A little self-help goes a long way on the road to success, counselled Priyanka Chopra to a house full of mostly-young audience during the Penguin Annual Lecture at the Siri Fort Auditorium in Delhi on Tuesday. Speaking on “Breaking The Glass Ceiling: Chasing a dream”, the National Award-winning actor-producer told guests that her secret pick-me-up mantra through her long career has been the triple F-word: to be “fierce, fearless and flawed”.
“I want to tell you a little secret. I am not very fond of this phrase, ‘breaking the glass ceiling’. Why does it annoy me? Because it takes the context of everything that I have done, all my achievements, all my hard work, and puts it in into a box. As if my ambition was that I want to find a glass ceiling and break it… All I wanted was to chase my dreams… I wanted to become the best version of me that I could be,” said the actor who was featured in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world last year.
Chopra’s brief speech – “PC’s 12 rules of becoming the best version of yourself” – could well have been every motivational writer’s favourite pitch: love yourself (Because “there’s only one you”), be ambitious (“Never live up to anyone else’s benchmarks”), learn from one’s failures (“Fail, fail, fail again and then rise like a phoenix”) and always remember where you came from, among others. And like, every successful motivational speaker’s favourite reward, the packed house responded with thunderous applause.
The lecture was followed by an interactive session with NDTV 24X7 anchor Sonia Singh, during the course of which the actor spoke of the crucial choices that she made to straddle the entertainment industry in India and the US, the existence of racism across the world and why patriarchy is deep-rooted in workplaces everywhere. Speaking in the context of Hollywood actors coming out against Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein’s continual sexual harassment, Chopra said her experience in India has been limited to “abuse of power”. “I am very fierce. People are a little bit scared of me… (But) Yes, I have had situations when I have been thrown out of films because someone else was recommended; A girlfriend (of the hero or the director) was recommended after I was signed for a movie… I couldn’t do anything about it. I was removed last minute from many such situations because I never catered to the whims and fancies of powerful men,” said Chopra, one of the world’s highest paid actors, according to a recent Forbes magazine report.
On being asked about her stand on the controversy over director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s yet-to-be-released film, Padmavati, Chopra said she had expressed her solidarity with Bhansali and the lead of the film, Deepika Padukone, privately, but was loathe to take a public stance on it. “What can an actor or a filmmaker do to change what’s happening in the country? They are as much a part of the civil society as us. I am not at fault. I can have an opinion but I cannot be pushed to give it publicly,” she told Singh.
This was the 11th edition of the publishing house’s coveted annual lecture. Previous speakers include Thomas L Friedman, the Dalai Lama, former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam, actor Amitabh Bachchan, writers Dan Brown, Ruskin Bond and Jeff Kinney. One of India’s most successful actors, Chopra, is, in fact, the first woman speaker at the lecture series.
Her selection, however, invited a lot of criticism, especially on social media. In a series of tweets ahead of Tuesday’s lecture, feminist publishing house, Zubaan, wrote: “If Penguin India needs ideas for #womeninpublishing to spearhead their next annual lecture, we can definitely help out there”, before going on to suggest names of women writers, critics, academics and publishers. “Our aim isn’t to be casting doubts on PC’s “eruditeness” or calibre as a speaker. But if you are a publishing house picking a woman for the first time for your lecture series, maybe consider a woman who’s a writer/author,” it later added.