By Manik Sharma Mar. 04, 2021
Parineeti Chopra arrived in Hindi cinema with a fair share of anticipation. To be fair, her cameo in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and her sprightly turn in an over-the-top Ishaqzaade, weren’t that poor considering the bar for Bollywood insiders is so low. But who knew, that that would be as far as the story would go.
In a scene from Netflix’s insufferable adaptation of Pawla Hawkins’ The Girl on The Train, an angry Parineeti Chopra tries to act out a drunk meltdown. Reflected in the mirror, the camera watches her babbling to herself, as if with the anticipation of being ravished by something stirring. “Mann karra hai usko gaaliyan dun,” Chopra oddly says, about her cheating husband in the middle of a complete breakdown. The sequence is perhaps a metaphor for the actress’s career, a narrative howler fed to someone who seems perpetually drunk on enthusiasm, unaware of the fact that certain roles could also use a lack of adrenaline and wide-eyed bleating that most take for “strong” acting. The scene is terribly mechanic and underwhelming, primarily because it is built as something iconic. The Girl on The Train is a bit of a train-wreck on many levels – choosing to adapt an overdone idea for streaming being first. But it is an even bigger disaster for being the missed opportunity that a better actor would probably have done justice to. Instead Chopra channels a college teen with the emotional complexity of someone who dumps you over WhatsApp but likes your picture on Instagram an hour later, adding yet another unremarkable and inept performance to a line long enough to now be derailed for good.
The Girl On The Train is an even bigger disaster for being the missed opportunity that a better actor would probably have done justice to. Netflix
The Girl On The Train is an even bigger disaster for being the missed opportunity that a better actor would probably have done justice to.
Chopra arrived in Hindi cinema with a fair share of anticipation, considering her cousin, the now global star Priyanka Chopra had already broken through. To be fair, her cameo in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and her sprightly turn in a cranky and over-the-top Ishaqzaade, weren’t that poor considering the bar for Bollywood insiders is so low. But who knew, that that would be as far as the story would go. Chopra’s career can now be traced through uneven and downright disappointing performances, almost all of them a version of the “fiery” one, or simply, the wrong one. It takes persistence to get your self-image wrong with such life-affirming consistency. So much so, you’d be forgiven to ask what made the team behind the Netflix production think she could carry the entire film, let alone play a protagonist more complex than most of her previous roles put together.
Over the last decade or so, Chopra has flitted around like a bug casually flying between film sets, her films failing and frothing at the gates with a distinct lack of taste or tact. The critics, or at least people with a thing for good cinema, definitely haven’t taken to her. But neither have the masses, the ones who are willing to join in for the sake of a dance number at times. Clearly, Chopra possesses neither skill, in abundance or to a marketable magnitude. A prevalent theory that I’ve often heard in this context is that Chopra is “too pretty, too dreamy” to essay the kind of gritty roles that simply can’t be pulled off with the gimmick of foregoing make-up. While there might be some truth to this theory, Chopra has also shown startling consistency in choosing the outdated over the fresh and the new. To which effect even her debut on a streaming giant is pillared on the 90s trope imitating an international hit poorly; subsequently, making her a theatre-size flop on a phone-sized screen.
For her sake, Chopra does seem to try. In Shuddh Desi Romance, she brought breezy energy to the role of Gayatri, a woman trying to junk social stigmas in the search for love. For Meri Pyari Bindu, she brought churlish but earnest grace to the role of a woman chasing a dream. In Kesari, she did what was asked. But that is about it. Strangely enough, she often finds herself cast alongside equally inept actors like Siddharth Malhotra, Arjun Kapoor, and Aditya Roy Kapoor. It almost sounds like a sick joke, someone’s idea of a life-sized prank. To pit horrendous actors against each other in a race to the bottom of the mountain, we otherwise know as acting. Chopra’s films with Malhotra, especially, are so poor they ought to first sit for an entrance exam to qualify for a mention here. Both Hasee Toh Phasee and Jabariya Jodi would make for fine instruments of torture.
Because Hindi cinema is the way it is, chances are the industry will continue to give Chopra more films in an attempt to either spark in her some recently incepted talent or to agreeably just rotate the mill that needs to turn for the sake of egos, networks and favours owed. Next on the block is a Saina Nehwal biopic, titled Sania, and a return to a casting deadlock with Arjun Kapoor that Chopra can’t seem to free herself off with Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar. The former sounds precarious, given social media is already fact-checking an incorrect serve on the poster. That’s not it. Chopra’s singular line from the teaser goes, “Samne koi bhi ho, main toh bas mar dungi.” It warns of another gung-ho outing where Chopra gets to be all tongue and ears, and rarely the eyes, the body or the desperate void that is forced to hold her ineptitude up to the camera. Regardless of what might be the reason behind this continued barrage of undeserved opportunities (I’m pretending hard here), Chopra, at this point, doesn’t even need to compete with better actors of her generation like Alia Bhatt and Deepika Padukone. All she has to do is clear her own low bar to – at least in the public eye – merit the work she receives unabated. Or else we are better off with this girl, simply getting off the train. For this journey might not be for her after all.