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“I was never going to choose between the two,” says Priyanka Chopra, a star of Bollywood and Hollywood, as we record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast.
Chopra, who can currently be seen in Ramin Bahrani‘s Oscar-nominated Netflix film The White Tiger, on which she also served as an executive producer, and whose memoir Unfinished is now a bestseller, adds: “My career in India will always be a large part of who I am — it’s my identity — but I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.”
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You can listen to the episode here. The article continues below.
Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Al Pacino, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Kerry Washington, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett, Norman Lear, Keira Knightley, David Letterman, Sophia Loren, Hugh Jackman, Melissa McCarthy, Chris Evans, Carey Mulligan, Seth MacFarlane, Amy Adams, Ben Affleck, Julia Roberts, Jake Gyllenhaal, Glenn Close, Will Ferrell, Cate Blanchett, Sacha Baron Cohen, Greta Gerwig, Conan O’Brien, Jodie Foster & Kevin Hart.
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Born in Jamshedpur to military doctors, Chopra was raised throughout India before moving to America at the age of 12, without her parents, to live with an aunt. She intended to remain in the U.S. through college, but encountered “toxic” bullying and racism that led her to return to India at age 17. “I kind of broke up with America at that point,” she says. “My heart was hurting.”
Within a year, the blossoming beauty was submitted, by her mother and brother, as a candidate for the Miss India beauty pageant. She was accepted, and won, catapulting her to the Miss World competition, which she also won. It was a remarkably fast series of events that meant, as she puts it, “suddenly having to grow up and navigate an industry that is not easy.”
Chopra had planned to become an engineer, but now was inundated with offers to appear in Hindi-language movies, and quickly became a star, anchoring both blockbusters and prestige productions, including one for which she won India’s equivalent of the best actress Oscar. She also dabbled in singing, which brought her to the attention of American music mogul Jimmy Iovine. “Jimmy was a big, big reason and a motivation for me to attempt working in the U.S.,” she says.
Though her music career in America never quite took off, her acting career soon did. Keli Lee of ABC, looking to increase her network’s diversity and international appeal, asked Chopra if she’d consider working on American TV. “The one thing that I wanted to be a part of was mainstream pop culture,” Chopra says, “and I did not see a lot of people who looked like me being a part of mainstream pop culture.” So she signed a talent deal that ultimately led to her becoming the first-ever Indian lead of an American primetime network show, Quantico, which ran for three seasons. “I played an Indian-American whose ethnicity was not defined by the show,” she emphasizes. “I was just an FBI agent. To me, that was extremely liberating and exciting.”
Chopra is not yet anywhere near as huge a star in Hollywood as she is in Bollywood, but with The White Tiger — a movie with an all-Indian cast that became Netflix’s most watched offering, for a time, in 161 countries — she is certainly making progress. “I was a big fan of the book,” she says, referencing Aravind Adiga‘s 2008 Booker Prize-winning novel about class tensions in modern India. “I so desperately did not want this movie to be put into a box of independent cinema. It’s a mainstream story, and it deserved that kind of attention, and I just really wanted to use my platform to be able to do that.”
Chopra, who married singer Nick Jonas in 2018, looked back on her life to this point for Unfinished, but she is looking forward to doing enough significant new things — in both India and America — to eventually justify another book. “I feel very privileged to be able to straddle both worlds,” she emphasizes. “The only other person I [know of] who had ever done this was Sophia Loren, and I admire her tremendously.” Most importantly, she adds, “There is a responsibility to represent an audience that is consuming this entertainment, and I want to be — hopefully — able to do that.”
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