Priyanka Chopra has lived most of her life in the public eye. And yet, she says there’s lots more to learn about her. Especially the things that happen “in-between interviews”. Her memoir Unfinished, which releases this week, will give us an insight into her inner world, struggles, achievements and mistakes. She speaks to Anupama Chopra about what to expect from her book.
Anupama Chopra: Can I just begin by telling you how much I love the title ‘Unfinished’, because all of us are finally just works in progress. But here’s what I’m really curious about. You have been famous for most of your adult life. Every move has been extensively and meticulously reported in the media. There are already three books about you out there. What will you reveal in this book that we don’t know?
Priyanka Chopra: Oh my gosh, that’s the joy that I’ve gotten out of writing this. There’s been so much written about me as if there’s a familiarity to my story but there really isn’t. The book wasn’t supposed to be the way it is, actually. It was supposed to be letters to my younger self. But COVID happened, and I happened to be at home. And I realised that I don’t have a lot of memories in my life. I spent so much time running that I didn’t have a lot of memories. So I wrote down timelines of the milestones I remembered and then I built around it. I didn’t realise that there was so much that I hadn’t dealt with in my life because I was just looking forward at the next thing. I’m not someone who rests on my laurels… You always have to hustle for what’s the next thing. I don’t want people to think that this is some tell-all, but this is my book, it’s my story, on my terms, in my voice. I call it the in-between interviews book.
AC: You said somewhere else that when you write a memoir like this, you are coming to terms with things. Can you speak a little more about that? What kind of things?
PC: It won’t make my memoir interesting, if I tell you that, right? (Laughs) But the way I see it, this book is… it’s not about “here is me” and “this is the way to become” or “who I became” or “these are my achievements”. It’s not that book. This book is my journey, my trials, my tribulations. I dissect my failures, I dissect my mistakes, my sorrow, my grief… and that’s not something I’ve ever done. We’ve had so many chats over all these years and we’ve discussed multiple things but I’ve been ferociously protective of allowing anyone to scratch below the surface. That part of me has been very much for my inner circle. But now on the other side of 35, with my feet firmly planted on the ground, I have a sense of self, a sense of confidence in my job. I have a sense of confidence in the woman I am, in the future I’m creating, in my ability to deliver and I think that made me confident enough to tackle a journey that was tumultuous. I’m hoping that people who read this will get to know a little bit more about me as a human being instead of the dinner table conversation or the Instagram story that I sometimes become. So that’s what it is, it’s not like some clarification or my story for the world. It’s just me reflecting on my own journey.
AC: You said that you’ve come to this place to be able to write this book because you felt more secure. Which made me wonder, what were you insecure about?
PC: Of swimming in uncharted territory. I was supposed to be an engineer or have an academic career. When I was very young I went to boarding school. I moved to America without my parents when I was 12 years old. It was my decision that I wanted to go to America to study high school. So uncharted territory has always been where and who I am. And even in my career for that matter, I never went to acting school, and no one in my family has ever acted. My dad used to do school plays and nautankis and all, but besides that it was all very uncharted. I learnt everything on the job. And the same way, when I came to America, the fact that I was the first person of South Asian descent to ever headline a TV show… it was completely uncharted territory.
Indians have always, at least for me when I first started here, put in a stereotypical box of what we should play. Here I was demanding mainstream roles, saying that I don’t want to be defined by my ethnicity. It’s taken me five years now to finally be doing a leading part in a mainstream romantic comedy, or my first dramatic part in a movie. It took breaking down doors, and that’s the insecurity. When you’re tying to go somewhere where there’s not an opportunity waiting for you.
AC: Do you feel that Hollywood has figured what to do with you as an actor?
PC: We’re getting there, I have to say. I recently got an offer for a very mainstream movie directly, not with an audition. It just came to me. And it has nothing to do with me being Indian, it’s just a romantic movie, great budget, great studio. It happened just recently. Mindy Kaling, Hasan Minhaj, Aziz Ansari, Riz Ahmed – these are people who have sat up and said “we are more than our ethnicities. We are actors, we are artists, and we want to prove that”. And I think it’s taken that collective, and I include myself in that, to be able to reach a point where there is representation. But, of course, we’re far away from where it should be. But there is a start.
AC: In all of these amazing first-look and second-look deals, and all the work you do as a global ambassador for UNICEF, where does Hindi cinema fit into your priorities?
PC: As a producer it fits into it in a big way. I really do want to do Hindi movies as long as people want to have me but the problem is that I’m still building my career in America so it’s taking a little bit of my energy and time to be able to focus on that. It took me ten years to focus in Bollywood to actually be in the place that I was. It requires building. You don’t just get anything overnight and I haven’t, definitely, got anything overnight. I want to straddle both, I want to be able to do a Hindi film next year. I’m very excited about one of them. We’re working on scheduling, it’s with my friends. But as a producer I’m definitely looking at doing a lot of work in India which may or may not star me but has some really cool envelope-pushing content in Hindi.