Priyanka will tell you that the best part of her childhood years was the chance she got to be somebody else every two years. Her father was a doctor in the army, which meant moving homes frequently. While many would loathe such routine uprooting, Priyanka made the most of it. In many ways that love still remains, as she moves from film to film – internalizing her characters and living each new role to the hilt – a passion that makes her, easily, the most talented woman actor in the country today.
GJ: Shahrukh Khan asked you during your Miss India contest as to who would you want as your partner: a poor or a rich guy…?
PC: No, he said would you marry a business person who’d buy you diamonds, would you marry an actor like me who’d ask you multiple choice hypothetical questions, or would marry you a sportsman who’d make you proud. I said I’d marry a sportsperson. My answer is still the same. I chose the description. Monetary things I can take care myself, yes I would like to be with somebody who’d make me a proud wife. So even today I’d want to be with a man who I can be proud of and look up to and respect.
GJ: Can you tell me about your childhood, about Priyanka when she was not famous?
PC: Which was only 16 years of my life! I come from a very beautiful family, with very supportive parents, I went to boarding school when I was in 3rd standard, I went to America when I was in 7th and came back when I was in 12th. I traveled all over the world before I became famous because that’s how my parents were, they loved travelling. The best part of my childhood was being able to become somebody else every 2 years because I travelled all the time and we shifted homes every two years. We went to different schools, I had different friends from 4th and 5th standard onwards…
GJ: Your parents had a huge influence on you, can you tell me a little bit about how your father has influenced you as a person?
PC: I am my dad’s pet, his belief in me and his pride in me has been a huge contributing factor to my drive and my focus in my job. My parents have put so much into me, like when I became Miss World my mom had a huge career as a physician and she had to quit it all to be with me because I was so young. For her it was a big change for me and for my dad, my entire family moved because they didn’t want me to be alone. They supported me in every choice that I wanted to make in every possible way and aspect of my life. I wanted to be that daughter to them.
GJ: Both your parents are physicians. Was acting an aspiration or it happened to you just like that?
PC: It just happened because I was studying to be an engineer. When I was 17, I became Miss World and my life changed. I suddenly grew up. Movies started happening and when movies started happening I started learning harder, how to act and what is required and slowly it became my profession and now I am doing music and starting again right from the beginning. It was never planned; I was destiny’s favourite child.
GJ: How did that develop you as a person? Had Miss World and modelling not occurred then would you still have been…
PC: No, I would not have been an actor. I would have been studying somewhere, engineering or something else may be. I never thought of acting as a profession, I don’t think anybody does until you come in, especially if you are from a non film background.
GJ: You entered the Miss India contest when you were 17. Can you share three achievements that you are proud of?
PC: Winning the National Award is one, making a music album is the second, and making Barfee is the third. Pulling off Barfee, pulling off my character... I was very scared that I would not be able to pull it off. But it went off very well.
GJ: Could you tell us more about how you felt receiving the National Award?
PC: It was crazy; I was in a state of shock for a really long time. Because I knew everybody was saying that I should get it and that it was tough getting it. When honorable President Pratibha Patil was about to hand over to me the medal, I was thinking that I will trip and fall, my whole family was there. It was really a very big deal.
GJ: Are there any other accolades that you are looking forward to in the future?
PC: Every award is an achievement, so it feels fantastic. There is a lot of humanitarian work which I do. One of my biggest achievements is I have created my own foundation called the Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Heath and Education. It’s going to come full fledged now, it’s legalized now so now it’s going to be fully functional. It’s an achievement for me to put everything together, I guess in so many different aspects I have had many achievements in many different ways.
GJ: Can you tell us little bit about the health and education foundation?
PC: All these years, I have worked a lot with UNICEF, and for the last two years, I have been its ambassador officially but unofficially, I have been associated with it for five-six years. We have done a lot of incredible work with them, before that I worked a lot with the girl child because I really believed in the education of the girl child. Giving education an incredible importance especially in India where the girls are not really viewed as important enough to be educated that need to change and that is an aspect which makes education an important part of my foundation. Also, I come from a family of doctors and that is also my own where we have been working a lot over the years but now, I want to formally be able to do it. This is one of my personal big achievements.
GJ: You said you were looking forward to certain things but you did not mention the Grammy. Why is that so?
PC: I never even looked forward to a national award when I got it, I am a dreamer but I am not delusional. I let things happen and unfold and then I accept them.
GJ: You are known to be a poet; you are also known to write in journal diaries, blogs, etc. Can we expect another creative expression from you, like a book?
PC: You never know! I love writing, I have written a lot of songs on my album. I don’t put anything past me because I am very erratic in my choices, suddenly I would want to do something and that would become my obsession for a while. I never thought I’d be an actor or singer or Miss World and I never thought I wouldn’t be an engineer and that all happened to me so.
One thing I’d definitely want by 40 is married with kids, and a grand house. The only thing that I am certain of that I would want in the next few years, may be in the next decade is to marry and have kids. Professionally I don’t want to put anything past me but personally I am a little girl.
GJ: You seem to have that perfect life, the perfect job …but I am assuming you had a struggle period. How was the journey?
PC: The struggle still continues; it just changes form. There is no way that any human being can live a life without struggle. Because I started off with a Tamil film that does not mean that was my struggle period, the struggle is to beat yourself, to outrun yourself because you have set milestones for yourself. But success is also a validation but how long will validation last, once you get validated doesn’t mean you are validated for life.
GJ: At 22 or 21 when you started …
PC: When you are young, the world is at your feet. Movies for me was like a summer vacation, I would go back to college and study. I came into movies thinking it could be fun. Because my films got validation, I got validation, winning all the debut awards and my first film doing well then me getting offers from a lot of other films. Doing Aitraz and Mujse Shadi Karogi, Fashion, Dostana… my career just rolled into being an actor. Nobody has a 100 per cent success rate except maybe Raju Irani but it’s just that struggle changes its face.
GJ: Fashion was great; Dostana was a superhit; then Saat Khoon Maaf and Rashee, which were very controversial for not making it through. What propelled you to take up Barfee?
PC: In the meanwhile, I was doing Krishh, Don 2, Agneepath… Those are films you forgot to mention.
GJ: In Fashion, you depicted a very strong character.
PC: It was just a character I played. I am not being diplomatic. It was written very well which is why I could play it very well. Like Barfee… today a 100 people telling me how wonderful the performance is, doesn’t mean I am autistic.
Bollywood is not dark as people think, there is something positive in everybody’s life. It is what you decide to choose and run after.
GJ: Is it that easy in Bollywood?
PC: It is not easy anywhere. Most of us always run after what we don’t have and we forget about what we have which is why we end up being ambitious but at the same time end up being unhappy. If you make peace with what you have and then after what you don’t you’ll be positive in life and why not lead a positive life. Be happy, meet people… it’s just one life
GJ: One message to all the people of the film fraternity? Something you wish you could say to them?
PC: I want to say ‘thank you’ for accepting me as a part of the family.
GJ: What kind of roles are you looking forward to in the future?
PC: I never plan my life, whatever choices come to me whoever produces or directs come to me and I pick from there, but I am just grateful because I am at a place where people have written such amazing parts for me.
GJ: Are you a methodical actor or a spontaneous one?
PC: I am a spontaneous actor, method is required little bit everywhere, prep is required every time, of course, but when you got to the set all those preparation goes out of the window, so I say that be spontaneous.
GJ: What makes you stand out among your contemporaries?
PC: My courage and conviction which can be seen as belligerence and rebellion sometimes but if I choose to do something I stick by it. Whether the film does or doesn’t do well I stick by my choices which is something I pride myself on.
GJ: If you could share your thoughts on women and the development of women roles in the Indian cinema today?
PC: I think it’s changed so much; it’s a great time for a female actor in Indian films. We are doing parts, which are written for us. Even though Barfee as a film was a title role for Ranbir’s character, I had an incredible role to play in the film even though I was there for just 40% of the film. But, it was written so well for me and today, you see there are so many films where females have incredible roles to play in films whether it’s the Dirty Picture, Kahaani, Fashion, so many films that have happened and not just movies which are female oriented but like Barfi, for example, which has a male counterpart in it as well but a female’s part is just as good, so today films like that are being made. That’s a huge change for Indian cinema.
GJ: Given that you are an independent girl who has become successful, what has been your important learning lesson in the industry?
PC: Every single day with the kind of the pressures that we deal with to be bogged down and not be positive, to not be better and wallow in self pity and say that my life is screwed and terrible, but that’s my learning lesson. Yes there will be days when you don’t want to come out of your bed but you make yourself come out of the bed and look at the sun and say shine on me I’ll still look at you.
GJ: What is that one big phase in your life…
PC: It’s not just one but many phases, in different aspects many phases. Where there is good there will always be bad.
GJ: But professionally how difficult did it get for you and how did you get out of it?
PC: Every 2 years when my films don’t do well people say that I am written off. It happened from my first to the last film
GJ: Did you miss having a godfather?
PC: Yes, I did. In fact a lot of times in my career I always used to feel that what was missing because you meet people who had that support. A lot of your contemporaries have that, then you feel why don’t I have that. Then you feel that you have achieved all that on your own. So that’s another way of looking at it.
GJ: Is that one of the reasons for who you are today?
PC: And I take pride in it that made me a confident person.
GJ: Your response to the Friday Box Office when you started in 2003, and now… . How has your response shifted?
PC: When I started in the beginning, my first film released I was like it was not the response to the box office that I cared about, it was response to me. Now it’s shifted to the response to the film. In the beginning it was all about me as an actor, now it’s about the film.
GJ: I know that the music launch is very close to your heart and it had to do with deeper faith. So what propelled you to an international launch?
PC: Like I said, I like doing different things, I don’t like being in the norm, what is expected of me is something what I wouldn’t love doing, it’s very boring. So Music was not a plan, universal approached me I didn’t think of singing. They were really like try try you can do it so I gave it a shot very exasperatedly and it seemed interesting to me and then I thought why not give it a shot.
Salim Suleiman knew I sang and Universal was looking for Bollywood actors who were artist. So they suggested my name.
GJ: How do you see your music career going forward because we are very excited about Piggy Chops in the future. You have taken it to the next level, you are not just doing Bollywood music but you are an international pop singer now.
PC: Well, growth is one which we all aspire to do, grow and be better at whatever we can, I think I was trying that as well when I was doing that song and I just hope that it’s something new.
GJ: Are you trying to do any Hollywood movies in the future?
PC: I am just very organic about my life, I really never think what my future will be. I was thrown into something, which was so new so I don’t mind being thrown into anything.
GJ: You are effortless and so comfortable in your skin, where do you get it from?
PC: It’s a façade!
GJ: You are one of the sexiest women; I want to ask you what makes a woman desirable.
PC: Confidence. When you are yourself and you are ok with it, which I think most women don’t have, so it’s unique.
GJ: Tell me your idea of a quintessential man?
PC: Somebody I can respect, somebody with integrity, somebody with conviction. These are the qualities I have, I am a very independent girl so I’d want to be with somebody who can reign me I guess.
GJ: You are the brand ambassador of so many brands. How do you choose to go for them. Is it commercial or any kind of underlying thoughts?
PC: There has to be a brand fit, like I wouldn’t be brand ambassador of a health portal for example because it doesn’t make sense because I am not a healthy person, I am not a fitness freak, I eat rubbish all day, I eat whenever I remember. I like to be involved in brands that I believe in.
GJ: How was Khatron Ki Khiladi because that was an important television stint. How was that experience and what got you to participate in it?
PC: I’ve never done television and Fear Factor has been one of my favourite shows so to do it and host it I was really cool plus it needed only 25 days of my time plus it was Rio. I could do all those funky stunts and bikes and I could not do it. Plus, I had never done TV, I have never seen women spearheading their own shows, that was another challenge to see whether I could do that. And it did really well, so I was very happy.
GJ: Tell me something that the world doesn’t know about Priyanka Chopra?
PC: If they don’t know it, I don’t want to tell them.
GJ: Is there something you would want the world to know in your 6,000 word write-up?
PC: A lot of people think that just because you are an actor and in the glamour business it’s a very easy life. Like people take that with a lot of and I don’t mean physically, I don’t mean being on a plane 300 days a year or having to always look pretty and presentable but the kind of pressure that comes with being a public person, that’s really hard. My advice to anybody coming in to show business would be the advice my mom gave me when I came to show business and I really lived by it and survived it. Not being from the film industry. Nothing is do or die, today we are very lucky in the 21st century to be living in a world where we can switch professions, we can be whoever we want, we can put our fingers on a map and eyes there, the world is your oyster. So don’t be restricted in a bubble, you are born with wings.
GJ: How have you evolved as a person, in this public journey?
PC: I have become tougher, I can deal with a lot more but I’ve also become a little bit more emotional.
GJ: How spiritual would you say you are?
PC: I am more spiritual than religious, I do believe in a supreme power and I do believe that your life has been written out for you. It’s just the degrees which vary, what you do with every situations in life.
GJ: What’s the favourite part of your day?
PC: The 45 minutes before I am going to sleep -- sitting in between my parents and watching some soap opera that my mom is watching, eating dinner in bed, reading in bed. The two minutes to collect my thoughts of the entire day is my favourite part.
GJ: Would you ever like to start a wellness retreat?
PC: I would, because I love spas, that kind of a wellness retreat yes, but you cannot force a diet on people. I really believe in eating, I am a Punjabi and I love my food. But I love spas. A wellness retreat means feeling well. My wellness retreat would be different where you are not given dal and sukha sabji to eat.
GJ: If you had 3 days off, how would you like to spend them?
PC: If I did I’d vegetate in my bed, I’ll watch movies in my bed. Chat with friends. That is all that I would do. I’d clean my cupboard.
GJ: Some aspirations that you haven’t been able to meet because of your time schedule…
PC: Spending more time with my family, I don’t get to do that. But I try and do it as much as I can.
GJ: What about the film fraternity appeals to you so much?
PC: It’s my home, I don’t know anything else. I started here when I was 17, I have never known anybody else, I just knew film business.
GJ: What frustrates you the most about it?
PC: The constant public glare and the speculation. Judgmental behavior by people, living under the microscope constantly to put it in more clichéd terms, that is frustrating.
But again it’s the price you pay t be where you are. You are in the limelight and you cannot say you don’t want to be recognized or be in the limelight. If you say so then you are lying. It’s the choices that you take of how much you want people to know about you. It’s the choice you make with yourself
GJ: What about loneliness?
PC: That’s the last thing that happens to me.