What makes Deepika Padukone India's most successful female celebrity

Decoding the superstar's strategy behind building her brand and business

gallery-image Standing tall: Deepika Padukone along with other jury members at Cannes 2022 | AFP
gallery-image Deep connect: Deepika Padukone at a rural mental health initiative of her Live Love Laugh Foundation in Tiruvallur, Tamil Nadu.

It is just after noon on a sunny Friday in Mumbai when I am driving into Beau Monde Towers to meet Deepika Padukone. The security at the gate asks whether I want to go to her home or the office. “The office,” I reply. That’s the 30th floor then, just a few flights up from the apartment she has lived in in the posh gated community in Prabhadevi for 12 years, and shares with her husband of five years, actor Ranveer Singh. It is telling that the glamorous movie star has her personal and her official spaces in the same edifice, almost as if her heart and her head are of commensurate consequence.

When you have an incredible face, an incredible body and incredible talent, you really have it all. Deepika works harder than anyone I know, she gets a lot of discipline from her parents. ―Sabyasachi, fashion designer

They clearly are. Padukone is having the most unusual year: 2023 began with the biggest blockbuster Hindi cinema has seen since Dangal (2016)―Pathaan―headlined by Shah Rukh Khan, John Abraham and Padukone; it has collected around Rs1,050 crore (and counting) globally. Padukone’s net worth has reportedly snowballed to Rs500 crore this year, thanks to her investments in multiple startups, making her the richest female Indian celebrity. She was valued at Rs300 crore in 2020.

Since 2016-2017, Padukone has been among the highest taxpayers in India, and the only female actor to be in the list of top 10 highest taxpayers. That year, she paid over Rs10 crore in taxes, and has retained her position in that list ever since. As per a Forbes report, she earned Rs48 crore in 2019 and beat celebrities like cricketer Rohit Sharma, actors Rajinikanth and Ajay Devgn to enter India’s top 10 rich list of celebrities.

Her carefully orchestrated career is a conscious decision, Padukone admits. “I think like an athlete…. My discipline comes from my sports background,” she explains.

Padukone, 37, is India’s highest paid female actor (not counting Priyanka Chopra Jonas as she has moved base to the US). She reportedly charges Rs12 crore to Rs15 crore per film, when there are barely any female stars who have crossed the Rs10 crore mark. Most of her films where she has played a pivotal role have been one of the highest grossing films of that year. Some of these are: her debut Om Shanti Om (2007), Chennai Express (2013), Happy New Year (2014) and Padmaavat (2018). In 2017, she starred in the Hollywood film XXX: Return of Xander Cage opposite Vin Diesel.

She has endorsed several Indian brands such as Asian Paints, Jio, Dabur, Tanishq, and Axis Bank, as well as international brands such as Chopard and Levi’s. The last year alone has seen her appointment as global brand ambassador for three major international brands―the world’s richest fashion label Louis Vuitton, Qatar Airways and Cartier jewellery. Padukone is estimated to charge Rs7 crore to Rs12 crore per brand, subject to the number of days required from her. Unlike other film stars, she does not charge for social media posts. Nor does she charge for special appearances in films (including this month’s blockbuster, Shah Rukh Khan’s Jawan); most of them are for her personal friendships.

As part of her endorsements, the last one year or so has seen her present the performance of RRR’s ‘Naatu naatu’ at the Academy Awards 2023 (making her only the third Indian to present at the Oscars; the first being Persis Khambatta in 1980, and the second Chopra Jonas in 2016). She was also a jury member at the Cannes film festival early last year, and was the first Indian ever to unveil the FIFA World Cup trophy in Doha in December 2022.

When she signed with Louis Vuitton, the company said, “Following a strong collaborative relationship with the Maison, including an appearance in Nicolas Ghesquière’s novel-inspired Pre-Fall 2020 campaign, the award-winning actress begins an exciting new chapter of her journey with Louis Vuitton.” Cartier’s chief marketing officer Arnaud Carrez stated Padukone was an ideal fit for the brand as she embodied “the company’s spirit of creativity, universality and open-mindedness”. Adidas India’s senior director Sunil Gupta says, “As a global youth icon and someone who champions mental well-being and personal betterment, Deepika fits in beautifully with the brand’s ambition of creating positive change through sports and movement.”

Levi’s quantifies how its brand image got a boost after signing on Padukone as a global brand ambassador. “Deepika’s association with Levi’s has helped us reach a broader audience, creating a new generation of Levi’s fans,” says Amisha Jain, senior vice-president, South Asia-Middle East, Levi Strauss & Co. “She is not only an internationally acclaimed actor but a global youth and fashion icon. Her appeal transcends geographical boundaries, making her ideal to reach an international audience. Our co-created collection sees high engagement and interest from younger consumers.”


But Padukone is keen on building her own brand. She owns KA Productions along with her sister, Anisha Padukone. It has established her as a film producer―she has co-produced Chhapaak (2020) and ’83 (2021). KA Enterprises has her father, the former badminton champion Prakash Padukone, as co-director, and invests in several Indian startups. Some of her investments include Bellatrix Aerospace, Drums Food International (owner of Epigamia yoghurt), Furlenco Furniture, hobby learning platform FrontRow (now closed down), Purplle (beauty products marketplace), Supertails pet supplies, Mokobara travel accessories, Atomberg Technologies and Nua sanitary pads. “I have just invested in Blue Tokai coffee. It has not been announced yet, but please feel free to break the news,” she teases. Padukone’s investments are the typical size of a Series A investor.

Padukone’s marriage with Ranveer Singh (in pic), a massive movie star himself, makes them quite the power couple. The two charge a premium for films and commercials in which they appear together.

Much of Padukone, the businesswoman, has to do with hiring and collaborating with the right people. She launched DPKA Universal Consumer Ventures, which cofounded 82°E along with her fund manager, Jigar Shah. The skincare and wellness company, which marries ayurveda with science, raised $7.5 million in seed funding and was launched in November 2022. “Just as I started working with her, Deepika expressed her dream to build something entrepreneurial and leave a legacy beyond films,” says Shah, 37. “She needed a sounding board or a partner who helped structure the business for her. We could have done a joint venture or invested in something new, but I soon understood the depth of her vision. By the end of 2020, there was an influx of beauty companies and all of them wanted her involvement, but after I researched the space we realised the best way would be to do this ourselves.” An alumnus of Mumbai’s SP Jain Institute of Management, he was hired only in 2020 as director and head of investments across all asset classes. “She is the soul of the brand, her sense of purpose comes out clearly,” he says. “She controls the brand marketing and product lens, while I take care of the business and operations part.”

Vijay Subramaniam, as her primary agent, has seen her come into her own from close quarters. “What I have seen in my 10-11 years of working with Deepika is how she has eclipsed the norms of the box office,” says Subramaniam, group CEO and cofounder of Collective Artists Network. “Her first step was an ascent into the number one spot, the second was maintaining the spot. She is now in a space where she has transcended the ranking system altogether.” He strategises her career moves. “She now creates for a purpose,” he says. “She doesn’t need to promote 75 brands, do five films a year, or do PR for the sake of PR. There’s an ease to being Deepika Padukone and it’s quite a tangible thing.” Subramaniam says Padukone has turned into a GOAT, much like Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar or even Roger Federer. “She has now achieved permanence,” he says.

The actor is also building an enviable real estate portfolio. There are the two apartments at the Prabhadevi complex. For sentimental reasons, Padukone has kept the two-bedroom Pali Hill apartment―her first in Mumbai. Last year, her husband and she purchased six floors of an apartment building at Bandra Bandstand, next to her good friend Shah Rukh Khan’s Mannat bungalow. The couple has also invested in a holiday home in Alibaug that is priced at around Rs25 crore. In 2021, she purchased an apartment in Four Seasons Private Residences at Embassy One, Bengaluru, as an investment.

Friend and leading fashion designer Sabyasachi, who styled her wedding as well as the Asian Paints campaign, says Padukone remains a larger-than-life movie star. “Being 5’10” helps,” he says, laughing. “When you have an incredible face, an incredible body and incredible talent, you really have it all. Deepika works harder than anyone I know, she gets a lot of discipline from her parents. This is why she can balance films, businesses, relationships and still look gorgeous. Moreover, she is a consummate professional who relies heavily on her team―stylist Shaleena Nathani, makeup professional Sandhya Shekhar and hairstylist Yianni Tsapatori and others―and she understands it takes a village to create Brand Deepika and she keeps that village close to her.” The designer especially remembers how Padukone agreed to a magazine shoot for him knowing it would not make it to the cover. “But when life takes you to where you are meant to be, you just learn to relax,” he says.

Padukone has been dragged into several controversies, mostly for gaining political mileage by riding on her stardom. A fringe party wanted to cut her nose for playing the role of a revered fictitious queen Padmavati in Padmaavat, forcing the film to change its title. A jauhar scene in the same film was panned for glorifying the practice. In 2020, Padukone visited New Delhi’s left-leaning Jawaharlal Nehru University during a protest by students against campus violence, earning the ire of the ruling BJP’s supporters. Earlier this year, an orange bikini she wore in a Pathaan song offended the sentiments of those outraged against a ‘saffron’ skin show.

Celebrated image guru Dilip Cherian believes Padukone’s stardom has shone through her controversies. “She has retained her stardom and the controversies have been relegated to an aside,” he offers. “The undertones of politics have not been allowed to become the overlay. Deepika has shown that any song with sizzle will allow the controversy to fizzle.” Cherian further adds that international brands have thus chosen her to appeal to a large number of Indian audiences, both in India and abroad, who are their target consumers. “The mega brands have realised that brown skin in a pole position trumps everything else,” he says.

Padukone is a well-known philanthropist, too. She is perhaps India’s most famous mental health advocate. In 2015, she founded the Live Love Laugh Foundation that creates awareness on mental health by also working in villages. The World Economic Forum awarded her for her efforts in the field in 2020. Padukone had also adopted a village in Maharashtra’s Ambegaon in 2010 and is responsible for providing electricity there.

Her marriage with Ranveer Singh, a massive movie star himself, makes them quite the power couple. Both have consistently occupied a spot in the Top 10 of India’s most valued celebrities, according to a Duff & Phelps (a risk and financial advisory, now called Kroll) annual report. The two charge a premium for films and commercials in which they appear together. Padukone says they are quite unique, in that they command an identical balance of power between them.

They are also both self-made, a trait unusual in an industry famous for its generational surnames. Singh and Padukone have starred in several blockbusters together, but their onscreen chemistry is comparable to their off-screen ardour that garners as many eyeballs. They are almost always photographed in a well-coordinated wardrobe; the colours and styles match to a tee. They are always holding hands, matching steps with each other, and laughing at a private joke. Singh is often spotted driving her to the airport on her work commitments, signalling his support for her career.

Celebrity paparazzo Viral Bhayani says their chemistry in public is unbeatable. “Most of our audience is college-going; Ranveer and Deepika make them believe in love. They make these youngsters hope for such affection in their own lives,” he says. “But my boys (junior photographers) are addicted to Deepika’s smile; they say it’s just magic. They actually don’t have a good day when she doesn’t smile at them.”

One may agree with Padukone’s team and endorsers that believe her to be the greatest female movie star of all time. But the beautiful girl is hardly done. She has potential blockbusters coming up: Fighter (2024) with Hrithik Roshan; Kalki 2898-AD with Prabhas, also slated for next year and said to be the most expensive Indian film ever to be made; The Intern with Amitabh Bachchan and Singham Again. The actor is also unabashed about her global ambitions and going beyond being a movie star.

Padukone says coming from landlocked Bengaluru made her always want to live by the sea. What she also means is a sea of endless possibilities.