man Raj Sharma. The movie was a hit. Deepika had a meaty albeit small role, but her acting skills left a bit to be desired. I cringed at some of her scenes with Ranbir, and it seems like some critics cringed along with me as they lamented both Deepika’s performance and her role’s poorly fleshed out story.
One can only assume that Deepika signed this 2009 film because it had all the ingredients for a successful venture — a double role opposite leading man Akshay Kumar in the first Hindi film to be co-produced by U.S. production giant Warner Brothers. But when your double role features you as a character named “Meow Meow” maybe you should reconsider signing such a film. Chandni Chowk to China was a huge box office and critical failure. I haven’t seen the movie myself, but the online plot summaries alone are enough to make my head spin. But, hey, there’s an entire song that pays homage to Deepika’s lovely eyes in this movie. Winning? Not quite.
This 2009 romantic comedy that followed director Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met, is one of my all-time favorite movies. As the ambitious Meera Pandit, Deepika holds her own in every scene with veteran actor Saif Ali Khan’s Jai Singh. A new look at romantic love between a modern day Indian couple, this movie was a huge hit in India. Deepika’s performance did not go unnoticed, with critics praising her acting skills, even though director Imtiaz Ali admitted to having taken a huge risk by casting her in this film.
Probably 2010’s most underrated film, Karthik Calling Karthik failed to give Deepika further commercial success as her follow-up to Love Aaj Kal. With co-star Farhan Akhtar playing the title role in this psychological thriller of sorts, Deepika does complete justice to her character Shonali’s role as Karthik’s perpetually supportive co-worker turned friend turned girlfriend. Plenty of die-hard Deepika fans probably still haven’t seen this movie yet — change that fact. ASAP.
I was incredibly excited to see this 2010 romantic comedy starring Imran Khan as the aimless wannabe-restaurateur Abhay Gulati and Deepika as the ambitious actress-hopeful Aaliya Khan. But the movie fell flat at the box office courtesy of a lackluster story about childhood sweethearts and their relationship ups and downs. It predominantly lost my attention by the second half of the film. Despite the lack of commercial success, Deepika found praise from critics with one reviewer citing this role as her “best performance to date.”
This 2010 period piece directed by Lagaan helmer Ashutosh Gowariker starred Abhishek Bachchan and Deepika in the lead roles, and yet, I never even heard of it until I started writing this piece. Why? Because the movie was a complete box office failure, despite having garnered mostly positive critical acclaim. For Deepika-haters, this role was just another in her string of flops. Deepika-supporters insisted that she was doing a great job of tackling so many diverse roles.
This 2011 drama tackled the controversial issue of caste-based reservations in Indian government and educational institutions. Saif Ali Khan and Deepika were reunited in this film after their hit coupling in Love Aaj Kal. Deepika plays Poorbi, girlfriend to Saif Ali Khan’s character Deepak Kumar, and daughter to Amitabh Bachchan’s character Dr. Prabhakar Anand. Critics were impressed with Deepika’s role in Aarakshan, but it ultimately just added one more box office failure to her repertoire.
Touted by none other than Deepika herself as the “turning point” in her career, this 2012 romantic comedy turned drama-filled love triangle written by Love Aaj Kal writer and director Imtiaz Ali proved to be both the critical and commercial success that Deepika needed to revamp her floundering filmography. I have a few reservations with the movie’s story overall, but there’s no doubt that Deepika nailed her role in the film as the boldly rebellious, yet deeply fragile Veronica Malaney. Reportedly she took on the role as a “challenge,” and this was definitely one risk worth taking. Anybody who failed to take notice of her acting skills back in 2009 with Love Aaj Kal would be hard pressed to ignore Deepika’s command of the screen after Cocktail.
This 2013 sequel to the hit 2008 film featured Deepika as Alina Malik, step-sister to the film’s antagonist Armaan Malik as played by John Abraham along side Race series regulars Saif Ali Khan and Anil Kapoor. Definitely not as good as its predecessor, this sequel was nonetheless a box office success and had critics noticing that Deepika’s performance encompassed some of the movie’s “best scenes.”
Her IIFA nominations for this year are for her roles as the loveably nerdy Naina Talwar in Yeh Jaawani Hai Deewani, as the South Indian mafia princess of sorts Meenalochini Azhagusundaram in Chennai Express, and finally, as the tragically ill-fated Leela in Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela. I’ve already waxed poetic on Deepika’s scene-stealing performances in each of these films in my 2013 Bollywood recap, so I wasn’t too terribly surprised that she garnered all these accolades.
I was surprised, however, to learn that she recently reached out to one of her devoted fans to accompany her on the red carpet at the Filmfare Awards. Knowing all of this and then some, what’s not to love about Deepika Padukone? Here’s wishing her the best of luck at the upcoming IIFAs!
Farah Naz Khan is an internal medicine resident at Emory University. After graduating from college in Boston, she returned to her Alabama hometown to attend medical school, and was reunited with the mix of Southern hospitality and South Asian flair that had shaped her childhood. Follow her on Twitter @farah287 or read some of her thoughts at farah287.blogspot.com.