“Despite being Miss World, it was extremely difficult for me to make a place in Bollywood.”
With this one brief line, global sensation Priyanka Chopra reminded us of an almost forgotten reality from long ago and faraway… This woman, our most successful crossover star, a rank-holder on Forbes’ list of 100 Most Powerful Women of 2017, and No. 8 on the list of Highest-Paid TV actresses of 2017, had started out a ‘struggler’. That ubiquitous term applied to someone who is neither a star kid nor the protegee of a powerful godfather… and who, more often than not, goes through unspeakable horrors just to get a toe in through the door.
The early years were tough years for Chopra. The signs are there to see when she reveals, “In our business, if you don't stroke someone's ego, or network, you are threatened that you will not get that movie. Or this 'big boys club' will get together and boycott you. So, as a woman you feel alone, that my work might get shattered, because this club can just take that away.”
Just out of her teens when she made her film debut, she struggled with other insecurities as well, such as her swarthy skin tone. “Girls are told that they’re too dark or dusky and that lighter skin is better. Because I’m a darker tone, I had issues growing up as a teenager.” A “gawky kid” with “low self-esteem” who came from a “modest middle-class background,” the baggage did not miraculously shed once the crown was perched on her head. If anything, the pressure intensified… “When I was relatively new in the industry, I was in talks with a producer, who wanted to cast me in his film. But, due to some date issues, it didn’t work out. He told me, that he will either cast someone else or will launch a new actor, because actresses are replaceable. That got stuck in my head.”
And that’s the x factor that differentiates Chopra from most mortals. She took all the put-downers - the veiled threats, the gossip, the hate - and turned it into one huge upper. “I made a deliberate effort to become irreplaceable...And I think I have achieved that,” she allows herself that little self-pat on the back, this woman who says with a dimpled smile and a steely eye, “I do not like failing. I just like being the best. I hate being a loser. So I just have to keep winning!”
Today her life graph is a practical manual on How to Win. Lessons galore to be learnt from this gritty stunner on getting ahead and staying there: from how it pays off to increase the range of your aspirations, to dreaming big, hiring the right people, staying positive, slogging it out, standing out, taking risks and harnessing the power of social media.
It’s the reason why we can only applaud when this Padma Shri award-winner refuses to fake simpering modesty. Openly possessive about her hard-won success, she declares, “I do have a phenomenal team…but having said that, I feel that I am destiny’s favourite child. I have made sure that whatever opportunity comes my way, I give my heart and soul to it. So the credit of my work goes only and solely to me because I am the one who stands in front of the camera between action and cuts and nobody else does.”
Today, a globally recognised face due to her lead role in American TV series ‘Quantico’, she is the first South Asian to headline an American network drama series. Three Hollywood films - Baywatch, and the upcoming A Kid Like Jake and Isn’t It Romantic in her kitty, she is an Oscar award presenter, picks up the People’s Choice award for Best Actress, attends the Power Trip 2017 in San Francisco, which brings together women achievers, and meets Syrian refugees in Jordan, as UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador.
…And she does it all without losing any of her inherent sass. The troll, who asked why she wasn’t doing something for the malnourished children of India, was plain decapitated with… “I’ve worked with @UNICEFIndia for 12 years and visited many such places. What have you done @RavindraGautam? Why is one child’s problem less important than another’s?”
And who can forget her reply to those who accused her of “disrespecting” the Prime Minister by wearing a knee-length dress during her audience with Modi in Berlin? A comeback pic showing her and her mother wearing short dresses, which she captioned "Legs for days.... #itsthegenes.” Epic! We suspect she isn’t kidding either when she quips, “I don’t just want one country, I want all of them - global domination.” And to those who once heaped scorn on her brown legs which “had white marks” on them, her finest retort: “Today, my legs sell 12 brands.” In a word: Respect!