Priyanka Chopra Jonas can go from a Jonas Brother groupie to Karwa Chauth couture, that too in a span of a few hours. It shows that she is becoming increasingly comfortable straddling two worlds – and is now a transatlantic star. Every time she switches from Desi Girl to Videsi Bride, she adds some fans and disappoints some.
But is it possible that the best of all possible worlds is still not possible? That Priyanka is still too Indian for America—despite her attempts to fit in—and too American now for India?
Priyanka Chopra wants to be exotic – to both Indians and Americans.
In her new self-created role as India-US friendship ambassador, Priyanka Chopra appears a Hindu goddess or Sarah Palin (depending on which country you are from). She has 10 hands and is juggling dating app Bumble, Baywatch, her acting career and even a slightly dubious American accent.
Here we were, all excited about acquiring the fresh-faced Jonas as Trophy Husband #1 aka National Jiju, what we’ve got instead is Trophy Wife #1, blushing bride of a former Disney star, sister-in-law of Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner, and forever consumer of hot chicken wings on the Jimmy Fallon Show. She probably had to skip those when she fasted for Nick on Karwa Chauth this week. And he was very proud of his incredible ‘Hindu’ wife.
— PRIYANKA (@priyankachopra) October 11, 2019
So, she’s arrived, right? You can’t get more American than acquire a permanent gig on late night shows, the equivalent of the famous fake rivalry between Matt Damon and Jimmy Kimmel or Dave Letterman’s Top Ten lists.
It’s good to be celebrated at home for being a former Miss World, a National Award-winning actress, and a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind, whether it is on the 10-year age difference with her husband or answering a Pakistani critic who called her a hypocrite at a conference. But isn’t it even better to finally be a part of mainstream American culture, be photographed by US Weekly and keep your wide smile in place when you get asked by a succession of TV anchors when you’re planning to have a baby—because, of course, the natural consequence of marriage is motherhood? And we thought Indian television interviewers were banal.
Priyanka Chopra has packaged herself as everything PM Narendra Modi wants Indians to be abroad. She is the perfect NRI success story – someone at ease in both LA as Mumbai; someone who wears sindoor and chooda both in India and the US, and is also called the best dressed by US’ People Magazine.
Given that celebrity status itself is a performance in continuum, it may well be that we are seeing the evolution of a new kind of Indian-origin community, which is at home playing host to a screening of India’s Oscar entry to the Best Foreign Film category, Gully Boy, and turning up at the annual Met Gala in yet another meme-worthy outfit.
So, what happened to Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ all-conquering American gig, starting with a lead role in ABC’s action drama Quantico, segueing into a role in the remake of the iconic Baywatch with the world’s most successful star currently, The Rock, and landing an ethnically-agnostic role as a hyper-competitive rich b**** in Isn’t It Romantic?
When did it all become about being Mrs Jonas, answering questions from Tina Brown about what attracted her to Nick (his old soul, if you must know) and from Ellen DeGeneres about her grand wedding while downing tequila shots (yes, only 200 guests, thank you very much). The American accent firmly in place, all the while.
Which slips, of course, when she’s back in India, as she was recently to promote Shonali Bose’s The Sky is Pink.
Priyanka is always under scrutiny.
Author Shunali Khullar Shroff told ThePrint, “This is the same PeeCee whose Hollywood foray Indians were rejoicing over. And now, suddenly, we are grudging Priyanka Chopra her commitment to her celebrity and her success. Every move of hers is being examined closely and all sorts of narratives being spun around her marriage and career—it’s become a case of damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.”
Best of both worlds?
Priyanka Chopra is living the NRI dream – the desi achiever and trophy American wife.
“Her real life at the moment appears to be put across as a balancing act—working and travelling across Bollywood and Hollywood, and maintaining cultural and family ties across at least two continents as and when the role and time demands,” says Rajinder Dudrah, professor of Cultural Studies and Creative Industries, Birmingham City University. He believes she embodies the ”spirit, style and flexibility of the ‘desi girl’, not too dissimilar to her role of the same name in the 2008 film Dostana. Here, she was living in Miami as an NRI, had a demanding job in fashion, dressed and looked impeccable, and maintained a luxurious apartment in a rich neighbourhood. On top of this, she had to sort out her living-in and dating arrangement across three male characters in the film.”
There are still times when Priyanka kills it, whether she is endorsing Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju, the couple behind the Section 377 judgment or just hanging with long-time Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin in New York or collaborating with Mindy Kaling in Los Angeles, or engaging with Indra Nooyi at the Forbes Women’s summit, or even investing in the dating app Bumble.
She is making smart choices when it comes to the entertainment she is invested in, whether it is starring in a Netflix adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, to be directed by Ramin Bahrani, or the wedding comedy she is planning to co-produce with Kaling.
That’s Priyanka, as India knows her, unofficial brand ambassador, perfectly western on the outside and totally desi on the inside.
There’s the other Priyanka that India has yet to understand—the New Yorker who is perfectly at ease in her giggly, sporty avatar tailormade for late-night shows, the all-too-chic early morning candid coffee shots, the mother-and-daughter smoking hot couple by the beach (literally) and the Jonas Sisters dancing backstage at concerts—soon to be replaced, no doubt, by clips from The Voice, where Nick Jonas is all set to step in as a celebrity coach. It’s that Priyanka that will take some getting used to.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.