The first time I met Priyanka Chopra, she was tucked away in one corner of an extremely chaotic dressing room, devouring an entire pizza. All by herself. Refusing to share. It was a shoot for Cosmopolitan (India) and the young actress was just then stepping into the limelight, riding a combined wave of authentic acting talent and stunning good looks. She was rapidly climbing up the starry pyramid – though still wasn’t anywhere near the point where one could call the shots in a male-dominated industry.
Not that this little bit about maledom and hierarchies and all that other stuff stopped her. Ms Chopra was cool as a cucumber as she chowed down her pizza, waved away the makeup artist while she took time out to help her younger brother with his maths homework and debated the storyboard for the photo shoot till she was completely satisfied. This within an industry where most stars don’t study the storyboard of an entire movie… Priyanka, it was pretty clear even then, was different. Very, very different.
At that point, more than a decade back, I really didn’t like this girl who was so different. There is a safety to interviewing cookie cutter celebs and Priyanka would simply not let you enjoy that comfort zone. She was louder than anyone else I knew in the industry, more vociferous, more challenging, more intelligent, more energetic… just, simply, more of everything.
And she was just simply so contradictory: tough as nails on the surface, yet fragile as glass when she let down her guard (look out for the “daddy’s li’l girl” tattoo on her wrist – it will break your heart); wearing relationships on her sleeve yet refusing to hang out her linen, dirty or otherwise, for magazine inches; chowing down junk food by the carton and yet remaining svelte as a beanpole; scared of heights and yet skydiving from 17,000 feet for fun… you are getting the idea?
And while it was annoying for me as an interviewer to deal with someone who refused to be pigeonholed into mere words, it is this contrariness that has taken Priyanka literally across the world and into the stratosphere. Today, she sings with Pitbull and runs around trees in fantasy-glam Bollywood fashion yet she also shares many of life’s toughest nuances with five-time world boxing champion Mary Kom, who was born to struggle as the daughter of a landless Indian farmer. Her animated Planes was considered for the Best Feature Film category at the 2014 Oscars, while she was busy promoting the cause of Girl Up, a campaign by the United Nations Foundation. Her single In My City, featuring will.i.am, debuted as the theme song for the NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football, even as Matthew Bishop, the United Nations Foundation New York Bureau Chief, referred to her as the smartest Miss World.
And now there is Quantico: the mega-budget television blockbuster which propels Priyanka into the uppermost echelons of American television (winning her the People’s Choice award!), as Alex Parrish. Faces like Nimrat Kaur and Archie Punjabi notwithstanding, this is the first time an Indian actress has grabbed the totem pole in a mainstream television series as a central anchor point and not in a character role or a token Asian presence. Quantico literally revolves around Priyanka’s character, putting her front and centre in the living rooms of possibly those very same “mean girls” who bullied her as a “brownie” when she attended high school in Boston.
Priyanka, as usual, defies stereotyping and pigeonholing. And this time round, I can’t help but cheer for her from the rooftops for this leap of faith.
So, meet Priyanka Chopra: Indian actress, American television star, model, singer, United Nations Foundation ambassador, former Miss World. The new villain of the much awaited Baywatch movie. The second most searched for name during this year’s Oscars and part of the Top 10 Best Dressed lists in literally every publication that tracks fashion on the red carpet.
Combine this with the fact that she’s the first Indian woman to become and international Guess girl – shot for the campaign by none other than Bryan Adams – and you know that this 33-year-old has definitely arrived. With trumpets blaring.
Time then, to have a proper chat with this multifaceted enigma and figure out what goes on behind those doe eyes and how in the world does she look so gorgeous, all the time!
When do you feel most feminine?
When I slip into my Snoopy pyjamas and do my nighttime beauty rituals – applying different kinds of lotions all over my body, brushing my hair and so on.
The secret behind that show-stopping figure?
Pizza! No, seriously. I love junk food and the pizza in Mumbai is so good. And French fries… sigh! That’s soul food. [I can vouch for this after having seen “Piggy Chops”, as she is known in Bollywood, scarf down a whole pizza pie on at least THREE different occasions!]
So that’s it, all the time? Really?
[Big sigh] I do mix up the junk eating with sprouts, raw veggies (especially fresh red carrots), steamed or stewed stuff and high fibre snacks. I am also obsessed with coconut water and can have any amount of it at any time in the day.
And that’s how you get such flawless skin?
That and the CTM method: Cleanse-tone-moisturize. Every single day. I also take multi-vitamins and drink a lot of water to keep my skin clear and healthy. Water is really important as it keeps skin moist and sweeps out toxins, which would otherwise clog your body and make everything look and feel sluggish.
Do you have a nightly beauty ritual?
I can’t go to bed without washing my face thoroughly. Skin won’t breathe or repair itself till all the pore-clogging grime and make-up comes off.
Any secrets to achieving your silky, shiny hair?
I really believe in indigenous kitchen recipes. Warm coconut oil massages are fabulous, as they keep my hair soft and supple while being relaxing as well. At various times, I also bring out the beer, eggs and yogurt for deep conditioning.
What’s the best part about being a woman?
That we get to dress up! On a more serious note, women are emotionally far stronger than men. We can deal with anything and everything without cracking up like most guys. And more than anything else, our capacity to become mothers: That’s truly the most beautiful thing god has bestowed on women.
What would you do if you were a guy for a day?
Nothing really. I don’t think there is anything that a guy can do that a woman cant. However, I would definitely like to live like Winston Churchill for a day. I want to know how it felt to live with such rigid ideals.
What should guys know about women?
That we love getting loads of attention, lots of sympathy and want to be with someone who understands our point of view. Guys are usually too focused on getting others to see things from their point of view, or in analyzing and solving our problems rather than just listening… and that just does not cut it for women!
What’s the biggest mistake that women make in a relationship?
Being too overbearing or possessive, and not giving any space to your guy.
Your kind of guy?
He will have to meet a long list of requirements. Sincerity, intelligence, good looks — so that our kids, all six of them, will be good looking. He has to be adventurous and spontaneous. A good sense of humour is a must and he should share my fetish for cleanliness. AND he should be understanding, give me my space. Asking for much… why, whatever gave you that idea?
What’s a perfect date?
To the moon and back!
Most romantic dream?
I want to have 6 weddings – all with the same guy! The first will be a typical Punjabi wedding in Ambala (India), with rituals that go on for 18-20 days and the whole extended family stays under one roof. The second will be in a small Mother Mary church in Locarno, Switzerland. The third will be underwater, while the fourth will be in Vegas with Elvis officiating. The fifth will be a nikaah, because I find the whole concept extremely romantic. And the sixth will be as my husband wants it.
Is it easy being a celeb?
I wish people would see an actress as someone who is also human. As a girl at heart who wants to do all the normal girly things, like standing in the rain and having an ice cream. It’s not always about the parties, the glitz and the glamour.
What’s the gutsiest thing you’ve ever done?
Skydiving from 17,000 feet at Locarno, Switzerland. I have always been terrified of heights and had promised myself that I would break the fear before I was 22-years-old.
Excerpted from an interview I did for Marie Claire