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Quantico, Baywatch, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Oscar 2016 presenter, hoardings on Times Square, American glossy covers, Time magazine 100 Most Influential People list. Birthday girl Priyanka Chopra (she turns 35 today) is a rare Bollywood star to have made a successful and trailblazing switch to Hollywood – that mythical kingdom where countless Hindi superstars have in the past tried their luck but failed. It’s no longer a secret that Bollywood is in awe of Hollywood, our more glamorous but distant cousin and Priyanka, America’s newest sweetheart, has cracked the game, making her a unique dual-resident star who commands a following on both side of the pond.
Ambitious, astute, competitive, goal-oriented and a go-getter, Priyanka has all the traits that are key to an Indian’s rise in the West. America is the land of diversity and dreams. It appreciates a good, well-played game and Priyanka is definitely getting more and more adept at her game. If there’s anything that defines her success in the West it’s the fact that she refuses to be boxed. For her, the American Dream was just another mountain left to conquer and just another peak to reach before you ask yourself, ‘Now, what’s next?’
When PC, as acronymed by the Indian press, decided to explore Hollywood it wasn’t as though she was going strong on her home ground. Though she had her Bajirao Mastanis and Dil Dhadakne Do to keep one foot in the Bollywood boat she was just as vulnerable what with all the new faces hitting Hindi cinema screens with alarming regularity as any other actress her age would be. Priyanka was pushing 30s and she knew it was time for radical rebranding and reinvention.
That reinvention arrived in the form of ABC’s Quantico, the American TV show that made her an instant star in the US, reinvigorated her stagnant Bollywood career and upped her social media profile. Reportedly, she picked Quantico out of a bag of 26 scripts her agents had offered her. In Quantico, the first such series with an Indian in the lead, she played FBI agent Alex Parrish who gets implicated in a deadly terror plot. Priyanka’s performance didn’t go unnoticed, especially in the US press who were, obviously, unaware of both her talent and her star profile in India. Some, like Dwayne Johnson, her Baywatch leading man, knew who they were dealing with from the beginning. “Before ever meeting Priyanka Chopra, I had heard her name coming out of Bollywood and was impressed: she was beautiful, talented, had made nearly 50 movies, earned multiple awards—a massive star,” Johnson told Time magazine. He added, “She has drive, ambition, self-respect, and she knows there’s no substitute for hard work. We always quote the saying “Wear your success like a T-shirt, not like a tuxedo,” and she really does—as big a star as she is, as global as she is, as beautiful as she is, there’s this interesting quality of relatability.”
Priyanka herself told Time magazine that she doesn’t like labels. “I want to have a legacy.” She wanted to break ethnic stereotype and was successful in doing so. For all her American success, Priyanka was no stranger to the Trump land. She studied and lived in the US as a high school student. She had earlier spoken of facing racism, of being a gawky teenager and of having always loved America.
Since Quantico took off, it has been an upward swing for Priyanka. In Baywatch, she wowed fans with her glamorous villainous act. The film was a disappointment but Priyanka, in her most “Bollywood” role in Hollywood yet, charmed the audiences. She has since dominated the American airwaves. One day, it’s Oscar red-carpet, the next a chat show appearance. Not a single day goes by without Priyanka’s hyperactive media outreach. Ever since her Hollywood debut, Indian newspapers have reported that she’s spending more time in the US than India while others insisted she has moved to America for the time being. Many recent reports, however, suggest that the star is currently in India to bring in her 35th birthday.
The question is, ‘what next for Priyanka Chopra?’ Her Hindi films are a mixed bag. If Mary Kom is a hit, the more recent Jai Gangaajal is definitely not. She’s a huge star on social media and her every move is watched and trolled. Her third Hollywood film titled Isn’t it Romantic co-starring Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine is up next. The actress has maintained that India is home but from the looks of it, Hollywood is where the Mary Kom star is betting her future on.
(Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai.)