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A Tale of Two Cities : How Priyanka Chopra has charmed Mumbai and LA


 Bantering with Jimmy Fallon and hanging around with Dwayne Johnson, Priyanka Chopra has come a long way from her times as one of the many models trying to make a breakthrough in Bollywood. A look at the smart progress of India's latest international sensation. 

Shriram Iyengar

When Priyanka Chopra walked hand in hand with actor Liev Schreiber to present the Oscars for the Best Film Editing category, it was a declaration of her next stage of evolution as an international celebrity. From being just another Miss World who entered India's largest film industry, Priyanka has become the most recognised representative of Indian cinema on the world stage. She had already caught attention in Hollywood thanks to her path breaking television series, Quantico. The year has already seen her conjure up two big projects. She is starring in the reprisal of the famed Baywatch series, and her maiden venture, Quantico, is set to enter its second season. This seems to be the year for Ms.Chopra.

In 2000, when she won her Miss World title, Priyanka Chopra was following in some very pretty footsteps. Aishwarya Rai had won the title in 1994, while Diana Hayden and Yukta Mookhey had followed in 1997 and 1999. India was fast  emerging as a country for beautiful women. Indian cinema was filling up with winners of beauty contests. Priyanka Chopra made her cinematic debut alongside other former contestants like Lara Dutta, Lisa Ray, and Dia Mirza. In her first film, she shared credits with Lara Dutta. But her mercurial personality ensured she won the Filmfare Award for Best Debut. It was the only positive of a forgettable film.

Bollywood is a very treacherous terrain for beautiful people. Many talented actresses, to use the poet WB Yeats' words, ' being beautiful overmuch,/ consider beauty a sufficient end'.  Yet, the disciplined training as an army kid served the young actress ably. Even as a newcomer, she didn't shy away from experimenting with different roles. Between 2003 and 2005, she acted in films as diverse as David Dhawan's Mujhse Shaadi Karogi(2004) and Abbas-Mustan's Aitraaz(2004). Her turn as the cougarish femme fatale in Aitraaz earned her the Filmfare award for Best Actress in a Negative role, only the second female actor to win the award after Kajol in Gupt(1997).

This ability to experiment has been one of her  greatest strengths. Films like Kaminey(2009), Don(2006), Dostana(2008), 7 Khoon Maaf(2011) Fashion(2008), Barfi (2013) and Mary Kom(2015)are remarkable examples of her evolution as an actress. In each of these films, she was forced to step outside the comfort zone of glamour. Fashion was the first of her big experiments, and earned the National and Filmfare Award for Best Actress. 7 Khoon Maaf had her playing an amoral serial killer, while Barfi had Priyanka enact the role of an autistic girl. These complex characters earned her begrudging respect from cinephiles.

It was with Dostana that Priyanka first discovered her international audience. Further ventures with Krissh and Krissh 3 confirmed what many people already knew. There was a space in international cinema for a brave Indian actress. Aside from Aishwarya Rai and Tabu, the ambition of Indian actresses was limited to red carpet appearances. This was set to change. Priyanka released her first single 'In My City' across the United States on the NFL Network's Thursday Night Football primetime. It proved to be a marketing masterstroke. With artists like will.i.am collaborating with her, it got her the views she needed. The album was certified triple platinum leading to three nominations on the World Music Awards stage. Some might call it strategic marketing, but the intelligence in doing so cannot be denied. It was this very move which earned her international recognition. Soon, Priyanka Chopra was the first Indian actress with a lead role in an international television series. Before Quantico released, only Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, and Anil Kapoor had managed appearances on international television. Neither of them had grabbed the lead role. Priyanka's turn as the Indian origin US FBI cadet, Alex Parrish, surprised audiences and critics alike. It was brazen, free, cerebral in ways. It established her as the leading face of Indian cinema in international territory. Meanwhile, in India, her performance as Bajirao's wife, Kashibai, in Bajirao Mastani(2016) earned her another Filmfare nomination. The year also saw her awarded the Padma Shri by the Indian government, the fourth highest civilian award of the country.

The importance of visibility is often underestimated in cinema. Actors, regardless of their talent and ideologies, are performers. The level of their performances needs to be balanced with their visibility on the market. In an intensely competitive and global industry, Priyanka Chopra's choices have marked her as one of the most astute and intelligent actors of her generation. She has managed to successfully balance a career on both sides of the divide. Her new film, Jai Gangaajal, will see her enact the role of a true blue honest cop in Bollywood, while she takes on grey shades for her role as one of the villains in the iconic Baywatch series in the west. While she relaxes by the bays of Cayman, there is little doubt that Priyanka Chopra will be happy at what she has achieved so far.