By Poulomi Das Jun. 11, 2018
In admitting that the Quantico episode showing a fictional Hindu being a terrorist was inaccurate and implying that she prioritised nationalism over everything else, Priyanka Chopra did the opposite of what we’ve come to expect out of her: taking a stand.
When I heard that Priyanka Chopra had apologised for “hurting Indian sentiments”, I got suitably excited. To me, it felt like justice had finally been served, albeit several years too late. So, imagine my disappointment when I realised that unlike what I thought, she hadn’t actually asked for forgiveness for destroying our collective mental peace with Pyaar Impossible!, What’s Your Raashee?, or even Love Story 2050.
Instead, what Priyanka Chopra actually apologised for was the recent Quantico episode which comprised a plot twist implicating a rudraksha-wearing Hindu terrorist, instead of our usual back-up option aka Pakistanis. In “The Blood of the Romeo”, Priyanka Chopra’s Alex Parrish thwarts a plan by Hindu extremists trying to frame Pakistanis in a terror attack after noticing a “rudraksh mala” (Hindu rosary in Quantico lingo) on one of the terrorists. Seeing that, Parrish naturally comes to the conclusion that the terrorist can’t be Pakistani and has to be Indian. *mic drop*
I wish I had an imagination so vivid that I could make this up, but it’s precisely this “plot twist” that has enraged India. And, not the fact that Quantico relies on writing so terrible that it makes nonsensical Salman Khan films look extraordinary. Some days, I’m amazed at how we always have our priorities so straight.
Unable to fathom Priyanka Chopra unwittingly becoming the Pakistani ambassador instead of stereotyping them, Indians used their handy Hathaway connections to call for Quantico’s boycott on Twitter. (The news that the show has already been cancelled seems to have not reached them yet.) It was obviously accompanied by some trusty Indian outrage riding on the back of our collective favourite hobby: calling a celebrity whose actions have displeased us an anti-national.
Proving that Indians are incapable of separating fact from fiction, our offended sentiments coerced the show’s producers to apologise for trivialising a “complex political issue”, stating that Priyanka Chopra was in no way involved in conceiving the episode. If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, the actress too joined the “Is it too late to say sorry?” bandwagon and issued an apology for the Quantico kerfuffle. “I’m extremely saddened and sorry that some sentiments have been hurt by a recent episode of Quantico. That was not and would never be my intention. I sincerely apologise. I’m a proud Indian and that will never change,” she tweeted.
In short, Priyanka Chopra asked forgiveness for a fictional Hindu terrorist and for not relying on the most insensitive trope of reducing Muslims to terrorism. Effectively, she regained her “proud Indian” status once she regretted acting in a show that dared to humanise Pakistan. I mean, how can Hindus even have the time to become terrorists? They’re too busy protecting cows.
It’s ironic that even as news broke that the key accused in Gauri Lankesh’s murder case could be the leader of a Hindutva outfit, Priyanka Chopra took to endorsing hyper-nationalism. It’s also telling that she’s hardly the first Indian celebrity to have given in to apologising for actions that are neither wrong, or need one, in the first place.
To Priyanka Chopra, her apology may have been just a tweet, but for Hindu hyper-nationalists, it was a victory.
Take Karan Johar for instance. The otherwise blunt director, who is known to have an opinion on pertinent issues, did the exact opposite two years ago before the release of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. When the hate-laced debate on disallowing Pakistani artistes from working in Bollywood raged, Johar made a video apologising for casting Fawad Khan in his film. He further promised to never work with a Pakistani actor ever again.
It can be argued that the director had little choice, given how fringe outfits were threatening to ban his film, but it hardly takes away from the consequences his words may have had. By admitting that what he did was wrong, the director was essentially reiterating exactly what the fringe outfits were espousing: Pakistanis are not welcome in India.
Is it asking for too much if we expect someone like Johar, who’s an influential decision-maker, to take some time out from remaking perfectly good films and not give in to hate? Besides reeking of intolerance and unfairness, his apology also represented a dichotomy between what he believes, and what he was forced to believe. But, the worst part was that he was okay with believing that, as long as it benefitted him.
Likewise, in admitting a fictional Hindu being a terrorist was inaccurate and implying that she prioritised nationalism over everything else, Chopra was doing the opposite of what we’ve come to expect out of her: taking a stand. Does she really believe that Indians can’t be involved in a terror attack – that terrorism is only biased toward one religion? If that was the case, we’ll need countless apologies for every Christian that Bollywood has portrayed as an alcoholic and every Muslim and Russian they’ve portrayed as gangsters. What’s saddening is that if there’s any Indian celebrity who knows how to give it back to the trolls, it’s none other than Priyanka Chopra
It then makes you wonder: Are Indian celebrities absolutely incapable of having a spine? Come to think of it, Priyanka Chopra’s apology seems all the more dispiriting in the light of Robert De Niro’s recent speech at the Tony Awards. Taking a firm stand, De Niro started his speech by saying “Fuck Trump”, an emotion most Hollywood actors don’t just share, but have also publicity admitted to having. Who can forget Meryl Streep’s rousing speech at the 74th Golden Globes, days after Donald Trump assumed presidency and the effect it had? In contrast, Bollywood celebrities feel distant; they feel like people with no beliefs of their own, save for the ones that may help their reputation.
To Priyanka Chopra, her apology may have been just a tweet, but for Hindu hyper-nationalists, it was a victory. And, honestly that’s the last thing we need.
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.