Once upon a time, an innocent, wide eyed, tall and lissome, really pretty girl with dimples that would melt the hardest of hearts; appeared on the silver screen opposite the biggest film star, Shah Rukh Khan, in a whopping double role. When she enacted the spoof, “Ek chutki sindoor..”in OM Shanti Om, with great gusto and confidence, it was enough to establish Deepika Padukone as an upcoming Bollywood star.
Last year, during India Today Conclave 2014,she inspired her fans with a discussion on her success. No one knew that she had just sat alone and had cried for no apparent reason.
Few days back, when the 29 year old superstar’s dimpled cheeks were wet with painful tears, on National Television, it was more touching and frighteningly more real than Julia Roberts saying to Hugh Grant in Nottin’ Hill,”I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”
Deepika confessed, “The scariest thing for me was trying to find out where this was coming from, it was this heaviness… this burden I was carrying. Every minute was exhausting.”
The young star was just a girl asking to be understood by a nation who easily judges and sweeps everything ‘shameful’ under the carpet. She was asking, not for herself, but for the alleged 36 percent of Indian population who suffers from depression. She was there to face the huge bias against mental illness and tear down the tag of the unspeakable and simply encourage people to seek help like they would for any physical ailment. Her support came from her mother, Ujjala Padukone, and her doctors, Dr Shyam Bhatt and Dr Anna Chandy, who accompanied her to talk about depression.
Calling it a brave move would be an understatement. A one hour interview with Barkha Dutt known to prod into uncomfortable emotions during Mumbai’s 26.11 days, by itself may have been a coup for a news channel riding on TRPs based on a huge film star’s tears. But, Deepika and her mother did not lose sight of their larger goal of reaching out to those in distress.
When Deepika said she had “been to hell and back”, she was not being dramatic. She was courageous enough to allow herself to be vulnerable in front of the new cameras, her fans, a cruel industry waiting to pounce on any sign of weakness and the more intimidating and not so tactful host.
Ms Dutt wasted no time in getting Deepika to talk about her star value and image getting affected by her decision to talk about her bout of depression. But Deepika, through her teary eyes and charming smile, stayed undeterred and kept her slim shoulders square and strong.
She quietly brought the focus back to the subject of mental illness, the need to discuss it, the need to face it, the need to reach out, the need to build a support system and the help available at the doctor’s doorstep.
Some of the most valuable things she said were:
“This interview is not about me, it’s about people going through depression, it’s about families trying to deal with this ailment.”
“If someone is breaking down repeatedly, don’t say they’re doing it for attention. There’s a huge difference between being sad and being depressed.”
“Depression is a lonely, isolated condition where no one can talk about in the family – if this stigma will remain, we will soon have an epidemic”.
To help remove this stigma, misplaced prejudice and shame attached to mental illness, Deepika has launched Live, Laugh, Love Foundation to create awareness and save lives.
Through the best and the most honest interview - a first of its kind in Indian media, Deepika has turned around her pain to bring back smiles as cheery as her dimples. And that is a matter of great pride for all of us.
A true star is born.