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The woman who chased her dreams

Rashmi Sarkar | Updated on March 23, 2021

Milestone by milestone: The book of essays and experiences chronicles two decades of Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s career   -  REUTERS / LILIAN WAGDY

Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s memoir gives a reader an interesting peek into the life of a strong woman who took up new challenges and made them work, but less so into her filmography

* Chopra Jonas connects with the reader when she talks about her childhood and her parents, both army doctors

* She does not write about her controversial relationships with the men in her life “respecting their privacy”

* She “wanted it all”, she writes — and paid a price for taking the path less travelled

***

Being a bit of a Hindi film buff, I have been following Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s Bollywood and Hollywood career with keen interest. So when I heard that her memoirs — Unfinished — had just been published, I promptly bought the Vikings by Penguin hardcover book.

The title may mean that the actor at a later stage will tell readers more about her life. Dedicated to her father, Dr Ashok Chopra, whom she lost to cancer in 2013, the book of essays and experiences chronicles two decades of her career.

She arrived with a bang when she won the Miss India and subsequently the Miss World title — and went on to act in 65 Bollywood films, launched her music career and then bagged quite a significant role in a popular American television series. She is a producer, an entrepreneur, a Unicef goodwill ambassador — indeed there is so much to her that you wonder if a 232-page book can do justice to the many shades of Chopra Jonas.

The book works well on a personal level. The actor connects with the reader when she talks about her childhood and her parents, both army doctors. The Chopras frequently moved from once city to another. We can identify with the hurt she felt when she was sent to a boarding school at La Martiniere Girls’ College, Lucknow, and understand how she craved attention from her loving father. We get to know how she did her schooling in her teenage years in the US due to the generous intervention of her mother in whom she had always confided about her pre-teen dreams of studying in the land of opportunities. It’s quite possible that it was this early exposure to the US — she lived there with her maternal uncles and aunts — that gave her the confidence to straddle two countries as a professional actor. There is a heart-breaking account of the racial bullying that she encountered because of the colour of her skin in the US.

Unfinished: A Memoir / Priyanka Chopra Jonas / Penguin Viking / Non - fction / ₹699

 

The book goes on to deal with her return to India — and how, just as she was studying to become an aeronautical engineer, her younger brother Siddharth coaxed their mother to send her application for the Femina Miss India contest in 2000, as she was “five feet seven inches in height and pretty and seventeen”. Chopra Jonas mentions — half in jest — that this was his ploy to get his room back which she had usurped on her return from the US. She was eventually selected and went on to be crowned Miss India World and subsequently Miss World 2000 in what seemed to her like an unreal dream.

While I found her account of the time when India occupied the centre stage of global beauty pageants interesting, what touched me were the parts that dealt with the painful periods of her life: Recurrent nose surgeries, her not very successful musical career in the US, hateful trolling that followed when she got a fantastic break to sing for the NFL and her father’s terminal illness and death. She writes with candour about succumbing to depression and emerging out of it. She has pretty much accepted her failures. She “wanted it all”, she writes — and paid a price for taking the path less travelled.

Indeed, she has always taken a somewhat offbeat path. I have been rather impressed by the choices she made and the determination she showed through her career, right from the beginning when she essayed a somewhat vampish role in Andaaz which won her the Filmfare award for Best Debut along with Lara Dutta.

What is disappointing is that her rich roles — from an ambitious and ruthless woman who sexually harasses her employee in Aitraaz to a husband killer in Saat Khoon Maaf and an autistic girl in Barfi! — do not find sufficient mention in the book. She does not write about her controversial relationships with the men in her life “respecting their privacy” but these form large gaps in the story of a strong woman who has never been afraid to stand out from the rest.

It also seems to be written for the global reader in mind, mentioning Indian families and customs in great detail, which can be tedious for the Indian reader. She does describe her relationship with Nick Jonas but we could have done without the long description of her wedding ceremonies.

Overall, the book gives a reader — or a fan — an interesting peek into the life of an inspiring and bold woman who has taken up new challenges and made them work. It is also the story of a woman who follows her dreams, supported at every step by her encouraging parents.

Those looking for a filmography of Priyanka Chopra Jonas will be disappointed. But if you enjoy a feel good story, do go for it.

Rashmi Sarkar is a Delhi-based dermatologist and film buff

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Published on March 23, 2021
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