Indian actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas talked about how she was warned away from doing female-centric films when working in Hindi cinema, as well as her ambitions to expand her portfolio in the U.S., in a conversation with fellow Indian actress Bhumi Pednekar at Mumbai Film Festival today.
In a relaxed master class that focused on the craft of acting, Chopra Jonas explained that she was advised not to take on one of her early films, Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion (2008), in which she starred as a small-town girl who becomes a super-model.
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“I signed on for the film right after Krrish, and was told that actresses only do female-oriented projects at the end of their careers so they can win a National Award,” said Chopra Jonas, who moved into acting after winning the Miss World beauty pageant in 2000. “Back then there were not many female-centric movies.”
She did indeed win Best Actress for Bhandarkar’s critically-acclaimed film at India’s prestigious National Awards in 2009. However, that was only the beginning, and not the end, of a busy career.
Later in the conversation, she talked about the responsibility of starring in female-oriented films and how she had learned to relax when those films didn’t perform well: “There’s a lot of pressure when you have a female-led film, because we have so few, so when they don’t do well you feel the collective failure on behalf of all women.”
“I used to feel like I’ve taken women a few steps back, I’ve let women-kind down, because there are so few of us that get the opportunity to do this,” she continued. “But I’ve learned to pivot my mind around that – it’s not personal. When a movie works, it works because it has something to say. And if it doesn’t work, it didn’t say what it needed to say.”
While careful not to mention any upcoming U.S. projects due to the on-going SAG-AFTRA strike, Chopra Jonas also said she feels she still has much more to achieve in her work in the West.
“I spent about 12-13 years working in Hindi cinema, and about six to eight years working in the U.S., so there’s still a lot to do, because the variety of work I’ve done in my Indian portfolio, I haven’t achieved in America,” said Chopra Jonas, whose English-language credits includes series such as Quantico and Citadel and Netflix original film The White Tiger.
“I’m hoping that in the next few years, when hopefully the strike had come to a place where we can start having these conversations again, I can find something to really sink my teeth into and just do the same range of work that I did in Hindi cinema.”
She also talked about how she learned her craft from directors and watching everything that happened on sets in the early days of her career, down to small details like where the lighting crew were placing the lights: “I knew nothing when I did [Raj Kanwar’s] Andaaz, but Raj was a very funny Punjabi guy who taught me how to use humour. Moving on to Aitraaz [directed by Abbas-Mastan] those guys taught me how to curb my nerves.
“Krrish [directed by Rakesh Roshan] taught me the big commercial nature of movies and how to navigate sitting for 12-hour days when you only do four shots.”
She added that she struggled in those early days and it was only after Krrish, a big-budget superhero movie starring Hrithik Roshan that became a huge hit, that she could pick and choose which roles to sign on for.
“After Aitraaz and Krrish, I had done work which gave me a solid foundation. I got critical acclaim and had people telling me ‘I know my job’, even though I didn’t know that I knew my job. That is when I started seeking work that would challenge me.”
Chopra Jonas also serves as chairperson of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, which is taking place October 27-November 5 at the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre and other venues across Mumbai.
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