A Conversation with Priyanka Chopra Jonas

Priyanka Chopra Jonas is one of the biggest-selling Indian names in Hollywood. The shy teenager from Barelli is now the toast of both Bollywood and Hollywood. It took her more than 20 years to solidify her image, and now she’s here to stay. Priyanka has proven herself to be a global superstar, since her debut in Hollywood with the hit series Quantico. As her success continues to grow, Priyanka is determined to increase South Asia’s visibility in the global entertainment market, by showcasing Indian talent and stories. As part of her mission, Priyanka has partnered with Netflix to create her latest film, The White Tiger, in which she stars and also serves as an executive producer.

Looking glamorous as always, Priyanka logged into our Zoom call from London to discuss her role in the film. She also talks about her new book and how she’s been spending her time during the pandemic.

I understand you’re filming in London, which at the moment seems to be the epicenter of the pandemic. How is the shooting coming along?
I’m here for a year. I just finished a movie for Sony, and now I’m moving on to a TV show with Amazon. Both are being filmed in the U.K. because we’re allowed to shoot here, but film shoots are being delayed everywhere else. We get tested every day and we all wear masks. The crew keeps their distance from the actors because we are the ones taking our masks off while filming. It’s scary, I won’t lie, but I’m grateful to be able to go back to work.

The White Tiger is based on an award-winning novel. Can you talk about the book and how you got involved with this project?
The book came out at the turn of the millennium. The story takes place around 2005, so it was a different India from the one that exists today. I remember one morning when I was in Los Angeles, I was scrolling through Twitter and saw an article in one of the trade magazines that ‘The White Tiger’ was being made into a movie by Netflix. I called my agents and said that I would like to offer my services because I love the book, and I really want to bring South Asian stories to the forefront. This story happens to be based in India. When you think about any country that you’ve been to, people are either born rich or poor, and their destinies are decided based on where they were born. This is the story of a man who’s desperately trying to change that, and I think that’s such a prevalent story to anyone.

 

As an Indian, how does it feel to bring this story to a global audience?
The one thing that I love is being able to create movies and produce films like this for the world to get a window into another land, and see what that life is like. This movie talks about a class divide that exists everywhere, and it’s my greatest joy and privilege to be able to bring South Asian stories to the global entertainment market. South Asians represent one fifth of the world’s population, but you don’t see many films with a South Asian cast or stories that are being consumed globally. It is an honour as a producer and an actor to be able to film in my home country and show it so honestly.

What have you learned about yourself in lockdown?
I was really grateful to have my family with me, otherwise it would have been really sad not being able to be with the people I love. I think everyone is feeling this way, and I’m finding some strength in the fact that I’m not alone in this. The one thing I realised during quarantine was that I wasn’t in touch with my friends and family as much as I should be. But now I’ve started to do so, and it’s a habit that I want to maintain. My work used to always take over, and I never prioritised things, like making that call to your best friend or to your mom. Quarantine has really taught me the value of family and friends, and it’s also taught me that I’m resilient. I was able to finish my book during the quarantine and I also finished filming two movies. I’m thankful for being safe and healthy, and I think it has taught me how to be grateful and to count my blessings.

Tell us about your book!
It’s called ‘Unfinished’ because that’s how I feel. I feel like I’ve started a second trajectory in my career after I moved to the U.S., but my book is sort of a memoir. It’s looking back at 20 years in the business; my childhood years to now. It’s about the choices I made, and why I made them...and the things that have happened that people don’t know about. I’m terrified, because I’m showing a lot of my vulnerabilities and I’m talking about things that I’ve never spoken about before.

What do you miss about your life in India?
Well, I still have both lives. I have to say – you can take me out of India, but you can’t take India out of me (laughs). I’m that same girl. Even in this movie I’m playing such a delectable, interesting role of a girl who’s stuck between modernity and tradition. It’s a reflection of the change in society that we are experiencing.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
I used to take everything very seriously, so I think the one piece of advice that I would give my younger self is that “It’s not the end of the world”. Take that pressure off your shoulders and just focus on enjoying the journey. I think I’ve reached a place now where I’m in a more comfortable position than I was when I was 17 years old starting my career. So I would tell my younger self to chill out a little (laughs).

What do you like most about married life, and how familiar was Nick with Indian culture before you met him?
Both of us have learnt so much from each other’s culture. I didn’t really know what a Thanksgiving dinner entails, so it was a learning experience for me as well! I forgot so many little things about American culture, and we are both trying to catch up with each other’s years of upbringing. The greatest thing about marriage is when you find the person that’s just right. It’s a partnership, and marriage is full of curiosity, adventure, and excitement, and that to me is the best part.

Can you talk about your upcoming Hollywood projects?
I just finish filming two movies: The Matrix 4 in Germany and a movie called Text For You with Sony, that I’m doing in London. I’m also going on to a series with the Russo Brothers for Amazon called Citadel, and I’ll be in London for the rest of the year for that.

Do you have any plans for a Bollywood movie any time soon?
Yes, I do. It’s really tricky because my TV show was five years ago, and after that I started my career in the U.S. I’m trying to keep up with that and also be able to work back in India. I have read a few scripts that I really love, so I’m hoping to be able to fit that in next year.