Bollywood icon Deepika Padukone is hesitant to pick favorites among her more than two-dozen performances, many of which have received critical acclaim and been among the industry’s highest-grossing films. (She’s a versatile actress who insists that every role has taught her something.) But when pressed, she chooses Piku—a sensitive but comedic portrayal of a father-daughter relationship that explores what happens when children become caretakers and Gehraiyaan—a story of unraveling, and of how intergenerational trauma and mental health complicates romantic relationships. Those choices are hardly a surprise: Mental health has become somewhat of a calling for Padukone, who first spoke openly in 2015 about wrestling with depression.
“I had such a deep experience with mental illness. Not talking about it felt dishonest,” she says. That year, she also launched the LiveLoveLaugh Foundation, which works to destigmatize mental health struggles and raise awareness. Today, LiveLoveLaugh runs a free counseling service, a training program for primary care physicians to better identify and treat mental health conditions; it also offers free psychiatric support, access to government-aided schemes and livelihood training to more than 1,800 individuals in four rural districts in the states of Karnataka, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu.
Padukone’s advocacy work has helped her to find balance in her life—and a new definition of success. Where at first she strived to be queen of Bollywood, now she prioritizes her own mental peace—working at her own pace, and on her own terms. When Padukone now thinks of success, she thinks of one thing—”to live a life as honest and authentically as possible.”