It’s difficult to imagine that, at the tender age of 32, Priyanka Chopra is already a Bollywood veteran.
Quite apart from the sheer number of films she’s appeared in since her acting debut in the Tamil film Thamizhen 2002, her resume boasts the kind of range and variety of an actor a decade or two older than the former Miss World.
From the naive Rani in the blockbuster romance ‘Mujhse Shaadi Karogi’ through the aspiring model Meghna Mathur in Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Fashion’ to her award-winning roles in ‘Kaminey’ and the unforgettable ‘Barfi!’, Chopra has stretched her thespian abilities farther than any other young Bollywood starlet.
With her latest role, she’s taking things even further.
Many were caught by surprise when the glamorous actor, singer and model was cast as iconic boxer Mary Kom in a bio-pic about arguably India’s greatest ever female athlete.
Born to a poor family in rural Manipur, Mary’s is the kind of story that’s ripe for the big screen: the story of a determined young woman who overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve the kind of glory that ordinary mortals can only dream about.
Initial reaction to Chopra’s interpretation of the life of this extraordinary woman has been largely positive with Chopra stripped of all that glamour to really get into a role with plenty of meat: literally and metaphorically.
The UKAsian’s Anita Britto caught up with Priyanka in Mumbai to talk female-centric roles in Bollywood and new ventures.
Many people are already describing ‘Mary Kom’ as a turning point in your career. Does it feel like that to you?
I never have expectations from any of my films because as they say ‘Man proposes, God disposes.’ I believe destiny and hard work go hand in hand so you do the best that you can and the rest you have to let go. Whatever happens, it is the destiny of your films. Of course, I would like people to like my work, enjoy the film, and also get inspired by it because this story inspired me.
It’s a wonderful time to be an actress in Bollywood these days with the likes of ‘Mardaani’, ‘Khubsoorat’, ‘Creature’ etc featuring women in the central roles.
Right now, the positive is that women are getting roles where they are equal to their male counterparts. This has not happened for a long time, at least since the days of Madhuri and Sridevi. For example, you can’t give me credit for ‘Krissh’ or ‘Don’ because I was a supporting actor in the film but you can’t deny Illeana and me in Barfi; the film is as much mine as it is Ranbir’s. And I don’t think anyone could have played Deepika’s role in Chennai Express the way she did.
A-list actresses are doing more and more female-centric roles but why is it that when they do strong roles onscreen, the male actors opposite them are always newcomers?
See, we live in a very male-dominated world and as a society we think like that. Even in Hollywood see the disparity not just in remuneration but in other things too. I have supported big-budget mega films which had actors in the lead so I think there will be a day when somebody (actors) will support me in my movie.
Are you extra selective with the films that you do these days?
No. Selection nahin hota mujhse. You make me hear the story of a film and if I like it I will take it up. I love all kinds of movies. I get very confused when my films don’t do well because according to me it was a very good film. I am an artiste, I am creative…I go with my guts. Sometimes I fail and sometimes I don’t. The only conscious decision I make is to have variety in the roles I do because I get really bored doing the same things.
When first-time director Omung Kumar approached you for ‘Mary Kom’, was there any hesitation from your side?
I have worked with lots of first-time directors — Nikhil Advani, Tarun Mansukhani and now Omung. Some films have been super successful, some haven’t. I judged the ‘Mary Kom’ offer based on Saiwan Quardos’s story and on the fact that I know Omung has a beautiful vision as a production designer. The cherry on the cake was that it was produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who I think is one of the finest filmmakers in the country. I am a huge Sanjay Bhansali fan, so I was very happy to work with him.
You are also about to embark on your first home production with Madhur Bhandarkar directing.
I am really happy that Madhur agreed to be my first director in my first home production. Madhur is a great director and it’s a superb story. Producing films is a big step for me, a new step into a new direction. I never thought I will become a musician or a producer but I have always looked to evolve as a person and an artist. I like changing. I am very spontaneous.
And you going to star in the film?
I never thought that my production house will make a film starring me. I wanted to make small films that tell good stories but this film came as a great opportunity to establish the production house. But eventually, I want to promote new talent – whether it’s writers directors or actors.
Now that you have turned producer, how much will box office numbers matter to you?
I get very confused with numbers. On Fridays, I generally leave it to someone or the other to tell me how the film is doing. But as a producer I guess my maths will improve. I just want to make good films…I have a good team to look after the rest. And I trust them with my life.