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To say Priyanka Chopra Jonas has achieved a lot in her 38 years is an understatement. The Indian actress, producer and mogul has over 50 international and Hollywood film and television credits to her name already, on top of a Miss World title, her own production company, a hair-care brand, a bewildering number of magazine covers, a husband to the envy of Jonas Brothers fans, over 60 million followers on social media and a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadorship, among a host of awards and accolades.
But on Tuesday, Chopra Jonas can add “published author” to an already stellar résumé when her first memoir, Unfinished, goes on sale. Despite her two decades at the top of the entertainment industry, the White Tiger star and producer admits she’s incredibly nervous about her book’s upcoming release.
“I’m terrified right now with the book coming out,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in a Zoom interview ahead of the memoir’s launch. “I have been a very private person and suddenly there is this book which talks about all these things. I mean, before I could stop, it was printed.”
Chopra Jonas says she approached her book as an homage to a personal anniversary. “When I decided to write it, I was coming up to 20 years of being in the business so I wanted to commemorate 20 years of my life in entertainment and I kind of wanted to write something like letters to my younger self,” she says. The idea for a memoir remained for some time but she admits she “couldn’t get around to writing it.” But things changed when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, which resulted in times of reflection, and she found the experience of working on the book to be cathartic.
To track and write down milestones and memories, she enlisted help from friends and family to fill in the blanks. Once she got her outline, she says, writing the book felt like writing a journal. “I don’t know what happened, but it just came out of me. I didn’t even think that I had so much that I hadn’t dealt with or thought about in my 38 years of existence,” she explains. “I’ve taken out a few things that were really, really personal, but it still shocked me how I’ve dug in so deep. There are things in this book I’ve spoken about that I have never spoken about and that I probably will never speak about again. But I think I was feeling very introspective and also very secure in where I am as a woman, as a person, that I felt like it was OK to deal with my baggage.”
Reading Chopra Jonas’ book, it’s immediately clear she isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and unravel the private layer she’s held onto all these years. Having been in the public eye, she says she’s aware there has been “an extreme amount of curiosity” about her personal life. “I have become dinner table conversation probably and my life is probably discussed and people have opinions on why I have taken certain choices without knowing me,” she tells THR. “I’m just a girl who is living her life and trying to be a good human being while I do it. But people always have opinions and of course, I hear about it and I know about it.”
Now the real her is on unfiltered display throughout the pages of her book, and readers can get up close and personal with the multifaceted talent at the various points in her life that played a part in the metamorphosis to the woman she is today. Readers meet a young girl growing up in India, who becomes an awestruck teenager traveling to the United States for the first time to attend school. But beneath the stories are intimate tales where Chopra Jonas lets readers in, such as enduring bullying for what she looked like during her sophomore year. She writes that she had vile things written about her in bathroom stalls, was shoved against lockers and told things such as “Brownie, go back to your country.”
“As a 15-year-old, it really broke away at my spirit. I was very in my shell. It was such a young age, it’s such a tender time. But it was very confusing,” she says, looking back. Chopra Jonas would later have to resist racist comments when breaking out in the American industry but would strive to let go of any fears of being different and embrace being “the shiniest damn anomaly around.”
“America does not have one kind of face and that’s the beauty of this country,” she says. “This is where dreams come true and it is the melting pot of dreams, and everybody wants to come to America because you can be whoever you want to be.”
Chopra Jonas says when writing there was “a multitude of many things” that were difficult to revisit but the most emotional was having to relive the dark period after the passing of her father, to whom the book is dedicated. “It was a lot of things that came together. I had just moved to America, I was all by myself and I didn’t have friends at the time, it was the first season of Quantico; I didn’t know where to go; I didn’t know the city. It was just dark, sad, scary, lonely, and I was dealing with all the things. But it was not easy. It was easy to write, I will admit, because it was just me. But when I spoke it out loud, I could hear it. It really got me too. That was a tough time.”
She chronicles her professional career, recalling that after securing the Miss World title in 2000, things skyrocketed as she secured roles in films such as Thamizhan, The Hero: Love Story of a Spy and Andaaz. Her star shone brightly in India and she had reached the summit in Bollywood, but when Hollywood came knocking, Chopra Jonas admitted the journey wasn’t so easy and finding her footing in the industry in a different country had its lows.
“Getting the opportunities were hard, of course. Getting the kind of roles I wanted to do was very difficult. I wanted to play roles that weren’t always defined by where I came from. I wanted to play mainstream parts,” she says. Always up for a challenge, she was confident she could find her place given her expertise in her craft. “I have had a solid career for 10 years, working with the best in the business. I played a variety of roles, so many different genres. So even though the meetings I walked into, people met me as a new actress, I had the experience of someone for over a decade. So when I was thrown onto a set I knew my job, and then I just flew from there.”
Chopra Jonas eventually found a home on the ABC show Quantico, where she became the first South Asian ever to play the lead character on a network show. Though she felt a sense of achievement and gratitude, she admits she felt a lot of pressure and feared that a potential failure could represent a step back for South Asian actors. “When it was announced that I was doing the show and there were billboards everywhere, there was a lot of skepticism around whether I’d be able to pull it off, whether the show would do well. I’m a Bollywood actress and that put tremendous pressure on me. But every time you do something for the first time, you’re bound to feel that way.”
The show ran for three seasons and though she emphasizes that “one show can never change the dire need of representation that we have in Hollywood,” she’s proud Quantico marked “one of the steps in the right direction” for South Asian representation and more South Asian talent will move Hollywood “in the right direction.”
“We are one-fifth of the world’s population and you don’t end up seeing that kind of representation in English-language global entertainment,” she says. “People like Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Hasan Minhaj, Riz Ahmed, me, Jameela Jamil, South Asian people who are trying, who are pushing the envelope and doing mainstream work. I think that’s definitely going to create more opportunity and normalize being able to see South Asian people in varied roles outside of the specific boxes that we’ve usually been put into.”
And she has been creating opportunities herself. At the start of this year, Chopra Jonas starred in and executive produced The White Tiger. Currently streaming on Netflix, the film is an adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s 2008 novel about a poor villager’s rise to successful entrepreneur in modern India. The film, which spotlights servitude and the caste and the class system, starred an all-Indian cast and was shot in India.
“I want to be at the helm of telling South Asian stories in Hollywood, and I know this is provocative material, which is based in India and has a South Asian past but is reflective of the class divide that exists everywhere,” she says. In the film she stars as Pinky, a character she describes as “fierce and tough and stood up for the right thing” but also is “woke until it’s [in]convenient for her.”
The film has been a success, ranking as the No. 1 film globally on the streamer shortly after its release.
“It’s just a great time to be telling the kind of stories that move you and push you,” she says. “I was looking for a role that would be immersive for me. Because, yes, I’ve done Quantico and I was on a TV show for three years, so technically I have just about in the last two years started doing movies and stuff. In India, I have done such a variety of roles and so many different genres, which I haven’t been able to do in America yet. I have just about started.”
Projects in the works include a part in The Matrix 4, the Russo brothers’ Citadel and joining forces with Kaling for a comedy. “After 10 years of being in America and five years of acting, now I am finally getting to that place where I’m doing the work that I really can sink my teeth into. And it took that long.”
Throughout the memoir, Chopra Jonas also touches on frustrations and inequities that women have had to endure in the industry. She describes moments where directors would nitpick her experience or give her lower pay than her male co-stars.
Now, years later, Chopra Jonas continues to dedicate herself to fighting for inclusion and diversity, as well as joining the ranks of women making big moves in the industry such as Ava DuVernay, who executive produced The White Tiger. She launched her own production company, which will prioritize telling female, immigrant and minority stories: “I think that is a really important part of what is required, especially with streaming right now. There is an audience for everything. If you have a story, there will be someone who will be there to watch it as long as it’s told well.”
In more lighthearted moments of her book, Chopra Jonas also chronicles her love story with husband Nick Jonas. “He was this big, giant wave that sort of just took me away, and I was OK at that point to be taken away by this extremely self-assured, confident, creative man,” she says of their romance. She also reveals that both have celebrated 20 years in the business.
“It’s helpful to be with someone who is, first of all, creatively so sound, so when I have ideas I can just pick his brain and when he has ideas he can pick mine; someone who understands that my job requires me to move to London for a year or his job requires him to go away to wherever; and both of us understand the requirements of the job,” she says. “We love dreaming big together, and we have a lot of similarities with wanting to build our lives and wanting to build our individual careers and the ones that we want to create together.”
Her book may serve to commemorate her life and career thus far, but with some of her memories now published on pages, Chopra Jonas says writing Unfinished has taught her how resilient she was and continues to be. “When I wrote the book I was like, ‘Oh wow, that’s a lot that you went through and a lot that I sustained.’ And sometimes we can be really hard on ourselves as we go through tough times, and I decided to be kind to myself because I was proud of my journey and I was proud of the woman I am today and the woman I am choosing to be going forward. Instead of berating myself for mistakes, I have now decided that I am going to be kinder to me,” she tells THR.
As the book hits bookshelves, Chopra Jonas is aware that it can attract readers who are already familiar with her or who know nothing about her, and she hopes that whoever reads it takes away that anyone can embark on the same journey.
“I am from a small town, from a middle-class family in India, and you are reading my memoir. And if I can make that journey, then anyone can. I hope that it makes young girls feel that seizing opportunities, being ambitious, having a fire at the pit of your belly, even when other people say that’s not your destiny, is OK. It’s great to have a purpose and run after it.”
Unfinished will be available Tuesday, Feb. 9.
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