Priyanka Chopra Jonas: Hopefully, the next generation of women won't fight our fights
Ahead of the release of her globe-trotting spy series, Citadel, the actor talks about headlining the international project, the pressures of being in the spotlight, being a role model, and more
If there is anything that we know of the multitalented Priyanka Chopra Jonas, it is that she is not afraid of challenges. Otherwise, how did a small-town girl with hardly a connection to Tamil Nadu, not just make her acting debut in Tamil (Thamizhan, 2002), but also made her singing debut in the same film in a language that she didn’t quite have a connection with? Interestingly, even in Hollywood, it was singing that became her first calling card. But now, the two-time National Award winner is a bonafide leading lady there, and just about 21 years and 2 weeks after making her cinema debut, Priyanka will be seen headlining the Prime Video original, Citadel. “I know the struggle of having our Indian films find a proper theatrical release outside the mainstream markets of India. People didn’t really make that effort to watch films with subtitles. Now, subtitled films from other countries are winning Best Picture Oscars. Stories have moved across borders and languages, and Citadel is a prime example of that,” says Priyanka.
It’s been quite a long journey from Miss World to Indian cinema to now, Hollywood…
This journey started when I was 17. There have been many ups and downs in my career, and a lot of lessons I’ve learned in my life. My career was my film school. What I learned from Hindi films is the foundation of whatever I’ve done in other languages. In fact, I gained the status and confidence to do English films only on the strength of what I did in Hindi cinema. The industry made me into the actor I am today.
What is it about Citadel that made you say yes to it?
It was a truly global show. The scale and the expanse encompassed multiple countries. Citadel is a global spy network that has multiple intelligence people working together to save humanity. The concept of a long-standing neighbour of yours being a global spy was fascinating. It is a new attempt on the digital medium and is an original idea. It was even more exciting that the makers decided it was me who should be shouldering the project.
What was the one takeaway from a series with such a wide expanse and novel setting?
The one thing that was different about Citadel from all the other movies I have done in my career is the attention to detail. We shot six episodes over a period of 1.5 years. There was a lot of focus on the tiniest details to ensure our characters were interesting and not just going through the motions of superficial emotions. I am a student of life, and I want to learn so much from everything. Working with the Russo Brothers, almost 400 technicians on a daily basis, a talented writers’ room, and I learnt how one can be happy working in such a huge setup.
It’s been 10 years in Hollywood as an actor. Things wouldn’t have been easy…
There were so many roadblocks. Though I started in 2010-11 with my music, I quickly realised it wasn’t my strong suit. I needed to get back to acting. The first few roadblocks were convincing people that a brown girl could be a leading actor. My quest was to be a leading actor. When I started in Hindi, I started with smaller roles and built credibility. I had to do that in Hollywood too. I went to directors with showreels, built credibility, and then, Quantico happened. I had to convince people of my talent and come to a point where I could headline films in America just like I did in India.
The evolution of roles for women in Indian cinema is at an interesting point now. What is your observation of this phenomenon?
I started at a time when heroines were mostly just sidekicks, appearing in 5-6 scenes, and song-and-dance routines. In my journey, I have seen how the female actors of my generation decided they were much more than that, and demanded better roles. What my generation did was on the strength of what our previous generation of actors fought for. We had superstars like Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit, who commanded a lot of power. My generation of actors convinced producers of their market, and sold films on their billing, and made writers write such stories. I also think that comes from conversation. I am very proud of how actors like Vidya Balan, Anushka Sharma, Alia Bhatt, and Deepika Padukone stood up, asked for more, and didn't stop till they got it. Hopefully, the next generation of women won't fight our fights.
In many ways, your global success from your humble beginnings is a tale of inspiration for many such young girls. Is there a piece of advice you’d like to share with them?
My parents gave me the freedom to choose the life I want. They never cut my wings and asked me to stay home. So, I think the advice is for the parents and the men in women’s lives to ensure they support them. Don’t curb the opportunities and ambitions of women. Be it the parents or partners or other people in society, women need men as allies. It is important that the men of the world should understand that a country progresses as a whole, and that definitely includes the women of the society.
You are a mother now, and does the thought ever cross your mind that one day your daughter will see what you have achieved and feel inspired? Does this thought play an active role in your choice of roles?
No. As an actor, my job is to play an array of people. I don’t judge my characters. I would love for her to be proud of me for having such a range and such incredible variety. I would love for her to be proud of my choices, my attitude, and how they speak about me when I leave the room. I would love for her to not grow up being so self-righteous about characters and human beings. All of us are flawed and are just trying to showcase our best to the world.
Finally… being one of the global ambassadors of Indian cinema, every role you do, every interview you give, and every statement you make is perceived as something that Indian cinema does. Does that affect you?
It is actually scary for me as a person. As an actor, the opportunities coming my way are because of my credibility as a performer. But, honestly, as a person, I am not as free as I used to be 6-7 years ago. I am more protective of myself, and my family. I feel my words are being picked apart, and many times, misconstrued. What I don't say is becoming headlines because of people’s perceptions. So, yes, it has made me a little more careful… especially now, that I have a child. What I say might impact them. There is a certain responsibility. I used to be a ‘kuch bhi bolo, kuch bhi pooch lo…’ (I can say anything, you can ask me anything) kind of a person. Well, I’m not that anymore.