The outrage over the latest Quantico episode, which explores ‘Indian terror’, forgets the fact that in the show, Chopra is American protecting US interests
Warning: spoilers ahead.
The latest episode of the show Quantico, starring Priyanka Chopra in its leading role, has hit a raw nerve with many Indians because it has an “Indian nationalist” (read: Hindu) as the antagonist.
In this episode, Chopra’s character, FBI agent Alex Parrish, uncovers a plot to launch a nuclear attack on American soil. She and her team discover that it was to take place during an India-Pakistan summit, over the Kashmir issue, in New York. They initially suspect a Pakistani student of masterminding it but Parrish finds a rudraaksh on one of the terrorists, leading her to conclude that the terror attack was actually planned by Indian nationalists to frame Pakistan.
Predictably, the episode did not go down well. Many Indians on Twitter were outraged that a show with an Indian actress in it could paint a Hindu in bad light. The episode is also apparently “pro-Pakistan” because for once, the bad guy isn’t a Muslim from Pakistan.
Unfortunately, Priyanka Chopra is facing the brunt of the blow. How could she, an Indian Hindu actress, be in an episode that explores the possibility of Hindu terrorism? Doesn’t she know that only Muslims can be terrorists?
But Priyanka Chopra never signed on to be an Indian ambassador abroad. She’s just a South Asian actress trying to make it in Western film and television. She hasn’t shied away from her Indian nationality but neither has she overtly re-affirmed her Indianness since she moved to New York. She’s a working professional who is known in Bollywood for taking on different kinds of roles, and I think she’s doing her best not to be pigeonholed into the token brown woman role in Hollywood.
And it might just be working. She hangs out with American actors and actresses, she may or may not be dating a Jonas brother, and she very deliberately wore Western clothes to her friend Meghan Markle’s wedding.
She’s the first South Asian to be in a leading role in an American TV show. But even in this show, she’s not Indian. She’s American, and her allegiance is very clearly to the United States of America. She literally works to protect American national interests, both as an FBI and a CIA agent. In fact, the role of Alex Parrish was never intended to be “exotic”; she was written to be a white woman. So why does she have to be beholden to Indian nationalism?
But this isn’t the first time that the show has insinuated that an Indian can be a terrorist. Chopra’s character on the show is constantly framed and under suspicion because of her skin colour, and because of her Indian heritage. Alex Parrish herself isn’t trusted because she comes from a country that is well-versed in terrorism. Furthermore, Quantico has played dangerously with stereotypes in past episodes: the first season has hijab-clad women who are double agents. Why didn’t that upset Indian nationalists?
The default mode for most Indians now is that if you’re critical of India, the only logical conclusion is that you’re a fan of Pakistan. This reductive thought process kills any kind of healthy debate, which should be happening in a democracy.
Several complaints on Twitter are aimed at how this particular Quantico episode’s storyline is “unbelievable”. But this is a show that begins with Chopra’s character being accused of treason. Her character is fired from the FBI, hired by the CIA, part of a joint FBI-CIA task force, and then re-hired by the FBI. There are hostage crises, bomb blasts, endless conspiracies and of course, scandalous romance and intrigue.
Like any other show, Quantico has convoluted plotlines and endless drama. Portraying an Indian nationalist who hates Pakistan so much he wants to frame it for a terrorist attack is lower down than some of the other plot points, on the “believe-it-or-not” scale.
The argument that Chopra should not have acted in an episode that offends Hindutva pride also falls flat, because at the end of the day she is the lead actress on a show that has truly helped to cement her place in American pop culture. Quantico has been declining in popularity, and last month its production company, ABC Studios, cancelled it. It makes sense that the show’s writers wanted it to be as controversial as possible so that it could have higher viewership, and it makes sense that Chopra gets as much screen-time while she still can.