If any Bollywood star can claim 2013 as their year, it's Deepika Padukone. With four hit films last year, the former model has risen to the top of the A-list. But she isn't putting her giddy fame down to luck.
"I did work at an abnormal pace, juggling three films at a time, and I think the payback has been worth it," the 27-year-old says in Mumbai.
Padukone has catapulted into Bollywood's big league after just six years in the movie industry, but her trajectory is hardly conventional: in an industry known for nepotism and dominant acting dynasties, she has carved out a career despite being neither of showbiz parentage nor from Mumbai.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Padukone grew up in Bangalore, inheriting athletic genes from her father, Prakash, a badminton world champion. She was a state-level basketball, badminton and baseball player before becoming a model, and her experience and visibility in that job landed her film offers when she was 19.
Her acting debut came in 2007 in Om Shanti Om, opposite superstar Shahrukh Khan. Her struggle, she says, is in understanding colleagues and the craft, and finding comfort in front of the camera. "When you begin working in your early 20s, you are also understanding yourself and meeting many people who have an influence on your life - some good, some bad."
Although she saw early stardom with her debut, Padukone has also faced some poor showings at the box office. Her 2010 films Lafangey Parindey ( Rogue Birds), Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se ( We Play Wholeheartedly) and Karthik Calling Karthik all flopped commercially.
She credits her followers with keeping her motivated. "Fans give you love. I know mine love me for who I am and not just because of the success of my films, because even in the years when my films were not doing well, I felt the same love from the audience and fans," she says.
Padukone describes 2013 as career-defining, with the hits Race 2, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani ( This Youth is Crazy) and Chennai Express, the highest-grossing Bollywood film last year, again co-starring Khan. Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela ( The Battle of Bullets: Ram-Leela), an interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, also won praise for Padukone. "It's nice to be appreciated and loved. I know I have the ability to make people laugh, cry or smile," she says of her popular and critical reception. "That I have a certain influence on people's lives is very humbling - and a responsibility to bear."
Last year also saw reports that she was being considered for a role in the next instalment of the Fast & Furious franchise - although the film is now uncertain after actor Paul Walker died in a recent car accident.
"I know how close I was to doing that film, but I choose to stand by my earlier commitments here," she says. " Fast & Furious didn't work out, for whatever reasons. But it's ridiculous for people to say the stories were floated for publicity. Sometimes I think it's destiny."
The Bollywood star says Hollywood projects remain a real possibility: "I am sure there will be something else." On the cards for sure are non-Bollywood productions Finding Fanny Fernandes, an English-Konkani-language satire, and Kochadaiiyaan ( The King with a Long, Curly Mane), a Tamil period film with South Indian superstar Rajinikanth.
Padukone has so far mostly played the romantic female lead in typically commercial Bollywood films, combining song, dance, comedy and action. In real life, director Homi Adajania describes her as having an "intense drive", combined with loyalty and "wisdom to play the game with poise".
The actress credits her background in sports with her disciplined approach. "If my backhand is weak then before the next tournament I better practise my backhand properly," she says. "When a film does well or does not do well, you analyse it and work on the things that did not work."
Padukone has also faced constant interest from gossip columnists, whether over her love life - especially her former relationship with fellow star Ranbir Kapoor - or supposed tiffs within the small group of Bollywood A-listers. "I think it is more media created than reality," she says of reported rivalries with other actresses. "That may have existed earlier, but I don't think it exists now. We may not be the best of friends but that is because we don't have the opportunities or the time. I think we are all secure in the work we do."