Priyanka Chopra on the evolution of Indian cinema and its growing presence in Hollywood

Priyanka Chopra
Priyanka Chopra Jonas. Photo: Instagram/Priyanka Chopra

The Bandra-Worli Sea Link bridge, which hangs on cables across the Mahim strait, is a gorgeous sight! As you cross the incessant flow of traffic on this five-and-a-half-kilometre-eight-lane bridge that connects West Mumbai to Worli, you will reach the heart of the city. When we met the global star at Lower Parel’s St Regis Hotel, one thing became clear—Priyanka and Mumbai have the same vibe. The same energy and pleasant aura even amidst a hectic schedule.

One look at her, and you tend to forget that she won the Miss World title 23 years ago. She sauntered into the room wearing a lovely orange gown, black pointed heels, and a warm smile. Her confidence, perception of the world, choice of words, and positive attitude make it clear that she is still impalpably carrying that Miss World crown on her head.

She has a few Hollywood projects up her sleeve. Priyanka plays a spy called Nadia in the sci-fi thriller web series 'Citadel'. She talks about films, her new projects, the key role played by India and South Asia in world cinema, and about women. Though she told us not to ask anything personal, the actor spoke openly about her daughter.

This is your 22nd year in films, and you have dream projects lined up for the next 10 years. In an industry where heroines have a limited shelf life, how do you manage to stay relevant?
It's true; I've had a long innings in the industry. I started when I was 17, and even now, I don't feel like a day older than 17 (laughs). I've faced a lot of ups and downs in my personal and professional life, but the lessons I learned here gave me the confidence to pursue work in Hollywood. I've acted in several excellent Hindi films and have collaborated with many talented directors. I've played author-backed roles, character roles, and cameos. However, my journey in Hollywood has only just begun. While my roles in 'Quantico,' 'Baywatch,' and 'Matrix Resurrection' were noticed, I want to explore a wide range of characters in Hollywood. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to fulfil that dream over the next 10 years.

What were the challenges you faced in Hollywood after being in Bollywood for such a long time?
I started in Hollywood as a fresher and landed my first role through auditions. That's not to say that auditioning is a negative thing. It's a fantastic platform for talented individuals to get an opportunity. Auditions are solely based on your talent and not because of your connections in the industry. It took me ten years to get a project like 'Citadel' and to receive equal billing on the posters.

With the invasion of OTT, cinema has changed a lot. Now, content is king. How much has that helped in the evolution of female actors?
When I started in Bollywood, heroines were considered second-class citizens. We had to be satisfied with 5-6 songs and 5-6 scenes in a film. But over the years, I have noticed my peers demanding prominent screen space for themselves. Actors who came before us, like Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit, had earned their space in cinema and used to headline films. That’s what prompted us to demand our rightful share of screen time.

My peers are capable of single-handedly carrying a film on their shoulders, and they have done that too. They turned into producers and screenplay writers. They said, "If you can’t give us what we deserve, we will create that space for ourselves," and they can do that. The change will happen only when such conversations and discussions are happening continuously.

'Citadel' series contains many action scenes. You have previously done action films, but now, being a mother, are you wary of doing such scenes?
The Russo Brothers handle the stunts in 'Citadel,' the same team who did ‘Avengers.’ And I did 80% of the action scenes in the film myself. I left the risky parts to the experts as I am not ready to take unnecessary bruises or trouble my producers. This was my decision even before I became a mom.

RRR shone at the Oscars this time. Do you think the Westerners’ attitude towards Indian films has changed? Do you see more possibilities for Indian films there?
Of course. Indian cinema has finally reached the global market after going through several hurdles. We have directors and technicians of international standards. Hollywood has recognized that. Web streaming is also one reason behind this interest. When I started in Hollywood, there were hardly 5 or 6 Indians or South Asians. When I arranged a pre-Oscar party, there were 300-400 Oscar-nominated South Asian artists. I was so moved to see that. I consider it my responsibility to create more opportunities for those who come after me. I have my own production house. Now we have a first-look contract with Amazon. I hope to introduce more South Asian stories and artists to the global market. There are plans for that and with time, we hope to achieve them.

You recently revealed that it was in 'Citadel' for the first time that you got paid on par with the hero. But in 2023 when women are getting paid more than men, aren’t men getting insecure?
That’s true. I have some great men in my life who aren’t insecure about my success. Having said that, I have also seen insecure men. Men used to take pride in being breadwinners of a family. But when they see women do that, they might feel threatened. But we can make them understand this change too. Times are changing.

Will you be making your foray into South Indian cinema?
Of course. I have so much respect and love for South Indian cinema. I have friends in Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu cinema. If an attractive offer comes, I am ready to take it. I might need some help with the language.

You have been taunted in school for your colour and bullied in Bollywood. You recently spoke about being ostracized in Bollywood.
I did speak about the circumstances that made me flee Bollywood in a podcast. I just happened to talk about it when we were discussing the different phases in my life. For the last 5 years, I am at a good stage in my career and life. I have forgiven and forgotten and moved on in life. We will all have such crisis situations in life. There will always be people who are eager to kick someone who has fallen. We need to get up on our own. That will happen only if we learn to love and respect ourselves. This was a lesson my parents taught me very early in life.

This time you came with your daughter…
After the lockdown, this is my first visit to Mumbai. After her birth, I took a break for a year. That was needed to keep my family together. Now Malti is at an age at which she can travel. Now she is at my mom’s house. We have named her Malti Marie. Malti is my mom’s middle name and we added a part of Nik’s mom’s name to that.

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