Actor Deepika Padukone on Making Her Producing Debut in Acid Attack Movie ‘Splash’

Acid attacks on women by spurned men are endemic in South Asia. Top Indian actor Deepika Padukone is debuting as a producer and headlining the cast of Disney-owned Fox Star Studios’ “Splash” (“Chhapaak”), a film that deals with the issue. 

India’s Hindi-language film industry, known popularly — or pejoratively, depending on your point of view — as Bollywood, has very few women producers. Among the better known are actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas (“Ventilator”), Ekta Kapoor (“Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars”), Ashi Dua (“Ghost Stories”) and Krishika Lulla (“NH10”). Padukone, however, is loath to bring gender into the equation. 

“I’ve turned producer because I want to enable some of the films that I do,” she tells Variety. “I’m not doing it because I’m a woman. At one of these press conferences, they spoke about ‘Splash’ being a female-centric film, for example. No, I’m not doing this film because it is female-centric. It really makes the film small. Sometimes you want to have more skin in the game; you want to be more involved.”

Acid attack perpetrators usually splash acid on the faces of their victims, with a view to disfiguring them. “Splash” is based on the life of Laxmi Agarwal, who survived an acid attack in 2005, at the age of 15, from a rejected suitor. Agarwal launched the Stop Sale Acid campaign, which won plaudits around the world, including a 2014 International Women of Courage Award from then-U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. 

Popular on Variety

“Splash” is directed by Meghna Gulzar, who is also producer with her company Mriga Films. 

“The story is not so much about the incident itself as much as about her life after,” says Padukone. “And what she’s made of. What she’s made her life. How she’s used that experience, what she’s become today, how she’s used her voice. And all of the challenges and the struggles that she and people like her face.” 

Padukone made her acting debut with the 2006 Kannada-language film “Aishwarya” and became popular with Bollywood audiences with her next film, the 2007 smash “Om Shanti Om.” Padukone is a familiar face on the Cannes red carpet and at international fashion weeks, endorsing luxury brands such as L’Oréal and sportswear label Nike. She is the chairperson of the Mumbai Film Festival and has spoken candidly about her struggles with depression. 

As an actor, Padukone’s credits include “XXX: Return of Xander Cage,” alongside Vin Diesel. The massively successful “Bajirao Mastani” and “Padmaavat” both saw her playing warrior queens who are also paragons of beauty. 

Making the choice to portray the victim’s disfigurement in “Splash” is a marked departure from those roles. “People around me view it as a very bold move,” says Padukone. “For me, it’s the same as when I came out with depression: People thought it was bold and brave. I don’t find it brave at all. I was just honest. I can empathize, and I see a lot of merit in telling this story, in it reaching as many people as possible.”

Although “Splash” isn’t the first film on the subject, it may be the most prominent. 2019 saw the release of acclaimed Malayalam-language drama “Up Above” (“Uyare”), which featured a bravura lead performance from Parvathy Thiruvothu as an acid attack survivor. Fox will be releasing “Splash” across 2,000 screens in 41 countries, including the U.S., on Jan. 10. 

Identifying violence against women as a global problem, Padukone says that role models like herself should be responsible in highlighting the issue. She advocates a collective multipronged approach to countering it, including education, parenting, media consumption awareness and judicial deterrents. 

Padukone is co-producing “Splash” via her Ka Prods. outfit. “‘Ka’ in Egyptian is basically a soul,” says Padukone. “It is the spiritual part of your being that gets left behind after you’ve gone. That’s what I’m aiming to do with the films that I do, either as an actor or as a producer or as actor-producer — leave behind a body of work that people would want to revisit over and over again.” 

More Film

  • Miss Americana Taylor Swift

    17 Buzziest Movies at Sundance, From Taylor Swift to Gloria Steinem

    Sundance Film Festival isn’t just a market for independent movies and a place to discover new talent — it’s also a barometer of current moods. In 2020, an election year, it’s not always easy to separate politics from art — and maybe it shouldn’t be, not at Sundance. Hillary Clinton will visit Park City to [...]

  • Emma Tillinger Koskoff

    'Irishman' Producer on Mega-Production Schedule: 'It Was Pretty Insane'

    The numbers for “The Irishman” are staggering: 108 shooting days, 117 locations, 319 scenes, 160 actors, in a story spanning 50 years. “I must say, it was no small feat,” laughs Emma Tillinger Koskoff, who is Oscar-nominated for the film, as well as for “Joker.” “Irishman” is the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) [...]

  • Richard Curtis

    Wealthy Celebrities Call For Higher Taxes in Open Letter From World Economic Forum

    A group of wealthy celebrities and business people have signed an open letter calling on fellow billionaires and millionaires around the globe to support tax increases in an effort to alleviate growing economic disparity. Released on Thursday to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the letter states: “There are two kinds of [...]

  • Bombshell Movie

    Filmmakers Work to Reframe the 'Male Gaze'

    In the opening shot of Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” (2003), Scarlett Johansson is lying on a bed, back to the camera, shown in partial view, wearing underpants. In Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner 2049” (2017) a banged-up Ryan Gosling stares up at a bone-thin, enormous nude projection of a woman. More recently, Jay Roach’s “Bombshell” [...]

  • Actress Annabella Sciorra (R) arrives to

    Time's Up Lauds Accusers Testifying at Weinstein Trial: 'We Are In Awe of These Women'

    Time’s Up, the anti-sexual harassment advocacy group launched by Hollywood celebrities, commended the women taking the stand at Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial, which is currently underway in New York City. The group released a statement on Thursday morning, shortly ahead of the day in court, which is expected to see testimony from “The Sopranos” [...]

  • Syd Mead Concept Design 1986 Aliens

    Syd Mead Designed the Future of Science Fiction Films

    The spinner police car in 1982’s “Blade Runner,” the light cycles of “Tron,” “futuristic Las Vegas” in “Blade Runner 2049” and the “USS Sulaco” in “Aliens” are indelible images of cinema, all from the imagination of the late Syd Mead, who died last month at the age of 86. You might not be aware of [...]

  • Freestyle Love Supreme

    Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda and 'Freestyle Love Supreme' in Exclusive Clip From Sundance Documentary

    Before turning “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” into musical phenomenons, Lin-Manuel Miranda could have been found on stage, spouting off-the-cuff rhymes with his improv group, “Freestyle Love Supreme.” After performing across the globe, the troupe — founded 15 years ago by Miranda, his frequent collaborator Thomas Kail and emcee Anthony Veneziale — made its Broadway [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content