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Mumbai - If any Bollywood star can claim 2013 as their year, it is Deepika Padukone. With four hit films, the former model has risen to the top of the A-list - and now has Hollywood in her sights.
But she isn't putting her giddy fame down to luck.
“I did work at an abnormal pace, juggling three films at a time, and I think the payback has been worth it,” the elegant 27-year-old told AFP in an interview in her adopted hometown Mumbai, the entertainment capital.
Padukone has catapulted to Bollywood's big league after just six years in the movie industry, but her entry into films was hardly conventional.
In an industry known for blatant nepotism and dominant acting dynasties, she has carved out a career despite being neither of showbiz parentage nor from Mumbai.
Born in Copenhagen, she grew up in Bangalore, inheriting athletic genes from her father Prakash, a badminton world champion.
She was a state-level basketball, badminton and baseball player before becoming a model, and her experience and visibility in that job landed her film offers when she was as young as 19.
Her acting debut came in 2007 in “Om Shanti Om”, opposite Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. Her struggle, she said, was in understanding colleagues, the craft and finding comfort in front of the camera.
“When you begin working in your early 20s you are also understanding yourself and meeting many people who have an influence on your life - some good, some bad,” said the actress, smartly dressed in a high-collared shirt and trousers, with a hint of makeup on her flawless skin.
If she saw early stardom with her debut film, Padukone has also faced some poor showings at the box office.
Her 2010 films “Lafangey Parindey” (Rogue Birds), “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se” (We Play Wholeheartedly) and “Karthik Calling Karthik” all flopped.
She praised the role of her followers in keeping her motivated.
“Fans give you love. I know mine love me for who I am and not just because of the success of my films, because even in the years when my films were not doing well, I felt the same love from the audience and fans.”
Padukone agreed that 2013 has been career-defining, with the hits “Race 2”, “Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani” (This Youth is Crazy) and “Chennai Express”, again co-starring Shah Rukh Khan, which became the most profitable movie in India.
Also this year “Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela” (The Battle of Bullets: Ram-Leela), an interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, won Padukone near-universal praise.
There were even reports of her being considered for a role in the next instalment of the “Fast & Furious” franchise - although the film is now uncertain after US actor Paul Walker's fatal car accident.
“I know how close I was to doing that film, but I choose to stand by my earlier commitments here,” she said.
“'Fast & Furious' didn't work out, for whatever reasons. But it's ridiculous for people to say that the stories were floated for publicity. Sometimes I think it's destiny,” she said.
But she suggests Hollywood projects remain a real possibility.
“I am sure there will be something else.”
Padukone has thus far mostly played the romantic female lead in typically commercial Bollywood films, combining song, dance, comedy and action.
In real life, director Homi Adajania describes her as having an “intense drive”, combined with loyalty and “wisdom to play the game with poise”.
She credits her background in sports with her disciplined approach.
“If my backhand is weak then before the next tournament I better practise my backhand properly,” she said.
“When a film does well or does not do well, you analyse it and work on the things that did not work.”
Padukone has also faced constant interest from gossip columns, whether over her love life - especially her former relationship with fellow star Ranbir Kapoor - or supposed tiffs within the small group of Bollywood A-listers.
“I think it is more media-created than reality,” she said of rivalries with other actresses.
“That may have existed earlier, but I don't think it exists now. We may not be the best of friends but that is because we don't have the opportunities or the time.
“It's not that we don't want to. I think we are all secure in the work we do.”
Padukone's next films include “Finding Fanny”, an English-Konkani language satire and “Kochadaiiyaan” (The King with a Long, Curly Mane), a Tamil period film with south Indian superstar Rajnikanth.
“It's nice to be appreciated and loved. I know that I have the ability to make people laugh, cry or smile,” she said.
“That I have a certain influence on people's lives is very humbling - and a responsibility to bear.” - Sapa-AFP