She rules the Box Office in India even while making headlines as a star of American TV series Quantico . She is also the villain in upcoming Hollywood flick Baywatch . But Priyanka Chopra is more than just an award-winning actor. In an exclusive conversation with Bloomberg TV India , the star talks about her passion for taking up different roles.
I want to start by talking to you about the UNICEF Brand Ambassador that you are and the way you are working towards creating a platform for more awareness, whether its child rights or other things. You were talking about incremental changes that take place on a personal level and how perhaps they can have a ripple effect. Where does this sensitivity come from?
I think that my parents were extremely sensitive and big believers in giving back to society. That was a norm for us while growing up. So every summer, I remember — this was the time when we were in Bareilly — my parents would take their ambulance to the villages for at least one or two days. My mom was an OBGYN (gynaecologist) and ENT specialist, and my dad a surgeon. And they would take a pharmacist and two nurses and go into villages and meet patients who could not come out, especially women. And this would be our summer thing to do. So I grew up in an environment where that was the thing to do and my parents were keen to do it. They just felt that they could contribute (to the society). For the longest time we could remember, there were always two beds that were FOC (free of charge) in my parents’ hospital. Anyone could come at anytime and the treatment would never be denied. So, my brother and I have been raised thinking that when you have the ability or the position or the potential to be able to just change something around you, you should do it. We are individuals. At this moment, the only thing I can use is my platform and my voice.
One of the ideas that you put forward was using your celebrity image to impact dialogue. This also means coming into sensitive things like changing mindsets. That is not an easy business. For a a political figure, it may be easier to advocate. But as a celebrity, it is a difficult proposition to change the mindset of people. So how do you think you will you attain this feat?
I actually think that it is easier for celebrities to change mindsets. And it is not just celebrities, public figures who are loved, revered and adored in this country. And fortunately for us — Hindi film actors — we get a lot of respect and love from people not just in India, but also people who watch our films around the world. So if we feel that we have the social responsibility, which is a very individual thing, you have got to use yourself to bring about change.
I’ll not say that anyone who is a public person needs to take on a social responsibility, not at all; because you cannot do something without actually feeling it in your heart, and it has to come from within. And I believe that I want to change the world.
I don’t know how I can do it. But I want to bring about a change in thoughts and stereotypes. I want to bring a change through my work. And that is the only way I know.
For the longest time, whether it’s in India or across the globe, Indians have been always portrayed as a stereotype. Even now Indian artists are always put in a stereotype box — that we are extremely academic or we have a big fat Punjabi wedding or Bollywood. I want to change that.
We have so much more and we are going to take on Hollywood and not just Bollywood.
Even in India, for a long time, female actors were told that when films in which they are standing behind or with the guy, make ₹300 crore, they are successful. ‘Female-oriented films don’t do well. They don’t do well because people don’t watch them. The film industry is demand and supply. Box Office is the business of entertainment, it is not charitable. And you have to be smart about it.’
So our films, now, — after a decade after I did Fashion (2008) — ‘people are not watching’. People told that it is not going to do well as it is a female-oriented film. But it did so well and it opened well.
There are so many brave and phenomenal female actors who have come out and demanded stronger roles to play. So, like that, change comes when you have advocates of change. I want to be an advocate of change. How and how much? I do not know.
Talking about the evolution of female-oriented roles, how much of the success depends on script writing? How is it different in India and abroad?
Scripts are as good or as bad as people who want to watch it. Today’s generation, especially the tech generation, which has the entire world on their finger tips, can stream a movie from Iran and America to Australia, from anywhere they want.
So the exposure to world cinema is so much that today’s generation is demanding, and they don’t like stupidity. They want to see great content. Hence, films of great content are doing well. As I said, it’s demand and supply.
Globally, I do feel — because I have worked in television and I am doing a film there — the best content, especially in America, has gone into television. Everyone, be it writers, directors or movie actors, are coming into TV.
Films have become this ten-fold formula, big block buster and super-hero movies, which are also fine. That is also my favourite genre of film. May be that is what you want to see on 70 MM.
So it is a very interesting time for entertainment at this moment, and especially for a female actor like me, who demands parts I would be happy with.
You talked about demanding parts and demanding roles. You have no hesitation in playing darker roles whenever you had to. And I think you were probably one of the girls who have done it very well and you have done it repeatedly as well. I understand that in Quantico you have done this rebel. And on the other hand, in Baywatch you are going to play a villain and I think that role was originally written for a man. How does it feel? Is it more fun?
When Seth Gordon, the director, spoke to me about Victoria, he told me she is delectable, evil and fun. Can you imagine how many different people exist in this world? How many different personality traits? How many different characters can I play? So the way I see it is, whether you are positive or negative, there are so many different characters, that’s what I want to do.