Too Exotic: Why We Love to Hate on Priyanka Chopra

Bollywood

Too Exotic: Why We Love to Hate on Priyanka Chopra

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

T

his week, our very own desi girl, Priyanka Chopra, got married and gave us Indians the nation’s fairest jija. But are we ready for another dose of mush, especially when we have our doubts if Nickyanka can top the thrill we received on seeing pictures of a regal DeepVeer, straight out of a teaser of Bajirao Mastani Returns? And why should we even care about this odd couple whose relationship we’ve only seen through glimpses at the Met Gala?

Especially since Chopra is not trying hard enough. In her mehendi photos, she sits around laughing, failing to achieve the meticulous coordination and incredible posture found in DeepVeer’s fashion-spread photos.

But that’s Piggy Chops – foregoing any pretence of perfection, in favour of doing exactly as she pleases. Eighteen years ago, Chopra became a household name overnight, when she won the Miss World title. It was the first and only time that India won the trifecta of pageant crowns: Lara Dutta became Miss Universe and Dia Mirza took home the Miss Asia Pacific award. After the 1994 winners, Miss World Aishwarya Rai, and Miss Universe Sushmita Sen, shot to superstardom, our Indian queens were hopeful for the same as they stepped into a brave, not-so-new millennium.

Beauty queens were the star kids of their time, using pageants as a launchpad to become heroines, talent be damned. In the early noughties, when an actress was still the scantily clad eye candy standing behind the hero on movie posters, Priyanka, Lara, and Dia all made their Bollywood debuts.

Like many of their contemporaries, Lara and Dia soon saw their stardom fizzle out as they crossed the big 30, the age when women in Bollywood lose their ingénue cred and morph into matronly crones. At the time, Priyanka was certainly not seen as a superior actor or a more marketable face. What she did have was a superhuman willingness to try anything, and an attitude of Teflon resilience toward failure.

Think about it: Just before Piggy Chops, Yukta Mookhey won the Miss World crown in 1999. Last year, we were represented by the stunning, smart Manushi Chillar, who also won it all. It’s not as though India is experiencing a sudden shortage of beauty queens – and yet, none of them have managed to touch Priyanka’s level of success. Even Aishwarya, as noted by Bollywood biographer Aseem Chhabra, could not make it in Hollywood, a fact he chalks up to her unwillingness to do sexy roles. Priyanka, he says, knew what it took to succeed.

And this, ultimately is, Piggy Chops’ mantra – and perhaps the reason she is so easy to hate. If her wedding has shown us anything, it’s that the PC hate brigade is real. Where we fawn over Virushka, Deepveer, Sonam-Anand, and even Neha-Angad, NickYanka has been met – fairly or unfairly – with several criticisms: over the age gap between the pair, the use of fireworks at their wedding, their lovey-dovey Vogue interviews, and accusations that their marriage is a publicity stunt.

Just look at the offensive and sexist screed published against Chopra in The Cut. Although it has since been quietly edited following a backlash, writer Mariah Smith had insisted that Chopra is a “scam artist” who lured a young, gullible bachelor Nick Jonas into becoming her “forever bitch” against his will. Never mind that the she also notes that Jonas, a fully grown man with a penchant for older women, was the one who pursued Chopra.  In her piece, Smith went on to insinuate that Chopra is merely grubbing for more money and Hollywood publicity and trashed the couple for having multiple wedding ceremonies.

Still, even this kind of unfounded bile is not new territory for Piggy Chops, who has long been targeted for everything from her accent to the length of her skirts. But far from caring, Chopra has never had any concept of “log kya kahenge”.

Just look at the offensive and sexist screed published against Chopra in The Cut. Although it has since been quietly edited following a backlash, writer Mariah Smith had insisted that Chopra is a “scam artist” who lured a young, gullible bachelor Nick Jonas into becoming her “forever bitch” against his will.

She broke the mould with Aitraaz (2005), where she played a woman who makes a false accusation of sexual assault. A few years later, she played a drug-addicted model in Fashion, a film that – whatever your objections to it – is often credited with opening the door for more women-led stories. And then in 2010, she perfectly complemented Shahid Kapoor in essaying the bubbly Maharashtrian girl, in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey.

Ten years after her Miss World win, it could no longer be denied that Priyanka Chopra was indeed a serious actress – a feat that is unlikely to be equalled by the parade of Miss Indias who have followed her.

Of course, her career has not always been a glittering success. With each flop, you wondered if she’d ever make a comeback, and she bounced back every time, stronger than before. For every What’s Your Rashee, there is a 7 Khoon Maaf. She became Bollywood’s favourite action heroine in Mary Kom, but not before she starred in the spectacularly awful sci-fi thriller, Love Story 2050. She followed up Dostana, where she played a desi dream girl, with a brilliant turn as an autistic woman in Barfi, and after 2008’s dreadful histo-fic Drona, she sparkled as Kashibai in Bajirao Mastani. Amid all of this, she even dabbled in music… with middling results.

Through her ups and downs, Chopra has broken down barriers for women in entertainment, refusing to get bogged down with epithets of too old, too brown, too buff, too pretty, too unsexy. Thanks to her dogged determination to learn from every failure, she has managed to give us some truly fine, brave performances. And despite her lukewarm beginnings in Hollywood, she has cracked the industry like no one before her, and is now the only Bollywood star, actor or actress, to have a solid career in both industries.

The truth is, Chopra was never the most beautiful, nor was she well-connected or prodigiously talented. But she has one unique quality: In a world the rest of us are too busy being afraid of the crushing shame of failure, she has been able to rise above the voices that would drown her, as she fixates on her singular goal of success. Whether you love PC or hate her, you can’t deny that it works.

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