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Bareily to America was a shock: Priyanka

In a tête-à-tête with the ever-so-gorgeous Priyanka Chopra as she speaks on being a geek, handling fame and failure, relationships and a lot more...

entertainment Updated: May 11, 2010 18:58 IST

Apparently, you were paid Rs 6 crore for Pyaar Impossible.
(Laughs) I can’t tell you what I was paid, but Uday (Chopra) still has to pay me the rest of my remuneration.

Afraid of the Tax Man?
No, but I don’t discuss my fee.

Seven years and 27 films later, your salary has grown and lifestyle improved. Was that something you always aimed for?
When I won the Miss India title and then Miss World, followed it with films, my lifestyle had to go through a change. It’s a high pressure, zero-life-job. My job takes a lot from me. Before becoming an actress, even I would think that actors have a glamorous lifestyle, money and cars. After I became one, I began to respect people who’re professional and committed. I can’t afford to wake up with a bad mood. I can’t take a day off when I’m unwell because 150 people won’t get paid.

Everyone aims for money but is there an asset that you wanted and got at an early age?
I’ve never been materialistic. Miss India happened by chance because my mum sent my pictures. I was 17 when I won the title. I didn’t know what it meant but it changed my world. Films came my way when I was in Jai Hind College, at 18.

What separates you from actresses with other backgrounds?
Upbringing and a sense of worldly-wiseness. It comes from the defense atmosphere because we travel so much. We’re a lot more accommodating. We can fit into anything because of the way we’ve been brought up. We’re more forthcoming.

You grew up in Rapid, Newton, Bareily and Jamshedpur, small town America and small town India!
It’s bizarre. I was born in Jamshedpur. My parents were completing their medical specialisation then. I moved with them from Pune to Lucknow, Ladakh, Bareily and then Delhi. I was in class eight. I visited my aunt in the US for a holiday. I made a trip to my cousin’s school. I was excited. The chancellors were doing IQ tests. I took up a few. A week later my aunt got a call from the school. They offered me to study and graduate from there. I stayed back with my aunt in Rapid and then moved to my uncle’s house in Newton. I studied in New York also but not much. And then back to Bareily.

That must have been a shocker?
Of course. Bareily to America was anyway a shock. I had barely settled there and it was time to come back. I was homesick. I wanted to complete my class 12 in India. I was a bit overconfident since I had done well there. Here, my days went attending tuitions. I wanted to take a year off. That’s when Miss India happened. Also, I was a geek in school. When you’re 13 in India, you’re a kid. In America, you’re not. You’re treated like a grown up. I was enamoured by their culture. Schooling in America fine-tuned me. I have the best of both worlds.

Did you take acting seriously at the outset?
Four years ago, I only did what I was told. I’d follow my director’s instructions to the T. I didn’t know what a character graph is. I discovered that during Bluff Master. I worked on my characters. Fashion, Dostana and Kaminey helped me understand that there’s more to the characters than just lines. Working with top-of-the-line filmmakers and actors helps.

What was your experience on your first film, Tamilian, like?
I sleepwalked through it. I didn’t know the language.

Actresses have their mothers accompanying them to the sets. Why?
They’re protective. I’m grateful that my mum was always with me. It’s only for the last two-three years that I’m on my own. My father allowed me to go for Miss India on a condition that my mum accompanies me.

No drugs, nothing?
Nope. But it could have happened. If you enjoy what you do, you don’t need to go into addiction. I’ve not had the time to introspect. It’s a high when you’re complimented for your work. I’ve learnt my craft stumbling, falling and getting my knees scraped.

You started as the second lead in your first Hindi film. You don’t belong to any camp. Aren’t you an underdog?
I’m not the underdog really. I prefer my work speaking for me. If someone said that I was terrible as an artiste, it will break my heart. Till then, it doesn’t matter if I’m an underdog and I don’t belong to a camp.

In a sexist industry, you’ve come a long way.
I have been a destiny’s child but I faced failure at every step and wanted to succeed more every time. Miss India was my opportunity and I made the best of it. I worked hard for it.

What training did you do for the Miss World contest?
Etiquette, speech classes, general knowledge — everything that makes you worldly-wise.

Any advice for the next Miss Indias?
Few make it in Bollywood. If you don’t make it big, it’s no big deal. Maybe it’s easier for me to say because I succeeded. I was Miss World when I did second lead roles. Others had a better start. Breaking in was difficult. It wasn’t a do or die situation for me, thankfully. If films didn’t happen, I had a back-up plan.

But you had hiccups when your films didn’t take off, like the one by K C Bokadia with Govinda?
K C Bokadia’s film was ready. Several didn’t start. But I took them as personal failures. I gave myself a year before I packed up. I feel there’s great pressure on star kids to perform. They have a huge platform to make their debut. They’re highly talked about. But when they fail, they fall bad. You survive if you’re good.

Only Abhishek Bachchan got many chances.
He’s a Bachchan and also very good. He’s proved it. I loved him in Bunty Aur Babli. You can’t take that away from him. For people like Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Sushmita Sen or me, who don’t have a film background, it’s got to do with hard work and what we make of opportunities we get.

Is it difficult to trust in a relationship?
I trust easily. And I believe it would be his loss if he didn’t trust me. I would give a person as much as I would want.

Usually, even if you’re the best-selling actress, you need to be paired with a top-selling actor to sell the film. Does it bother you?
Initially, it did and Fashion changed that. I was worried because the film was running on my shoulders. And it had an A certificate. Fashion opened well. That made me feel successful. I guess the male-dominated society is changing. There was tremendous pressure on me in Fashion than on Arjan Bajwa. I’m doing Don 2. Shah Rukh’s going to be under pressure again. I feel I’m discovering the industry as they are discovering me.

Gossip seems to upset you.
Yes, I get upset because I’m not used to baseless rumours. I respect journalism but when I see fabricated stories, I ring up the concerned persons. People forget that celebrities are someone’s children, sisters, brothers, girlfriends and boyfriends. I will be public about my relationships when there’s something substantial. I don’t believe in public display of affection.

Do you miss being a geek?
I’m still one. I’m more in bookstores more than in clothes stores: I’m into gadgets and DVDs more than bags. I’m browsing the Internet and watching movies at home. A friend calls me a geek’s fantasy.

You take your career more seriously now and in a more organised way.
Being professional is the way to be. I hate it when people wait for me, when I’ve to wait for answers. I would much rather someone answers on my behalf because I’m not a great multi-tasker.

You won the Best Villain Award for Aitraaz, quite Shah Rukh Khan’ish.
I’m glad to be following his footsteps. I’ve been a Shah Rukh fan since I was young. Chamatkar is one of my favourite films. I was nine when I saw it.

He was in his late 30s when you romanced him on screen. Feels odd?
But those eyes, anytime. (Laughs) He was also my judge at Miss India. He’s a surreal part of my career. My first commercial and world tour was with him. I’ve always respected him for the man he is. Self-made, intelligent and someone who knows how to conduct himself.

Did you pick anything from anyone you worked with?
Lots. I can be passed off as a compilation. My blue stone came from Amitabh Bachchan. My second neelam is still to come. My mother told me to wear these when I was unwell.

Did you have to lobby to make it big in Bollywood?
People have come to me with roles. When Madhur (Bhandarkar) came to me with Fashion, I refused the role. I wasn’t confident enough. He believed in me. Vishal (Bharadwaj) sir convinced me that Sweety from Kaminey is me. Once Rakesh sir (Roshan) told me that he saw me at a funeral and cast me for Krissh.

Did you ever feel lost?
No. I become a piece of furniture in my director’s office because no one has the kind of vision a director has. But I’m always nervous before going to work even now. I feel sick before the first shot of the day. Most of my directors understand and give me space.

Do you feed off people when you play characters?
I observe people a lot and add their traits to my characters. Even Sweety in Kaminey was based on someone I knew.

Can you make friends outside the fraternity easily?
People outside the industry are often starstruck. But I’ve maintained friendships from school days. One of my oldest best friends is from my fourth standard class. She’s in Delhi, married and with a baby. I meet her when I go to Delhi. My friends will be life-long relationships.

Is it difficult to be in a relationship as an actress?
No. When you’re an actor, people know that it would require travelling. But if you want to make time, you will. I don’t think that’s a big deal.

But you can’t do the usual things that people do.
I go out for movies. I do everything I want to do.

What was that Ashutosh Gowariker episode at an award ceremony?

He said ‘I love you Priyanka, but how could you win when Ash is nominated? Ashu sir and I were working on What’s Your Raashee? at that time. I think much was made out of it than what it really was.

Can you handle failure?
You fail just as elegantly as you succeed. Failure is a part of success. It’s bound to happen. But I can’t give a perfect shot to it even today.

Was it easy to handle fame?
People were being nice to me. It was bizarre. The Miss World contest scared me. They would all have hated me if I didn’t win. My mum once again came to my rescue and calmed me.

Wouldn’t it be strange for you when all the eyes aren’t on you?
It happens but it would be weird if it happened in India. I’m sure it will come. That’s the reality I live with.

Do you agree this industry is full of sleazoids?
From an outsider’s perspective, there are three levels. One is of people who are extremely sleazy, then those who know people but are shady. And then there are the classy people. Unfortunately, when you’re staring out, you meet shady and sleazy people more because they are accessible. I had my fears but nothing really happened. But I had sleazy experiences when filmmakers would look at me as an object and make demeaning and insulting remarks. I kept my dignity and let that pass.

Did you lose roles to actresses probably because they slept their way into projects?
I don’t know if that is how I lost roles. But it always favoured me and I’m proud of it.

(Compiled by Rachana Dubey and Hiren Kotwani)