There are two advantages of hailing from the same town as a global icon the world worships. First, you can always tie a correlation to them in context to your backgrounds and find reason to gloat. And second, perhaps the better part, is that you always live with a push to dream big, aspire towards the benchmark that your idol has shown is possible for anyone – even a girl from a small town. This is why Priyanka Chopra’s successes have always had a direct association with my personal pride. She’s one of the biggest superstars to have come out of our town, Jamshedpur, making her way through beauty pageant crowns, thundering success in Bollywood, and then onto world domination as one of the most celebrated names of our time.

At only 38, she has numerous accolades to her name, which may be hard to limit to a single article, but which cover a wide variety of bases. She has been named on the prestigious lists of TIME and Forbes among the 100 most influential people/women in the world. On the home-ground, she has been honoured with a National Award and the Padma Shri. Aside from being a proficient actor and producer, Chopra is one of the most recognised celebrities dedicated to humanitarian issues as a UNICEF ambassador. She has also been vocal about women’s rights, gender pay disparity, child rights, and the environment. Her latest collaboration on a project to boost “diverse storytellers” including women and people of colour, perhaps is a testament to all that she stands for.

Hers is a journey that can be measured like no other, which is why it is worth looking back on Priyanka Chopra – the actor, the producer, and of course, the woman.

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A Small Town Girl With Big Dreams

Chopra was born in Jamshedpur, Bihar to Indian Army doctor parents, who relocated to several states across the country during her childhood owing to their profession. A big cultural shift happened when Chopra shifted to the US at age 13 to pursue her education. She has been vocal about the racism she faced when abroad, owing to her skin colour and looks. “I was called ‘Brownie’, ‘Curry’, [told to] ‘go back on the elephant you came on’,” she said. Today, she is identified as someone who feels deeply about the issue, and openly opposes racism. “I do want to create a world for my future kids where they don’t have to think about diversity, where they’re not talking about it because it’s normal,” she said in an interview.

In 2000, she gained global recognition upon being crowned Miss World. She has admitted that her entry into the world of beauty pageants wasn’t a wholly conscious choice – her mother had, unbeknownst to her, enrolled her for them. But as fate would have it, that was essential in first turning Chopra into a household name in India.

There on, Chopra was thrust into the national limelight, standing on the unknowing brink of what was gearing up to be among the most successful careers a film actor had ever seen in Hindi cinema.

New Horizons Of Success In Hindi Cinema

Contrary to popular belief, Chopra’s didn’t make her film debut in Bollywood. In 2002, she first appeared in Tamil film Thamizhan, and then in 2003 went on to star in The Hero: Love Story of a Spy, winning a Filmfare award with her first performance itself.

Through alternating periods of lull and highs, Chopra emerged as one of the top actresses of the Hindi film industry, most notably featuring as the strong female lead in varying contexts, from the uber-hip to divergent, experimental roles. Which is perhaps the one thing that has carved Chopra’s position in films over the years, allowing no one to match her success. She has the chops to play a chic Ayesha Mehra in Dil Dhadakne Do with the same charm that she can an endearing, autistic Jhilmil in Barfi!

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Chopra has never boxed herself to a single genre, having found a stable footing across the wide range of black comedy, action thrillers, biopics, and historical dramas, alongside good ol’ Hindi romcoms.

Between 2012 and 2013, Chopra released two songs, In My City and Exotic, both in collaboration with renowned American singers. While the music was received to mixed reactions, audiences were introduced to yet another facet of Chopra’s talents.

Style, Philanthropy, And Women’s Rights

Her range extends to not just her acting, but even her style, which has propelled Chopra into becoming an enduring symbol of the fashion world. Expounding upon her versatility, designers Falguni and Shane Peacock have said, “She is comfortable in her own skin and looks ravishing in whatever she wears, be it a bikini, short or long dress or even a sari.”

In what was called a “bold” move, Chopra had appeared in a meeting in 2017 with PM Modi wearing a casual knee-length dress. She was slammed and trolled endlessly for donning an “indecent” attire exposing her legs in front of the national leader. Chopra had responded with dignity and biting humour, by posting a picture on Instagram with her mother, both of them dressed in skirts with ample skin visible – a befitting reply.

She has been associated with UNICEF since 2006, as a peace and goodwill ambassador. A lot of her work has been dedicated towards girls and women, through campaigns like ‘Girl Up’ and ‘Deepshikha’. She has been ceaselessly philanthropic through her own enterprise, The Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education, which focuses on development for children, especially girls. In 2012, she launched the ‘Save Girl Child’ campaign, raising her voice against female foeticide.

On social media, every week, Chopra makes it a point to flag a few empowering stories about women, achievers, activists, and children – giving them the spotlight they deserve.

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Responding To Trolls Like A BOSS

Chopra’s American success came riding on the back of Baywatch and Quantico, acting ventures that prompted Bollywood’s beloved ‘PeeCee’ to temporarily shift base to the US, from where she flitted to India and back. Post her high-profile celebrity wedding in 2018 to singer Nick Jonas of the American band Jonas Brothers, she has made Los Angeles her home and Chopra-Jonas her surname.

This is, however, one checkpoint that I will forever begrudge Chopra for. Growing up in the 2000s with the pop era of the Jonas Brothers at its peak, it was a top priority on my bucket list to get married to one of them when I grew up – a goal I reinforced through posters on my wall, JB music albums, and trivia secrets in lock-and-key diaries. But perhaps another Jamshedpur girl was fated to fit the designs of this dream.

When she did, white elitism frowned upon her, awaking that old racism Chopra had faced as an Indian in America during childhood. Thinktanks and media outlets released opinions about how she was an opportunist marrying a white man for a visa, a cougar with a blasphemous age difference with her husband, a “global scam artist” one publication called her. But Chopra, unaffected as she has always proven to be to trolling, had responded with easy coolness: “I don’t even want to react or comment. It’s not even in my stratosphere. I’m in a happy place at this moment. These kinds of random things can’t disturb it.”

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Venturing Into Cross-Cultural Productions

Chopra’s wildly wholesome journey has culminated these past few years in her production ventures through her label Purple Pebble Pictures established in 2015. PPP’s Hindi production, The Sky Is Pink, was a 2019 biography on a young girl whose days on earth are limited. In more ways than one, the film was helmed by and centred around women, promoting lesser explored opportunities in Hindi cinema. Chopra’s latest English production, Evil Eye, set to premiere on OTT this October, is likewise, another female-centred project, tracing the space of a mother-daughter relationship. As emotionally charged as Chopra’s film productions appear, they are also mindful of matching up to the good cinematic standards.

The actor has sought out meaningful projects under her production banner, giving voice to low-budget ventures and issues accorded less prominent in mainstream films. PPP has backed films across a multitude of languages – Nepali, Marathi, Punjabi, Bhojpuri, and Assamese. Chopra’s latest collaboration with ViacomCBS Entertainment & Youth Group to establish a Directors programme for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) and women filmmakers, in which these “diverse storytellers” will be given a chance to make 50 films, is yet another display of her cross-cultural interests.

Chopra’s memoir Unfinished is scheduled to release in 2020 as well, and the world may look forward to hearing her story as a self-made woman in her own, bared words. But even without a book, a look at Chopra’s journey is telling of her blooming transformation from a great actor to a great producer – from playing aspirational women characters in films to now cheering other such characters on from behind the curtains as a producer. Chopra’s wings are spread, and she has taken a big, graceful, empowering plunge that not many have dared to take. And she is soaring.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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