From daughter to doctor parents to a model, to Miss World, a top star, a singer who recorded in USA, then acted in a huge serial there as the protagonist and done the negative lead in a feature film based on an iconic serial, Priyanka Chopra is easily Indian cinema’s top and best-known global female star. Not content with resting on her laurels, Priyanka has now turned producer—of regional films.
And it’s never as if Priyanka was a Jill of all trades and mistress of none—there was distinction achieved at each level. Her films and performances in Hindi were of high order, with the actress often stealing the show from all co-stars right from Aitraaz to Barfi! and Bajirao Mastani. Her (English) singles made headlines both in India and globally, with ‘In my city’ leading the list. Her serial Quantico, which ran into three seasons, featured her as Alex Parrish, the feisty protagonist who has to battle more just the enemy, in a first—no Indian actress had been a lead protagonist before in a foreign serial.
In an all-American cast, the weight of lending credence to a negative role lies on Priyanka’s slim but dependable shoulders—but our guess is that she will dazzle even in Baywatch. Finally, she is now producing regional Indian cinema with commendable assurance. Her Marathi film Ventilator (in which she also made a cameo and spoke in flawless Marathi) has received critical acclaim, commercial success and an award or two already, and she is making films in multiple languages, including another Marathi production and a message-oriented subject in Assamese.
As of now, Priyanka is considering some plum offers in Mumbai worthy of her stature, which has not dimmed one bit due to her long absence from its arc-lights.
It was around 2002 that Priyanka signed her first film—a K.C. Bokadia comedy with Govinda, which is when this writer interviewed her on phone as she was shooting down South for the Tamil film Thamizhan, which was actually her first release. Notably, a critic dismissed her as “showing no promise!” Wonder what the reviewer thinks today of PeeCee, as she is known.
The Bokadia film dragged on and on, as his as well as Govinda’s market nosedived, and finally made it to the screen, thanks to Priyanka’s professionalism, (reportedly even Govinda did not cooperate on this lost cause!) in 2013 as Deewana Main Deewana, which was turned into a jerkily cut thriller with major changes in the team.
Her first Hindi release, in April 2003, was Anil Sharma’s The Hero—Love Story Of A Spy, with Sunny Deol. It was no Gadar at the b-o and was a mediocre success in a territory or two and a loser otherwise. What’s more, Priyanka played second fiddle to Preity Zinta and had just a small role. But in the same year, she worked in Raj Kanwar’s golden jubilee hit, Andaaz, her first of four successes with Akshay Kumar.
Her other early hits were Aitraaz, Mujshe Shaadi Karogi and Waqt—The Race Against Time, and of course, Aitraaz was the turning-point and people realized that here was a woman from the ramp who was nothing less than a powerhouse performer. Priyanka played Mrs. Sonia Roy to perfection—a woman who was no vamp, but an overtly amoral and overambitious gold-digger.
However, for a while, Priyanka’s only hits were with Akshay. Yes, there was a tepid success in Bluffmaster! and cameos in two successes, Taxi No. 9-2-1-1 and 36 China Town, but it was only in the second half of 2006, with Krrish and Don, that the actress got her first two hits with other heroes. Of course, Don did average business in India but was a blockbuster overseas. And Priyanka created history of sorts by becoming the first heroine to be repeated in these films’ sequels!
2007 and 2008 were flop-ridden years for Priyanka, but she rounded off the latter with a National award for the modest success Fashion and also made a mark as the hottie about whom both John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan were crazy, setting off the not-so-new triangular plot. 2009 an 2010 were not much better commercially, though the former year saw two sterling performances by her as the spitfire Maharashtrian of Kaminey and as 12 (!) diverse Gujarati damsels in the dud What’s Your Raashee?.
It was finally in 2012 that Priyanka once again showed the stuff of which she was made. A doughty turn in Agneepath that stood out despite three powerful male portrayals by Hrithik Roshan, Rishi Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt, a stunning essay of an autistic girl in Barfi! and the Rs. 100-crore club also welcomed her, both with lead roles and cameos (RA. One, Goliyon Ki RasLeela—RamLila), and around this time, her international forays began—with her singles ‘In My City’ and ‘Exotic’ as well as her voiceover in the animation film Planes.
From 2014, Priyanka has been on a winning spree: the hit Gunday opposite young heroes Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor, her riveting performance as Mary Kom (she also sang the lullaby, ‘Chauro’ with an amazingly motherly feel), Dil Dhadakne Do (in which she again sang a Hindi song and also outclassed every female co-actor), and finally, her superlative portrayal of Kashibai, Bajirao’s wife, in Bajirao Mastani. These two films were released within a few months of each other and Priyanka was as convincing (ditto Ranveer) as his sister in the former film and his wife in the latter, and that after playing his sweetheart in Gunday!
It was in this phase that Quantico made her the biggest Indian name in the American TV world, and last but not the least, she did a wonderful voiceover cameo in the biggest hit of the first half of 2016, Disney’s The Jungle Book, besides essaying a hard-as-nails cop in Jai Gangaajal.
And the best thing is that she attributes all her global professional triumphs (which have now extended beyond mere work to being honoured and felicitated at all levels abroad) exclusively to her innings in Indian cinema! As she stated while shooting for Quantico: “Apart from the languages spoken, there is virtually no difference between working here and there. And I only have an advantage—that I am a professional who has worked in the best possible training-ground—this most prolific industry in the world. So I have gone there armed with the best ammunition possible!”
What a Diva-ine way of putting it