In Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak, Deepika Padukone plays Malti, a woman from Delhi who has her face disfigured in an acid attack. Malti’s character is based on activist Laxmi Agarwal, who was attacked by a stalker when she was 15 years old. Agarwal later moved the Supreme Court to order central and state governments to regulate acid sales and ensure timely prosecution of acid attack perpetrators.
The trailer of the January 10 release, which is also Padukone’s maiden production venture, follows Malti through a series of court appearances and public protests. Malti also forms a relationship with the activist Amol (Vikrant Massey). “On hearing the script, I connected to the story and journey of Laxmi Agarwal immediately,” Padukone told Scroll.in. “I was just raring to take a go at it on both a personal and professional level.”
Agarwal put up a tough fight with the legal system for years to ensure that acid sales are restricted. “We hear about acts of violence in our country all the time,” Padukone observed. “What I learned was about the finer nuances and the day-to-day struggle that one goes through after encountering such violence. I was not previously aware of that.”
Padukone calls Chhapaak her “most physically challenging” film. She spends most of her time with prosthetic work on her face to resemble an acid attack victim. “The prosthetics did not affect my acting style as such,” Padukone said. “But it was very, very uncomfortable to shoot in the extreme heat of Delhi and Bombay. My skin took a beating. I had to keep my body cool at all times. You don’t think of all that within action and cut, it does get to you between the shots.”
This is Gulzar’s latest film after the 2018 blockbuster Raazi, in which Alia Bhatt played a Kashmiri spy who marries into a Pakistani military family to extract information during the 1971 war.
“A large part of why I did Chhapaak is Meghna Gulzar,” Padukone said. “I highly admire her craft and what she brings to the table as a director. But beyond that, on a personal level, she is an extremely sensitive, empathetic and responsible person, and those qualities were essential for telling this kind of a story.”
Padukone’s production company won’t “stick to any one genre”, and the A-lister will pick projects “based on instinct” just as she has done in the past.
After Chhapaak, Padukone will produce and star in an untitled adaptation of the Mahabharata as seen from the perspective of Draupadi. Padukone clarified that the movie is not an adaptation of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions, which deals with the same subject matter, because she said, “we do not have rights to the book”.
“Mahabharata has been a culturally relevant subject matter for so long, but we have always seen it from one perspective, so I felt it was interesting to look at it from another angle,” Padukone said. A director will be announced for the project soon.