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Priyanka Chopra: Never catered to whims, fancies of powerful men

The actress is the first woman to speak at the 11th edition of The Penguin Annual Lecture series which was held in New Delhi on 26 December.

Source: Twitter

Sonal Pandya

Actress Priyanka Chopra, who is currently in India on her holiday break from the television show Quantico, was in the capital to speak at the 11th edition of The Penguin Annual Lecture series. After her speech, she was in conversation with NDTV editorial director, Sonia Singh, where she talked about gender parity in show business and breaking the glass ceiling.

Singh asked her to give introduction before the conversation, to which Priyanka simply said, "I want to be like water, you put me anywhere, I take the shape of it."

Priyanka's speech was on the topic of 'Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Chasing a Dream' at The Penguin Annual Lecture series and she reiterated her humble roots coming from an Army school in Bareilly to being known as an international actress on American television and films. She stressed that if she could do it, so could anyone who was sitting in the audience.

She discussed her international career and its cultural changes, saying "the crazy of filmmaking is pretty much the same wherever you go (sic)", although joking that everybody in Hollywood arrives on time.

The controversies surrounding filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati came up in the conversation and Priyanka responded: "Do we think that art should be a point of view? Are we living in a democracy? Are we not? These are questions, we the citizens of a civil society need to ask ourselves. And then make changes."

She said she had spoken with both lead actress Deepika Padukone and director Bhansali to tell them she stands by them and supports them. Furthermore, she said as a public figure she is not afraid on speaking out about certain issues, but felt instead that media uses their statements for news instead.

When Singh further pressed and mentioned American celebrities who have spoken up, Priyanka said, "Have you not seen with the polarization that we are dealing with, in many, many different ways, not only when it comes to religion, but when it comes to gender, when it comes to everything that happens in this country, why is this question not always asked to the politicians, or the government who are actually responsible, instead of actors? What can an actor or filmmaker do to change what is in the country?"

Naturally, the conversation shifted to Hollywood and the actresses who have come forward with their harrowing stories of sexual abuse and harrasment, many of them involving powerful producer Harvey Weinstein.

Priyanka said, "I think it has struck a chord with everyone in the world. You have all seen what happened with the Me Too hashtag. It was not just restricted to the US, it went all over the world. But like I said, different countries have different cultural boundaries. Meryl Streep can stand up and talk against the President over there (in US). They can sell anti-Trump memorabilia outside his house. It's just a different way we live in our nation and we need to respect it."

The actress further stressed that it was not just about the film industry and extended all over. The situation would only change when the next generation, mainly sons, is taught to respect a woman.

"I wouldn't call women victims, I would call them survivors. But there shouldn't be a world where women have to survive, there should be a world where women thrive," Priyanka said.

When Singh pointed out that author Shobhaa De had claimed, "look at how many (Weinsteins) there are in Bollywood", the actress said "Shobhaa ma'am seems to know a lot more about it... Why didn't she take names?"

Priyanka came into the industry without any filmi background. "I am very fiesty so people get scared of me a little bit. When I walk into a room, I make sure that no one can... Yes, I have had situations when I have been thrown out of films because someone else was recommended... A girlfriend was recommended after I was signed for a movie. So, that's an abuse of power... Girlfriend of the hero or girlfriend of the director. I couldn't do anything about it. I was removed last minute from many such situations because I never catered to the whims and fancies of powerful men. I only cater to my colleagues and friends who give me respect," she said.

At that time, Priyanka didn't have power in her hands and was treated a different way because she demanded respect and didn't settle, she said. It was all thanks to the support of her parents and pointed out the numerous women who didn't have that kind of support and had to go at it alone.

Going back to her Hollywood career, Priyanka admitted that "racism exists in a very big way, all over the world". She experienced racism in the US, attending high school there as a 16-year-old. As a South Asian actor, she said had a realization. "South Asian actors, in international entertainment, are still a novelty," she stated.

At the 2017 Emmys after-party, Priyanka said that hanging out with Emmy winners Riz Ahmed and Aziz Ansari, the actors noted that they were the only South Asians in the room of around 400. But Ansari said, eight years ago, there was only one. So progress was being made, albeit very slowly.

She hopes that things change so. "I pray and I hope that it bursts open the doors for so much talent from South Asia, because we deserve it. We are one-fifth of the world's population, we damn well have representation in international entertainment and we have to demand it now," she said.

Priyanka said she didn't want to be seen as some stereotype of 'My Big Fat Punjabi Wedding'. "I want to be seen as a kick-ass actress. That's it, nothing else," she stated.

She hasn't acted in a Hindi film since Jai Gangaajal (2016) and has yet to sign a new film. Priyanka said, "I've always chosen parts where I've never been the arm candy. I left that a long time ago. I took a deliberate choice to find parts in movies which actually were substantial, which gave me something to do, which moved me and moved the people watching."

She confessed to missing acting in Hindi and of course, dancing. Priyanka pointed out that the Hindi film actors aren't asked about taking time between roles. They are afforded their break away from films. "No one checks their relevance or asks them that. Why should my relevance be any less if I take that time. I'm still working in the US," she said.

Singh moved the conversation to Priyanka's single status. Priyanka said her mother Dr Madhu Chopra told her that you will only settle down when you have a man who appreciates all the work you've put into your career. Therefore, she stated she doesn't feel any pressure.

"Of course, I want to get married. I want to have a cricket team of children. But I'm not apologetic for my career," the 35-year-old actress said. When the time is right, she will settle down, but she needs to find someone worthy of her, she smiled and said.

Her good friend Megan Markle's royal nuptials to Prince Andrew will take place in May 2018. She said she has no idea about Markle's wedding plans. "If you see me at the wedding doing the bhangra, you'll know I was there," she joked.

The conversation ended with Singh asking about Priyanka's biggest achievement so far. She said, it was the ability to get over her fears. "My biggest achievement is to make my vulnerability my strength, because I'm usually emotional and I get affected by a lot of things. I come across as this tough, sassy, witty thing, but I do think that is a big part of keeping myself protected and surviving," she said.

Watch the full conversation below: