Deepika Padukone goes beyond the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival 2022, it's time we do too

Deepika Padukone goes beyond the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival 2022, it's time we do too

Deepika Padukone goes beyond the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival 2022, it's time we do too

Deepika Padukone made her Cannes Film Festival debut back in 2010. She turned heads on the red carpet when she donned a shimmering gold-and-white sari, choosing to take the traditional Indian route at a time when Indian actresses were mostly decked in gowns for the gala.

Padukone was endorsing a whisky brand then. Since 2017, she has been making regular Cannes appearances as the brand ambassador of a makeup giant. Since the same makeup giant prompted Indian actresses like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor to go the gown way, Padukone also embraced that trend, sporting gowns in greens, pinks, and whites, spruced up by a lot of drama in design.

At Cannes 2018

But that's Deepika Padukone for you. She'd make a bold statement with her simplicity on one day, and on the others, she'd blend into the blur. At Cannes Film Festival 2022, Padukone snaps out of the blur to make yet another statement: she's part of the Competition jury at Cannes, and has become the only Indian actor to achieve that feat this year.

She joins the likes of Hollywood actress Rebecca Hall and Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi (whose inclusion is disappointing, since he has been found guilty of plagiarising the script of his latest film A Hero). The Hollywood Reporter, while listing down the jury, described Padukone as "Danish-born Indian actress." This Western gaze on Padukone's identity is reductive because she's often worn her Indian-ness on her sleeve, but moreover, refused to be slotted into a singular box.

At Cannes 2019

Padukone made her Bollywood debut with Farah Khan's 2007 blockbuster Om Shanti Om, where she was introduced like the heroines of 1960s and '70s used to be — wearing a sari and replete with old-world charm. Again, she, along with Sonam Kapoor, who made her debut with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Saawariya the same day, stood out from the wave of young girls making their big-screen debut in the footsteps of Mallika Sherawat (Murder, 2004), positioning themselves more as seductresses and eye candies than as the conventional Hindi film heroine.

But in the second half of Om Shanti Om, Padukone turned tables with her double role. Shantipriya became Sandy, and Padukone ensured the change in look and lingo didn't dilute her inherent grace. But again, after a rough patch, Padukone let go of that vintage appeal, and embraced an uninhibited streak in Homi Adajania's Cocktail (2012).

Since Cocktail, Padukone has done money-spinners opposite huge stars, but also slid in a surprise move every three years, that has prevented her from getting pigeonholed.

There was a Finding Fanny for every Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, a Tamasha for every Chennai Express, and a Piku for every Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ram-Leela. 

Even after her most successful year 2013, where she added the above three blockbusters to her credit, she chose to reveal the chinks in her armour. She announced she's battling clinical depression, and urged others going through the same to recognise that in themselves and their loved ones, and in turn, seek treatment. She's been actively working towards mental health since then through The Live Love Laugh Foundation. Recently, she lobbied for streamlining work hours, weekly offs, and catering services for film crews.

At Cannes 2017

Yes, she also made her Hollywood debut with XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2007) opposite Vin Diesel, but the lack of follow-up roles in the West didn't dissuade her. She continued to audition for global tentpoles like The Mummy and acclaimed international cinema like Majid Majidi's Beyond The Cloud. When she couldn't crack those parts, she didn't hesitate in going back to what worked for her at the very start: a glamorous, desirably Indian turn, in Bhansali's Padmaavat (2018).

The historical epic is her biggest hit yet, but it's significant in her career because it allowed her to steer clear of those who were trying to cage her yet again. Firstly, she admitted she hasn't gotten anything worthwhile after Padmaavat, presumably because of the industry's lack of direction in how to use her optimally. So then she signed Meghna Gulzar's Chhapaak (2020), a 360-degree turn from her last film, and a role devoid of vanity and conventional notions of physical beauty.

In Chhapaak

Secondly, the right-wing resistance towards Padmaavat moved something within her. On the eve of the release of Chhapaak, she appeared at Jawaharlal Nehru University in support of students who were allegedly attacked by right-wing mobs inside the campus. Most interestingly, this happened in the same year when her husband Ranveer Singh claimed he's apolitical, and that his role as an anti-establishment figure in Gully Boy was mutually exclusive from his support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

During the pandemic that followed soon after, one wondered whether she'll come out as an even more evolved and informed actor. However, she went on a signing spree of big-budget action entertainers like Pathan (opposite Shah Rukh Khan), Project K (opposite Prabhas), and Fighter (opposite Hrithik Roshan). While those films would definitely help further her career and widen her appeal, where is the actor from whom we expected more smaller but meaningful projects?

In Pathan

At the same time, she stepped down as the Chairperson of Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival because she couldn't take time out from her acting commitments. That's a fair reason but why stop championing a growing Indian film festival for ticking a few leading-lady checkboxes?

Right when we were about to dismiss Deepika Padukone as 'yet another formulaic heroine,' enter: Gehraiyaan. Shakun Batra's relationship thriller, that released on Amazon Prime Video India a couple of months ago, reminded the audience of the latent actor in her, that once made us feel the weight of her characters in Piku and Chhapaak. She held her own in front of a Naseeruddin Shah, making us dejectedly wonder whether it's last we see of Deepika the actor in years to come.

In Gehraiyaan

But the latest update in her career has brightened up the room like her knowing yet disarming grin does. She will return to Cannes again, but not in yet another fluffy gown straight out of her husband's wardrobe. She'll be instrumental in who wins the palme d' or, the most prestigious honour at the film festival.

A couple of years ago, Hina Khan was criticised for her red carpet appearance at Cannes, only for her to earn a lot of defenders, who claimed that at least she was at the festival in the capacity of an actor (promoting her debut short film Lines), and not thanks to a brand tie-up.

Let's take that approach a few notches higher and applaud Deepika Padukone for making the next Cannes appearance count. Let's also champion the small yet significant films an Indian actor will be watching and supporting; instead of obsessing yet again over why an actress's lip shade is too purple on the red carpet.

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