Q&A: Priyanka Chopra on films, music and stereotypes

LOS ANGELES Mon Aug 5, 2013 5:33pm IST

Cast member Priyanka Chopra attends a news conference to promote the movie ''Don - The King is back'' at the 62nd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 10, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Files

Cast member Priyanka Chopra attends a news conference to promote the movie ''Don - The King is back'' at the 62nd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Peter/Files

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With her music and film career expanding outside of Bollywood, Priyanka Chopra says she is now in a position to change common misconceptions that people may have about India.

The actress plays an eye-catching animated racing airplane in Disney's global adventure "Planes" and her step into Hollywood coincides with her foray into pop music.

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Chopra, 31, spoke to Reuters on Thursday. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: What drew you to take on the voice role of Ishani in Disney's animated film "Planes"?

A: "When Disney approached me for the movie, it was just a script and I've always wanted to be, well, every girl has always wanted to be a Disney princess, we all have our favorites so in my head I'm a Disney fairy, Tinkerbell, so I was really excited about the fact that Disney had come to me with this movie and when I read Ishani's part, I loved the fact that she had such a big graft in her character, she becomes a little bad then she's a little good, so I love that, it was really exciting to do an animation movie."

Q: How important was it to have an Indian character in this film?

A: "This is a very global movie, you have characters from all across the world and I think for kids, it's great to understand that there's so many different kinds of culture and people out there. I think it's a great message and I'm really happy that India was one of those parts which were that important to be a part of the movie."

Q: What drew you to make the transition from Bollywood to Hollywood?

A: "For me, it's really not a transition ... it's an expansion of my creativity, I mean that's all you want to do is to grow in life and for me I'm doing music, which is something I've never done before and if I do a movie, which I'm doing with 'Planes', it's something I've never done before, I'm just challenging myself more than ever, so I don't really see this as a transition."

Q: There have been a few A-list Bollywood actors who haven't succeeded in cracking Hollywood. What difficulties do you think they faced, and what difficulties have you faced in cracking Hollywood?

A: "There's a couple of things. One, there is a very big stereotype with Indian actors, and you get only Indian parts. But there is a stereotype that there's a certain accent and there's a certain vibe and how is that cool. I felt a lot of that and I really want to be able to change that, for people to be proud of their roots.

I know I went to school here and I know how much pressure I had to change myself and be a little more normal and acceptable and I think it's great to be who you are. I also think that's changing with so much globalization. You see so many people in so many jobs where ethnicities don't matter, and I think that that's a really great place in the world to be an actor and I'm happy about that."

Q: Have you had much support from other Bollywood or Hollywood stars?

A: "I've had some amazing friends and I've also had a lot of detractors who've said 'what are you doing,' so it's a battle, it's a constant battle. It is hard, and I guess when you put yourself out there and doing things and changing things and shaking them around, you're bound to be judged and you're bound to be criticized and applauded, so I hope that I give people more reasons to applaud me than criticize me."

Q: What kind of roles do you find yourself drawn to?

A: "I think parts that challenge me, in all the movies that I've done, I always end up doing something or the other which people turn around and said 'how did you do that?' And I enjoy that, I get bored really easily so I need something that keeps me engaged."

Q: How did the Miss World pageant prep you for showbiz?

A: "It didn't. I was 17 years old, I didn't know anything. I just went with my gut and I wanted to take a chance, I was in my teens and my parents supported me, and I was studying to be an engineer, and movies happened, my first movie did really well, and then I won all the awards, and more movies came, and I didn't know anything.

I've made so many mistakes along the way, but you just have to push yourself up again and that happens when you don't have anybody telling you or guiding you or saying this could be a better way to do it ... when you learning on your own, you're bound to make those mistakes. So I guess I was never at all, and I still am not (prepared)."

Q: How challenging is it to navigate your film choices while being respectful of Indian cultural traditions?

A: "I am who I am. I am desi (from India), and I am videshi (from outside India). I've been brought up in America, I've been brought up in India, and I think the amalgamation of that is what I want to be. I don't want to be too western or too Indian, or too here or there. I want my work to reflect that. It always has in my movies and I want my music to do that too."

Q: Are you able to balance that equally?

A: "I don't know if you can do it equally or not, but it's a chance you take. I just want to make something which I'm happy with and I'm proud of, and present it to the world. I'm a performer, that's what I do."

Q: There's a lot of buzz surrounding your upcoming role in the Mary Kom biopic. What drew you to the project?

A: "There's never been a female sports person and like hardly any movies are made on that, one, and second, Mary is a national icon. She's a five-time world champion, a mother of three kids, an Olympic medalist and she has an incredible story.

I think it was the idea of the story that really drew me to it, and the challenge of the fact that I have to learn a completely new sport and play a living, breathing person. So it was hugely challenging, it's probably the most difficult film I've ever done."

Q: What's the most surprising thing you've learned about Mary during your preparation?

A: "That she's such a girl. She's in one sense supposed to be this tough chick but she likes nail polish and chiffon and she's just a girl. I think that's amazing to play."

Q: You've worked with so many actors, do you have any favorites?

A: "I've never really had idols, but because I started working so young, I've imbibed a lot from people I've worked with. So I am a mix of anyone who that has touched my journey because I had to learn everything on the job.

I've been very fortunate to work with some of the most amazing actors in the Indian movie industry and I think they've been a huge part of who I am."

Q: Being in the public eye, you are subjected to a lot of tabloid and paparazzi attention. How do you handle that and how much do you feel you owe your fans and the public?

A: "That's a difficult question. It hurts, and people are so judgmental so soon, and without seeing things for what they really are, they make their mind up, and I think tabloid culture helps that, encourages it.

For me, I think people forget they're real people too and we might feel too. So that kind of hurts, I don't think I've gotten used to it yet. I don't think I ever will. Besides that, I think, I have chosen to be a public person so I do owe a certain amount of my life to people who have made me who I am.

So I keep my private life, it's very private to me and I'm very protective of it ferociously, I think I keep just a little bit for myself and the rest of it can be for the whole world.

Q: There is a lot of pressure for female stars to portray a certain body image and appearance? How do you handle that?

A: "I've realized one thing from being in show business since I was so young, that you can't please everyone. You just can't. There's no way everyone will always be happy with you so be who you are and let people decide whether they like you or not."

Q: You're delving into music now. How was it working with rappers Pitbull and will.i.am and how did your collaborations with them come about?

A: "My album is being produced by RedOne and he made this song and once we wrote this song and we had this space for a rapper, we knew we wanted one. It just sounded like a very Pitbull sound, so Red sent it to him and he loved it and laid down his lyrics and sent it back to us, and that's it. That's how the song happened. And he's been so supportive and really pushing and encouraging with this song."

Q: There seems to be a natural pairing of R&B and Hindi music, why do you think they work so well together?

A: "I think it's the beats, the beats just lend themselves to each other. But I think Hindi music can go with anything, it's just that kind of music."

Q: What musical genres are you exploring in your first album?

A: "My album is like me - eclectic in my taste. I like a little bit of everything, so my album has ballad, mid tempos, pop, a little rap, EDM, it has a little bit of everything, I've dabbled in everything, because it's so new to me. So it'll be a mix of my moods I think."

Q: Will you be collaborating with more singers?

A: "I can't speak about who I'm working with, we do have other collaborations on the album but it's too early to talk about it. But there are so many incredible people that my label has associated me with, it's going to be exciting."

Q: What's the biggest difference between working in the film industry and the music industry?

A: "They're two completely different mediums of creativity. So it's handling two careers right now, it's hard, hence my voice, my lack of sleep."

Q: What's your biggest hurdle that you've had to overcome?

A: "I think people know me as an actor, it's very difficult for them to accept the fact that I can sing. I get a lot of critique for that, 'why are you trying to sing, why are you singing?' So I think that is a challenge for me, I wish people could just see it as trying my hand at something new, everybody tries that.

People start to cook, people start to play a sport, so I started to sing. And if you don't like the song, that's fine, but thank you to all of those who have had so much support for 'Exotic.'"

Q: You're currently the featured artist for Thursday night's NFL TV show. How does that feel?

A: "It was bizarre when it happened last year and now that's happened again, I'm excited, I'm happy that there's certain acceptance for this song for two seasons, so it's cool I think. I hope I can keep doing things which are milestones like this."

Q: You sing in both Hindi and English on "Exotic." Will you be doing the same on the rest of the songs on your album?

A: "This song has Hindi and English, I'm not sure about the others, but there will definitely be influences from where I come from, but this is an English album, not a fusion album."

Q: You're a United Nations ambassador for children's rights. What drew you to the organization and the cause?

A: "When I was really young, my parents were both doctors and we used to go on this, we used to take the ambulance from the hospital and drive into the villages and my parents would go and a pharmacist would go and check kids and have patients come up to them.

And it was my job to count the medicines and give it to people and make little envelopes out of it, so when I became Miss World, I realized that because of who I was, I could, OK, maybe I wouldn't be able to change the world or do anything drastic, but people would at least listen to me.

And maybe they wouldn't do anything about it but they'd hear me. So when I started working with UNICEF, education for me is a really big deal especially for girl child and girl rights in India, so I took that on about eight years ago, and in the last couple of years, I've officially become ambassador, and I have a foundation too, the Priyanka Chopra Foundation for health and education where we treat people and raise money and stuff like that, it's just something I've been brought up with."

Q: As an artist and ambassador, what are the biggest misconceptions you've encountered about India, and what would you like to change?

A: "So many things. Really, so many things. We don't travel on elephants, there aren't any snake charmers on the side of the road, everybody doesn't talk like Apu from ‘The Simpsons,' I'd like people to see us for who we are.

The world is such an open place, we tolerate every religion and every culture, and I think it should be OK to be who you are. It was really hard for me when I went to school in America, and I don't want that to happen to any more kids or people who come from my part of the world. So if I can do something to change that perception, I'd be happy."

Q: Where would you like to see yourself in your career and personal life in the next few years?

A: "I never thought I'd be singing, so I feel like my life has its own plan and I just go wherever comes my way. I don't plan my life. Man proposes, God disposes."

(Editing by Tony Tharakan)

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