Priyanka Chopra Jonas is a singular sensation. Armed with beauty, talent, chutzpah and breathtaking ambition, she has forged a global career. Years ago, in an interview, I had asked her what the ultimate goal was and she replied, without blinking an eyelid, ‘World domination.’ Everything about Priyanka is outsize, like the 20-foot-long train on the Ralph Lauren trench gown she wore to the Met Gala in 2017. She doesn’t have a timid bone in her body. And she’s not apologetic about wanting to be bigger, shinier, better. Which is why I am an ardent admirer. But it’s also why her memoir Unfinished feels uncharacteristically subdued.
Priyanka was thrust into the public eye as a teenager when she was crowned Miss India in 2000 and then went on to win Miss World. She has spent her entire adult life navigating celebrity. Every move she makes has been assiduously covered by the press – first Indian and later international. Three books have already been written about her astounding journey. She also has a digital footprint of 87 million plus followers between Twitter and Instagram, where she gives us regular peeks into her glittery, continent-hopping life. The memoir had to dig deeper than all of this.
It does but not nearly enough. The strength of the book is that it is Priyanka’s voice – complete with internet acronyms and italicised expressions. In the acknowledgements, she has thanked a collaborator, Nan Satter, but when you read Unfinished, you can almost hear Priyanka speaking. What I enjoyed most was her detailing of the memories of her parents and her relationship with them – the Old Spice perfume that her father wore and the chiffon saris her mother loved. There are stories of summer holidays, sibling rivalry and accidents – as a child, she put a beetle in her father’s ear because she wanted his attention. He had to be rushed to the hospital. Another time, she decided to imitate his shaving ritual and ended up with eight stitches on her chin.
Priyanka also probes with honesty into feelings of abandonment when she was first sent to a boarding school in third grade, sleeping with vomit in her bed because she didn’t want to get into trouble. She talks about the bullying she dealt with as a teenager in high school in Massachusetts and how it chipped away at her self-confidence; the hurt she felt when people commented on her skin colour – an uncle called her kaali; the trauma after a botched polypectomy, which was followed by several corrective nose surgeries; how she traversed the Bollywood boys’ club and later failed as a pop artist in America. She delves deep into the void her father’s death left and handles with elegance affairs of the heart. She says that her romantic relationships were with “public people” and she doesn’t see the need to name names because this conversation is not about them. Fair enough.
But what I missed was a sense of her as an actor. Priyanka has 77 credits on IMDB as an actor but there is little insight in the memoir about how an untrained beauty queen became a National Award-winning performer. What is her process? How does she transform into characters like Pinky Madam in The White Tiger or – one of my favourites – Kashibai in Bajirao Mastani, in which with the brilliant delivery of one dialogue – aap humse humari zindagi maang lete, hum aap ko khushi khushi de dete, par aapne toh humse humara guroor chheen liya – she stole the film.
Unfinished has been written for a global audience and so it necessarily includes passages of explanations on the Indian family, how and why it was possible for her to be raised by aunts and uncles, Indian customs and why her marriage ceremony took three days. This is where the book is most banal, with Priyanka’s voice flattening out into an Incredible India commercial, with lines like: “In India, taking care of one another’s children as if they are our own is just part of who we are. It’s seen as a duty and a responsibility, not an imposition.”
Since she won Miss World, Priyanka has been an ambassador for India and that responsibility weighs heavily on Unfinished. At one point, she writes: “I get to choose what I share and when I share it.” Of course she does, but there are several places in which you wish the curation had been less sharp.
But as the title suggests, Priyanka isn’t done yet. I suspect that at some point in the future, another book will be written. This is a woman at the peak of her prowess and there are miles to go before she sleeps. I hope the sequel will retain the heartfelt emotion and vivacious energy, and lose some of the manicuring.
That book, like her, will be truly dazzling.