Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra on topics close to her heart, in conversation with Rochelle Pinto.
Being a celebrity probably means you’re bombarded with requests to support causes. What drew you to Save the Children?
Child mortality is something that people don’t give much importance to. Kids are dying needlessly, when I heard the statistics, I was completely shocked.
Does the apathy stem from the fact that India’s population is spinning out of control?
It’s cruel to say that. A child that is born on this earth has the right to develop and grow. Because of religious factors and the community we live in, you need to make people more aware of prevention and health factors.
Recently, TV stars have lent themselves to contraception ads on TV. Do you support them?
I’m very pro-life, I do believe if you’re pregnant, there is a child that has to be born. Preventing it before it happens is the way out.
If that’s true, was it difficult to play a pregnant girl who wants to abort her child in Kaminey?
That character was conceived in a writer’s mind, I couldn’t let that affect me. I thought about being in that situation and I asked myself what I would do. It’s important to understand the value of safe sex, because with freedom, comes awareness.
So what’s your take on the government wanting to ban sex education in schools?
I really think kids should have sex education in schools. They find out everything anyway, so they’d much rather get the information from the right source.
What about the argument that it will encourage them to have more sex?
(Laughs) Seeing a woman give birth will put you off sex completely. Sex education doesn’t glorify the act, it talks about the good, bad and ugly sides of it. I’m just glad that I learnt about it in school.
So your parents didn’t tell you about the birds and the bees?
No, I learnt about it when I was studying in America. I don’t think I’d have been comfortable with learning about it from my parents.
Umm… You do know you were born because of what they…
(Laughs) I don’t want to know what happened. That’s a side of my parents I don’t want to see.
Do you think that your glamorous image might prevent people from taking you and your causes seriously?
People might think, ‘oh she’s talking crap’ but at least they’ll listen. If I choose to think that people don’t take me seriously because I’m an actor, then I’ll turn into some aggressive feminist which I’m not.
Don’t tell me you never feel like taking someone on just to prove a point.
There is a certain feeling of one-upmanship when people think I can’t take up an argument. When I see their surprise, it gives me a sense of victory. I choose to see myself as a thinking person, opinionated, but non-controversial.
Is that why we don’t hear you taking on too many issues?
There are some unnecessary controversies that I don’t feel the need to give a voice to. But with a genuine cause like Save the Children, they gave me a platform and I gave them a voice.
Is there any other cause that’s close to your heart?
I’ve always been associated with the education of the girl child. Indians believe that a woman is someone else’s burden. We need to educate mothers to make them better wives and homemakers so that they can raise their children better.
But didn’t you quit college to become a model and then an actress?
I started working when I was 17, though I tried to go back to college. I am financially independent now and have a great position, but I’ve always regretted it. I would ideally say people should complete their education because it’s important to have something to fall back on.
Considering many of your colleagues have taken to politics, can we expect you to be campaigning or maybe standing for elections in the future?
I’m not politically inclined or active, but I have my opinion as the youth of today and my own idea of what I want my leader to believe in.
So you wouldn’t campaign for a politician even if he promises to support your social causes?
No, no that’s a really unfair question to ask me. Don’t put these ideas in people’s heads. I’m in my 20s, I don’t think I can get involved. Maybe when I have a better understanding of the situation, right now I’m happy being the youth of the country.
Okay, so as one of the youth of the country, what were the issues you were concerned about in this election?
Without taking sides, one of the few things I would want addressed is the infrastructure of the city. Mumbai is my home and we pay so much tax that we deserve better traffic conditions.
What would you sacrifice to save a child?
I’d sacrifice anything except my family.
Including your shoe collection?
(Laughs) you make me sound so vain and shallow. These things are replaceable. My movies are more tangible to me than
my house, my car or my shoes; so I guess I’d sacrifice a great movie role.
Okay, let’s get specific. Which one?
I would have sacrificed Kaminey because that was the best role for me. I would hate it... But I’d do it.
You’ve developed a signature look, minis and high heels. Was that the plan?
Style has always been about comfort for me, so I like dresses that are a mix of elegance and fun. I love shoes, but I’m not into jewellery. I do experiment a lot in my films, the looks I had in What’s Your Rashee? and Kaminey are completely different from my own style. Though my character in Dostana was a lot like me.
What’s Priyanka like outside of the photo-ops?
I still throw on old clothes to go out for lunch with friends. I’m not very fond of make-up so my look is very scrubbed clean with my hair tied up. I can’t stand my hair getting on my face.
How long does it take to get dressed up for award functions?
About an hour and a half, though I have no patience to sit for hair and make-up.