In February 2015, when Priyanka Chopra signed on as the lead of ABC thriller series Quantico, she was at the peak of her career back home. A few months ago, she had starred in the critically and commercially-successful Mary Kom and the coming months would see the release of two more hits–Dil Dhadakne Do and Bajirao Mastani. Despite this, Priyanka chose to virtually pack her bags from Mumbai in 2016 and head to Hollywood, a move many criticized. After all, many Indian actors had tried and almost all had failed. But Priyanka didn’t. She not only succeeded in carving a niche for herself in Hollywood but has been increasingly strengthening her presence as India’s first truly global star. Also read: Joe Russo shares details about Priyanka Chopra’s Citadel
On Monday, Priyanka turns 40. In any other time, this would have meant the beginning of the end of an Indian heroine’s career. But one look at Priyanka’s upcoming projects indicates she may just be beginning. She is the lead in Amazon Prime Video’s The ambitious sci-fi series Citadel and also a mainstream romantic drama in It’s All Coming Back to Me. These are no bit parts, as some of her previous roles have been. And these are no small productions either. So how did Priyanka get here in just seven years? To understand that, we’ll first have to look at the landscape Indian actors dealt with in Hollywood.
Other than Priyanka, Indian actors in the West can largely be clubbed in two categories–stars who did occasional cameos or tried to break into the scene as leads, and character actors who were often seen but hardly ever in lead roles. Examples of the former include Amitabh Bachchan (The Great Gatsby), Rajinikanth (Bloodstone), or Dhanush (The Gray Man). And there is no dearth of examples of the latter, from Om Puri and Amrish Puri to Naseeruddin Shah and Kabir Bedi. Two actors who did get sustained mainstream recognition in Hollywood were Aishwarya Rai and Irrfan Khan. But Priyanka has gone ahead of either of them.
Aishwarya’s Hollywood career began with a crossover film in Bride and Prejudice and her biggest role was the antagonist in Pink Panther 2. Not entirely unsuccessful but nothing to write home about. Priyanka has already surpassed her senior in more ways than one. For one, Aishwarya never worked in anything of the scale of The Matrix Resurrections or Citadel. And she was also never the face of a mainstream title like Quantico. Irrfan, of course, was able to achieve the first one, more often than Priyanka. He was in the Jurassic series, the Amazing Spider-Man, and even in a more significant role in Life of Pi. But where Priyanka moves ahead of even Irrfan’s stellar career in the West is Citadel.
For the uninitiated, Citadel is an expansive and huge sci-fi show being made by Amazon Prime Video, with a per-episode budget bigger than even Game of Thrones. And Thrones’ Robb Stark Richard Madden is co-starring in it with Priyanka. It’s truly a global show and she is the face of it. No Indian actor has ever worked in such a big project, playing such a big role. In terms of global recognizability and work, she is clearly the first Indian global star.
And Priyanka must be applauded for the path she took here. It’s easy for character actors to work in Hollywood. They essentially play the same roles there, just in bigger films. But it’s different for stars. Indian stars are wary of playing second fiddle to international actors in the West while they lord over here. Priyanka had no such qualms and that is what paved the way for her to reach where she is now–when she doesn’t have to play second fiddle, when the makers of The Matrix Resurrections bill her as a star even though she has a 10-minute role. That’s simply because Priyanka Chopra sells today.
Before her, many had been presented the opportunity to cross over. Dilip Kumar famously rejected a supporting role in Lawrence of Arabia that went on to make Omar Sharif a known name in the West. Reports suggest Amitabh Bachchan could not be persuaded to work in Passage to India as his fee was too high then. More recently, Ajay Devgn opted not to spend a year in the US for a supporting role in The Expendables and Deepika Padukone chose to focus on Happy New Year instead of signing Fast and Furious 7. All these actors made safe choices. They were at the respective peaks of their careers when a major Hollywood film came to them but they remained in Bollywood. Also read: Priyanka Chopra asked to choose between Bollywood and Hollywood. Watch her response
Priyanka, on the other hand, took a bigger risk when she started her journey with a network television show and then as a baddie in Baywatch. It’s her risk-taking ability that separates her from the other Indian actors before. Many argue that roles were drying up back home and that is why she went to Hollywood. Whatever be the reason, Priyanka succeeded because she tried. She left her safety nest, something many other Indian stars have been hesitant to do. And it’s high time we give her the respect she deserves for this amazing journey.