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Already a huge star for her varied acting career in India, Priyanka Chopra became the first Bollywood talent to simultaneously branch out into the international music industry when she signed to Interscope/DesiHits!/2101 Records in 2011. Soon after, she became the first Bollywood figure to sign with CAA.
Crowned Miss World in 2000, Chopra soon forayed into Indian cinema and quickly won acclaim and awards for her turn as a villainous seductress in the 2004 thriller Aitraaz. Since then, she has appeared in major Bollywood blockbusters such as superhero caper Krrish (and its upcoming third installment) and actioner Don. But she has also often allowed herself to be cast against type, in offbeat films such as 2011’s 7 Khoon Maaf (Susanna’s Seven Husbands) and last year’s Barfi! (India’s 2012 Oscar entry), in which she played an autistic girl. In what appears to be another challenging role, Chopra is currently shooting a project based on Mary Kom, the first Indian female boxer to win an Olympic medal. August will see Chopra’s debut in a Hollywood film, Disney’s much anticipated animated feature, Planes, in which she voices a lead character.
As a classically trained singer, Chopra has been working steadily to launch an international pop career. Last year she released the track “In My City,” which featured will.i.am and was played during the NFL’s Thursday Night Kickoff show. “Exotic,” the first single from her upcoming, as-yet-untitled debut album, features Pitbull and is produced by RedOne.
Sitting down with the Hollywood Reporter, Chopra talks shooting hot Miami music videos with Pitbull, how she brought an authentic Indian voice to her character in Planes, and the physical toils of learning to be a convincing boxer on camera.
The Hollywood Reporter: How was it working with Pitbull on “Exotic”?
Priyanka Chopra: I have been very fortunate to first have will.i.am on my earlier track “In My City” and now Pitbull on “Exotic.” They both took a chance with an upcoming new artist like me. Working with Pitbull was great — he is hugely creative. The lyrics he wrote are so personal, and he made the song about me and us. He made it real and I loved it. We only met during the shooting of the video and after that we have been in touch. I had a great time during the video shoot, which was all laughter and jokes. He was great fun and I was pleasantly surprised.
THR: What’s the concept behind the “Exotic” video?
Chopra: Its exotic! According to me, exotic is beaches and sun and dancing. It’s a summer song, a summer anthem. Its really about feeling hot and sexy. I am from Mumbai; Pitbull is from Cuba — and we meet in Miami.
THR: “In My City” came out last year, while “Exotic” is being promoted as the first single off your upcoming album.
Chopra: We have made a whole bunch of songs and the album is complete. “Exotic” is the first track we are working worldwide (following its July 9 release). “In My City” — which will also be part of the album — was part of NFL’s Thursday Night Kickoff and we also promoted the track in India.
THR: “Exotic” also features some Hindi lyrics by you. How did that come about?
Chopra: My upcoming album is in English and “Exotic” was initially going to be in English too. But in all my tracks I want to have some aspect of my Indian identity. “In My City” has some Indian instrumentation to give it flavor. For me, being Indian is very exotic. After Pitbull sent me his lyrics I suggested to “Exotic” producer RedOne that we could consider having some Hindi lyrics. He said, “Yeah, let’s try that” — and I quickly wrote the lyrics and sang it and he loved it. As I said, this is a summer song and we have so much fun in our Hindi movies and songs. We Indians really know how to party, man! And the world needs to see that. So the video has Indian-inspired dance steps too. It has a mix of Hindi and English, since the world is so global. An all-Korean song topped the Billboard charts, so why not a Hindi song?
THR: It’s been over a year since you embarked on your international music career. What kind of response have you been getting?
Chopra: People are just shocked that I can actually sing. I mean actors don’t really sing in India. So that is the very first feedback I got everywhere — whoa, you can sing! The response to “In My City” in India was also quite good. It sold 130,000 copies in its first week and was certified triple platinum in about a month and a half of release. I am very proud of the song. So now it’s great to come out with “Exotic.” Recently, I also enjoyed doing a great EDM [Electronic Dance Music] track, “Erase,” with producer-DJ duo The Chainsmokers.
THR: So is it safe to say that the album will span various genres?
Chopra: As an actor I always try to work across genres, and my album will also reflect that. It spans EDM, hip-hop, pop, ballads — I am very multitasking in my personality and my music is like that too. Every song will be different from the earlier one. I have realized that the music business is not like movies. It takes months — sometimes even more — for tracks to break through. It is all very new for me.
THR: Tell us about your role in Disney’s upcoming Planes.
Chopra: Walt Disney is my favorite filmmaker in the whole world. They came to me with Planes three years ago — even before I was signed to Interscope — and I thought it was a really great idea. I loved Cars and I loved how they were going to extend that concept with Planes. My character, Ishani, is a pan-Asian champion from India and the romantic interest of the main lead, Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook). It’s a really great part and I gave her a desi [Indian] flavor. For me it was important to do that because I see a lot of Indian characters on television and in films in the West and they usually have overexaggerated Indian accents. And it troubles me as an Indian who also spends time abroad, because that’s not how we really talk. So while portraying the character, it didn’t mean that I had to have an American accent, which I don’t, but just talk the way we normally do in India. Giving an animation character life was a way of pushing boundaries for me as an actor. It was great just to be in a sound booth and say lines to give Ishani a personality.
THR: And you also get to sing?
Chopra: Well that was a crazy idea they came up with. We were planning the trailers for all the characters and it was just a creative discussion to have a promotional song. So Ishani breaks into this Bollywood-style song to reply to a question. I thought that was super cute and she has this super funky attitude — like, “Why should boys have all the fun?” That is so me.
THR: The Indian dubbed versions of Planes should offer interesting possibilities, don’t you think?
Chopra: That will be fun for sure. We haven’t done that yet. It will end up as a whole new movie with a new approach.
THR: You are currently shooting a film based on Mary Kom, the first Indian female boxer to win an Olympic medal, which she won at the 2012 London games. How challenging is it to work on a biopic?
Chopra: This is not a biopic, though it is based on her life for sure. We are not making a documentary — it is a dramatized version inspired by her life based on a lot of true incidents. The fights will be very similar to reality. Physically, it is the most difficult thing I have ever done. I have done action stunts but for this I had to really train and get really punched in the face and stomach and everywhere, which is all very painful. I have never had muscles, so that had to be developed, which required intense, disciplined training. I want to be someone who pushes the boundaries; I also want to confuse myself with the genres I end up doing, and you see that in my various films, from Aitraaz to Barfi! I don’t want to repeat myself. I have a very short attention span.
THR: Among your upcoming films is super hero caper Krrish 3 starring Hrithik Roshan. What are your expectations of that?
Chopra: I think this film will take Indian visual effects to another level. [Most of the film’s VFX are being done by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan‘s company, Red Chillies, which also worked on his Ra.One superhero action film]. Krrish is India’s favorite superhero, and its exciting for me to be a part of this really beautiful film.
THR: You’ve been signed to CAA and have an evolving international music career — when can we expect to see you in an international live-action feature?
Chopra: Well, I never really aim at things. If it happens, great. Planes came to me and I made the most of it. When my album came to me, I gave it the best I could as a musician. Movies are my blood and music is my soul.
Watch the video for “Exotic” below:
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