OPN Deepika
Indian actress Deepika Padukone attends the 95th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 12, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

They threatened to cut her nose off, she was implicated in a fake drug case and interrogated for hours, a massive campaign was launched online to humiliate her yet Deepika Padukone, 37, stood proud radiating beauty and serene poise on the Oscar stage as India’s global ambassador — an emblem of her soft power.

Padukone personifies the grace of an earlier era with her regal beauty, yet is a role model for youngsters (India’s largest demographic) because she has broken taboos and talked about her crippling depression and suicidal thoughts.

Padukone has always marched to her own drumbeat, quietly standing with the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University when they were besieged. Padukone went to the campus and stood alongside the protesting students, showing more bravery than all her male co-stars put together.

When her privacy was invaded and a tone deaf television anchor (a woman incidentally) gleefully read out her WhatsApp messages on television, she remained dignified. Those messages went viral but, Padukone didn’t flinch.

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Interrogation in the glare of TV cameras

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed a case against her and an infamous top cop, who had earlier arrested Aryan Khan, son of superstar Shah Rukh Khan, humiliated her on live television after he issued a notice to her. Deepika came for the interrogation in the glare of thousands of television cameras.

The entire case was later found to be a fraud — a targeted attempt to intimidate Bollywood.

Those from the hate Deepika cottage industry tried to take away from her international spotlight via the Oscar stage by saying she was a presenter only because she was a brand ambassador of international global luxury brand Louis Vuitton.

Yes of course she was, but being a global ambassador of LV is by itself quite a big deal. Padukone is the first Indian actor to become the global brand ambassador of Cartier and LV.

That’s the thing about regressive India — men upholding the patriarchy can’t stand strong women who speak and commit their star power to the causes they believe in unapologetically.

Padukone had also called out a major newspaper group for creepy sensationalisation. Most Bollywood actors are scared to alienate any large media group in India but Padukone was clear she wanted her boundaries to be respected.

Guarded yet charming

I have interviewed Padukone many times for television and always found her guarded yet charming. She very clearly doesn’t like opening up about her private life, which is all that most of television cares about.

Padukone married her frequent co-star Ranveer Singh in 2018. Singh, who is ardent about his feelings for her, has been a huge support as Deepika herself stated on many occasions.

The Karni Sena — a vigilante right wing group — threatened to harm her publicly when she acted in the role of Padmawati in director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmawat. Padukone maintained her poise and calm — incredible in the face of such violent threats.

Recently the paid anti-Bollywood brigade went berserk attacking Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan for a song “besharam rang” (infamous colour) saying that Padukone was defaming a particular religion by wearing an orange coloured bikini in the film Pathaan.

An unwavering resilience

In a blow to the naysayers, Pathaan is now among the highest grossing Indian films. A state minister in the government of Madhya Pradesh made it a daily habit to attack Padukone and Shah Rukh to mine the issue for publicity. The minister threatened to use state power against them.

Both Khan and Padukone have taken on the trolls with quiet dignity, never succumbing to the threats and preferring to focus on their work. Padukone is the highest paid female actor and has been part of many mega hits.

Padukone spoke about her battle with depression and broke down publicly. In traditional India this was a taboo subject, not even to be discussed within the four walls of the home.

Padukone broke the taboo and also set up a foundation — the live love laugh foundation — to help and counsel people suffering.

She has used her large public pulpit to often focus on and talk about mental health another taboo topic in India.

Deepika Padukone has with her bravery broken the mould of what a woman actor could achieve. She has risen above her sleazy trolls.

Ready for her next chapter, Deepika has yet again proven her unwavering resilience amid threats and controversies.