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Deepika Padukone has the world at her feet

Actor, producer, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Deepika Padukone has traversed a journey that's been difficult, but something that she's proud of. Today, she's a global star with some of the best brands latching on to her popularity

Naandika Tripathi
Published: Jan 5, 2023 11:16:10 AM IST
Updated: Jan 6, 2023 12:03:06 PM IST

Deepika Padukone has the world at her feetDeepika Padukone, Actor, producer, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Image: Vaishnav Praveen / The House Of Pixels Make Up: Anil Chinnappa; Hair: Gabriel Georgiou; Styling: Shaleena Nathani
The world watched with awe as Lionel Messi dazzled sports lovers with his mesmerising game to help Argentina win the Fifa World Cup after 36 years. Hours before one of the greatest footballers of all time rose to the occasion in the epic final against France on December 18, actor Deepika Padukone was the cynosure of all eyes at the Lusail Stadium in Doha, Qatar.  
As the 89,000-strong capacity crowd waited with bated breath for one of the most anticipated football matches of the global marquee event, Padukone walked in with former Spanish footballer Iker Casillas on the ground to unveil the 18-carat gold-and malachite trophy that was brought in a custom-made Louis Vuitton trunk.

Ever since she came into the limelight as an actor with Om Shanti Om in 2007, Padukone has made heads turn with her beauty and screen persona. Yet, her presence at the final by virtue of being Louis Vuitton’s first Indian brand ambassador—the brand was the official travel case manufacturer for the Fifa World Cup trophy—has added heft to her illustrious CV.

The actor remains grateful for such amazing opportunities that have come her way. “I do feel a sense of gratitude. But at the same time, I feel, it was long due, not for me as an individual, but as a nation. And so, in that sense, while it does feel like a personal achievement, it’s also an accomplishment for what I’ve been able to do for the country,” Padukone tells Forbes India four days before heading to Qatar.

It’s a chock-a-block schedule for the 36-year-old. On the day we meet her, Padukone, dressed in a printed floral white shirt and trousers, takes stock with her managers about the subsequent meetings lined up. We’re interviewing her after four years, and the one thing we notice that has remained unchanged is her punctuality.  

The year 2022 saw many firsts for Padukone, who has emerged as one of the most powerful global fashion ambassadors with a flurry of endorsement deals in the past 18 months. From Paris and Los Angeles to Japan and Qatar, she is leaving her global footprint as a cultural icon.
After becoming a brand ambassador for Louis Vuitton in the past year, she recently became the face of French luxury brand Cartier that designs high-end jewellery. She’s also endorsing other brands such as Levi’s and Adidas. Brand associations are not new to celebrities, but Padukone opts for only those that feel authentic to her personality. And she remains connected to showbiz in various capacities: The actor made her debut as jury member at the 75th Cannes Film Festival in May. 

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“Deepika has strategically and steadily built her global positioning over the years. Apart from her continued tryst with Cannes Film Festival, she has made quite a dent with Hollywood projects lately,” says Aviral Jain, managing director of Kroll, a valuation and risk consulting firm. “She is an epitome of success across beauty, fashion and talent. That’s what attracts global marquee brands to her. This catapults her as a global icon and it should definitely move up her brand value by a few notches.”

With a portfolio of more than 16 brands and a massive social media fan base, the actor has been successfully endorsing brands across segments—from consumer durables (Llyod) to paints (Asian Paints) and food & beverages (Epigamia, Oziva), adds Jain.

Deepika Padukone has the world at her feet

East meets West

After years of planning and research, Padukone launched her self-care global brand along with her fund manager and venture capitalist (VC) Jigar Shah in November. Named 82°E (eighty-two east), the brand began with the skincare category and debuted with a moisturiser and sunscreen drops. Formulated by in-house R&D experts in its own laboratory in Bengaluru, 82°E offers products by combining Indian ingredients and scientific compound. The startup recently raised $7.5 million in seed funding from DSG Consumer Partners and IDEO Ventures, and some angel investors.

Celebrity brands are not a new phenomenon. The concept has existed for decades and, in the West, global stars have built business empires using their name, power and clout. These are not bloated valuations, as dismissed by naysayers but  fundamentally strong, profitable, sustainable businesses both in revenue and valuation terms. “In India, the concept of a celebrity brand is still at an infancy,” explains Shah who has been Padukone’s fund manager since 2020. He looks at her entire portfolio across different asset classes, which also includes startups, where they make all direct investments.

The two co-founders have shared responsibilities keeping their expertise in mind. Shah looks at business, strategy, growth, fundraising, HR, and operations, while Padukone handles the creative aspects. Insiders says she’s hands-on when it comes to product development. Before a product is launched in the market, it first goes through formulation trials and then a clinical dermat test. Padukone is involved in the formulation trials, and tests the safety and stability of the product on her skin.

The beauty products market is an open field and given the obsession with following a healthy skincare routine in India, many brands have launched products with several steps of applications. Shah’s research revealed that, in certain countries, there are nine to 20 steps for skincare routine. “There are so many steps and minimal knowledge… the consumers are confused about which steps to follow. That is the gap that we saw in the skincare category. And hence our solution is simplifying skincare. It is just about doing the basics right,” he says. “We’ve seen brands trying to just launch advanced-level products without really focusing on education and what is really required. So, this is where we stand out.”  

The startup has consciously taken a drop strategy approach. Initially, it launched two products and then dropped the third to test it and see the consumer reaction, get the learnings and then scale up. “We achieved our first month target in five-and-a-half days. If this trajectory continues, we should be in a position to hit about ₹100 crore annual revenue run rate in six to eight months,” says Shah.

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The focus of 82°E, whose products are currently shipped to over 30 countries, will remain on the fundamentals. Ask any expert and they will explain that cleansing, toning, moisturising and protection are the only essentials, says Padukone. “So anything more that you’re being told or sold is not true. As a consumer, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information that was out there when it came to skincare and certain products. It had also become a cluttered space in that sense. And so, as a brand, we’re here to simplify the process and educate.”

Investor Insights

In 2017, Padukone launched KA Enterprises, a fully-owned holding company, through which she has backed several startups, including femtech startup Nua, cleantech startup Atomberg Technologies, space tech startup Bellatrix Aerospace, yoghurt firm Epigamia, pet store Supertails and edtech firm FrontRow, among others.

Deepika Padukone has the world at her feetSince she has a diverse portfolio, Padukone has a team that looks after these multiple investments. “From a decision-making point of view, the team looks after all the practical and logical aspects. When it comes to my table, eventually it’s about my gut. So I think it’s a good mix of the mind and the heart,” she tells Forbes India.

Her team is constantly in touch with the founders, and they weigh in as and when required. With some startups, it is only limited to investments, while with others, they are involved in taking strategic decisions. As an investor, Padukone believes in giving space to these companies. She feels it can get overwhelming when there’s too much of interference. “I think it’s finding that balance between letting them know that we’re here to support them, but also giving them their space… to make their mistakes, but also to grow,” she says.

“Padukone involves herself in periodic meetings,” says Yashas Karanam, co-founder of Bellatrix Aerospace. In 2019, the Bengaluru-based space tech startup raised $3 million in a pre-Series A round from a group of VC investors, with Padukone being one of the lead investors. Recalling his first interaction with the actor to pitch the idea, Karanam says it was a time when many investors were hesitant to invest in the startup since it’s a highly risky industry. However, Padukone was intrigued by the domain and the possibilities that it could offer. She was keen to learn and understand, and willing to take a bet on this sector. During her interaction with Forbes India, the actor hinted at planning to invest in more startups in 2023.

“We mostly see celebs putting money in consumer brands and cosmetics, but space tech is something radically different. I think that is something unique and special with Deepika… that she saw the potential in deep tech. She was also particularly interested in our investment because she wanted to look at something that can be homegrown in India in a high tech area, and help such technology companies,” says Karanam.

15 Years At the Top

Padukone, a national-level badminton player, left her hometown Bengaluru when she was 17, and arrived in Mumbai with two suitcases and a dream to become an actor. The daughter of legendary shuttler Prakash Padukone, she still works and lives with the attitude of an athlete. She made her acting debut in 2006 with the Kannada film Aishwarya, but it was her Bollywood debut in 2007 opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om that catapulted her to instant fame with a Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut. She would go on to star in hits such as Cocktail, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Chennai Express, Piku, Bajirao Mastani, Padmaavat, and many more. Though she encountered a spate of flops along the way with films like Chandni Chowk to China, Aarakshan and Finding Fanny, she sees the phase as a learning curve. In 2017, she went global by starring in a Hollywood action film, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, alongside Vin Diesel and Donnie Yen.  “As an outsider with no knowledge of the film industry, it was initially challenging, but I always had a vision of doing something different. The kind of films that I’ve been able to be a part of or the kind of global brands that I’m endorsing, it definitely feels like a journey. It has been fun, I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve evolved as a person. And I feel immense gratitude,” says Padukone, who will be seen in Pathaan with Khan next.

The actor has also spread her wings over the years. In 2018, Padukone formed her company, Ka Productions, and her first film as producer was Chhapaak in which she played an acid attack victim. Her next co-production, 83, was based on India’s famous cricket World Cup victory. The actor essayed the role Romi Devi, wife of the captain, Kapil Dev, played by husband Ranveer Singh. Last year, she played a vulnerable role in Amazon Prime Video and Dharma Productions’ Gehraiyaan, which got mixed reviews.

Film critic and founder of Film Companion Anupama Chopra says: “Deepika is somebody who is very ambitious, hardworking, and also incredibly down to earth and rooted even after all the fame and success. She has been incredibly consistent and has only gotten better.” The beginning of her career was more about how beautiful she was rather than what a great actor she is, but after Cocktail, with every film, especially the trilogy with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, “she told you that she’s not just a pretty face, she can really hold the frame”.

It’s also about taking risks, and she knows how to mix it well—from producing a film like Chhapaak to doing a movie like Gehraiyaan—explains Chopra. “You can’t be on a jury at Cannes if you are just glamorous. They will not invite you unless there is a body of work. What she has done smartly is to create a body of work, create her own production. It has been a consistently upward movement and she is ambitious that the next step is bigger than the first,” she says.  

After Pathaan, she will be seen with Hrithik Rohan in Siddharth Anand’s Fighter, with Prabhas in Nag Ashwin’s pan-India film Project K and with Amitabh Bachchan in her co-production, a remake of The Intern. Her other confirmed projects include the Hollywood rom-com developed by STX Films and the epic Mahabharata.

Deepika Padukone has the world at her feet

Talking Mental Health

Stardom comes with its share of troubles. And Padukone has not shied away from admitting her battles with the mind. In 2014, at the peak of her career, though she was giving award-winning performances, Padukone felt miserable and empty. Her mother Ujjala Padukone noticed she needed medical help. The actor not only sought help but also spoke about it at a time there was little or no awareness. An Indian actor of her stature speaking about it is a rarity. Since that day, self-care has become an important part of her life and she has extended a helping hand to others who battle such emotions.

In 2015, Padukone launched The Live Love Laugh Foundation, a charitable trust which aims to give hope to people experiencing stress, anxiety and depression. Some of its initiatives include mental health education for adolescents, capacity building, and providing access to mental health care in urban and rural communities, public awareness and stigma reduction campaigns, and research.

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The foundation’s adolescent mental health programme has covered 210,000 students and 21,000 teachers. It has trained 2,383 doctors through their doctor’s programme. “Our rural mental health care programme covers over 9,200 direct and 23,000 indirect beneficiaries, and caters to 20 talukas across three states,” says Anisha Padukone, the actor’s sister, CEO of the foundation. Anisha gave up her career as a professional golfer to commit herself to the cause of mental health.

Padukone’s rise as an actor, producer, entrepreneur, investor, global icon and philanthropist of repute has not been a cakewalk. It’s been a rollercoaster ride. The actor is proud of what she has achieved, what she has become and happily owns all the tags that she has earned for herself. From being ignored for having a brown skin to being celebrated globally, it has been a long journey, she sighs. Where do we see her 15 years from now? “In good health, with a peaceful mindset, and on the professional side, conquering a lot more on the global front,” she smiles.

(This story appears in the 13 January, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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