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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Deepika Padukone Characters Which Tackle Undue Gender Disparity

Deepika Padukone is a bonafide superstar in Indian cinema. She has that charisma, gorgeous looks and a solid screen presence as an actor.

After her stellar debut in Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om, the Bollywood world was introduced to a new super-heroine.

Since her overcoming a rough patch during the initial stage of her career, the actor has proved that she’s nothing short of magnificent.

Recently, Deepika has undertaken an array of formidable characters especially in movies like Padmaavat and Chhapaak, to name a few.

But not only are these roles strong and synonymous with empowerment, but they all seem to bravely battle male superiority, misuse of power and hypocrisy.

Shantipriya/Sandy: Om Shanti Om (2007)

Despite the glitzy and glamorous representation, OSO showcases how a dreamy industry like cinema is actually a dark and enigmatic world.

Padukone’s character Shantipriya is a superstar and heartthrob of thousands. She turns out to be secretly married to big-time film producer Mukesh Mehra (Arjun Rampal).

The pair have been married for two years in secret, and Shanti reveals that she is pregnant with Mukesh’s child.

Mukesh seems overjoyed and asks Shanti to meet him at the set of their upcoming film, but all is not what it seems.

Revealing his true colours, Mukesh tells Shanti that their relationship and child will ruin his career and sets the backdrop on fire, locking Shanti inside as he leaves.

Her character returns as reincarnation and apparition in the second half to defeat Mehra.

Both her roles, eventually, confront the greed and the misuse of power by the villain, to gain justice… Though at the cost of lives.

Veronica: Cocktail (2012)

Deepika as Veronica in Homi Adajania’s Cocktail is free-spirited. When she gets attached to the timid/traditional Meera (Diana Penty), a stranded victim of false marriage, it becomes an amiable friendship.

Soon enough, she is heartbroken to know that her best friend is in love with Gautam (Saif Ali Khan) a man she has a sexual relationship with eventually falls for.

In a drunkard state, at a nightclub, she expresses her emotions of how she too can be the ‘ideal Indian girl’ and ‘settle down like the others’.

Her character challenges the double-standards of how men choose to sleep with a woman like Veronica, but then choose to marry a domesticated person like Meera.

Remember that dialogue exchange where Veronica tells Gautam: “And don’t act like a social worker who screwed me for my own good”?

It’s also eye-opening on how society too, in an unjustified way, categories women. 

Rani Padmavati: Padmaavat (2018)

According to me, this is Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s most haunting work yet and amongst Padukone’s best performances yet.

In medieval India, the tyrannical sultan Khilji (Ranveer Singh) and his army attack a prosperous kingdom to try and capture the beautiful, Rajputi queen, Padmavati (Deepika Padukone).

Her husband Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) assembles his valiant forces to defend his land and the honour of his beloved wife.

Ultimately, however, she and a mass number of Rajputi women are compelled to sacrifice themselves to preserve their principals and self-respect by jumping into the fire, performing ‘Jauhar’ ritual.

Whilst this scene and visual is distressing, for Padmavati and the women, this was not a sacrifice, but war.

For them, this is a way to fight back a nefarious leader and to escape his clutches, which could otherwise destroy their identity and reason for existence.

Padmavati too fought and broke-free from a patriarchal leader who misused his power to fulfil his obsession and stubbornness.

Malti Agarwal: Chhapaak (2020)

Based on the real-life survivor Laxmi Agarwal, this Meghna Gulzar directorial follows Malti Agarwal’s life over the years from her acid attack.

It showcases her journey through rehabilitation, her facial surgeries, legal battle against the attacker and her constant struggle to become economically independent.

Malti, at a young and tender age, is confronted with such a grim episode only because she rejects a man’s advances.

Her battle is with a toxic masculine who could not take ‘no’ for an answer and as a result, his ego gets bruised. Thus, the attack is a way to seek revenge.

Interestingly, there is also a brief glimpse on Victim blaming to such attacks as well as the hypocritical statements like “oh, she must’ve provoked him” and how it is a double-edged sword for women.

But ultimately, whilst it is a lengthy process which is extremely difficult, Malti emerges triumphant and lives like a victor, paying a tribute to the unwavering human spirit.

Final Word

In a career spanning over a decade, Deepika has delivered some outstanding and empowering performances.

However, our selection is representative of how some of her key roles have fought injustice and domination exercised by negative male characters.

It is interesting how many of these roles actually extend the brackets of sexes and have a more humane subcontext.

So, ultimately it does not become about one gender being above another, but rather a balanced account.

For instance, if there is a Mukesh Mehra, then there is an Om. If there is a Khilji, then there is also a Maharawal Ratan Singh.

But reflecting over, it is quite thought-provoking how beauty plays an instrumental yet prominent role in these disparities.

On one hand, a female refuses to be silenced by the gender brackets and on the other hand, the antagonist is unable to accept that a visually attractive person rejects their advances.

Given that times and the style of cinema is changing, it is all the more imperative to see such representations on celluloid.

Kudos to Deepika for undertaking such characters.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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