Making it big

Making it big

Making it big

An actress who has dabbled in a variety of roles and pushed her acting skills to the hilt, Priyanka Chopra is on top of the world at the moment. In conversation with Rajiv Vijayakar, she talks about her latest release ‘Zanjeer’, and her music career

Priyanka Chopra is flying high, what with Don 2 (2011), Agneepath and Barfi! (2012) all crossing the 100-crore barrier, and her two hit international singles as a singer, one of which (In My City) released last year, and the second (Exotic) earlier in 2013. Besides the just-released Hollywood animation film Planes, in which she has given a voice-over to the lead character, her Zanjeer arrived this week, and she is all set for Krrish 3 in Diwali.

The only dark spot on the Chopra landscape — her father’s recent death — has not demoralised her. “Dad had great will-power. He battled cancer for 17 years. I have got a rare strength after his loss, and so much support from everyone.” Priyanka began work on the third day after his death. “Work is the best antidote,” she says.

Queen of sequels

Priyanka is the first heroine to be actually repeated in two sequels — Don 2 and Krrish 3 — and calls it “a coincidence and a privilege” to have done three remakes, all of which have been of Amitabh Bachchan films — Don, Agneepath, and now Zanjeer. “It was not intentional and I do different films for different reasons,” she chirps. “Generally, I do films that I would like to watch. But about Mr Bachchan, all I will say is that I have built my career on his quote of years ago, that a good actor does not need many scenes to make an impact — one scene is enough! I had just eight scenes in Kaminey, but I made an impact.”

She admits that it is nice to share the responsibility for a film. “My films have been a mix of boy movies, where the hero is the pivot, and female-oriented films,” she points out. “It’s a relief when they are male-oriented, as I do not have to take the entire burden of a film! In any case, I have always felt that actors get too much credit — or the reverse — for any film. Movies have always been a director’s medium. As an actor, I have learnt on the job. There was no acting school for me!”

Has she always enjoyed acting, or was there some point at which she began to love her profession. Out comes a surprisingly candid answer, “I hated acting when I started out. And I am talking about films. I would do theatre in school. The high of acting before a live audience could not be compared with films, just like watching your film for the first time cannot be compared with theatre!”

She goes on, “On the first day of my debut film’s shoot, I was told how I had to say my lines when I reached a certain mark on the floor, and had to do it when looking in a particular direction. It was very difficult. I went home and howled and told mom, ‘Yeh mujhse nahin hoga!’. She told me coolly, ‘Okay, now that you have signed the film, finish it. Then you can go back to college.’ I was studying engineering. Today, I cannot think of doing anything but acting.”

We ask her why she signed her first film if she did not like acting? “Well, I did not know I would hate it till I began shooting — as I said, I had done theatre. I thought I would give it a shot. Everybody does it, so I thought kar lo.”

Priyanka remembers no specific turnaround when she began to love and enjoy the profession. “But my first two Hindi directors Raj Kanwar (Andaaz) and Anil Sharma (The Hero) were very patient with me. They taught me the basic necessities and got me interested in acting, and even in the technical departments of filmmaking, like direction.”

Coming back to Bachchan, she had the honour of doing Waqt with him, though they had no scenes together in God Tussi Great Ho. “When I did sequences with him, I was at my best,” she smiles.

Tributes, not remakes

Zanjeer, she lets on, is in the Don-Agneepath mould of being more of a tribute than a pure remake. “I play a New York-returned Hindi cinema fan who becomes the witness to a murder. I am a chatterbox and have come to India to attend a marriage. And yes, I must tell you that I did this film for a strange reason — I liked Apoorva a lot.”

Working with Ram Charan was exhilarating and Priyanka is completely impressed by his star following. “We were shooting in Mumbai’s Madh Island and from nowhere a crowd of 200 fans came to meet him,” she recalls. “In Hyderabad, it was difficult to shoot with the crowds having to be managed.”

Shift to her (international) music career and Priyanka turns voluble. “It was my father’s dream, and I was thrilled to fulfill it. He had the joy of seeing In My City release and become huge. His little girl, who would start every music show of his from the age of three, had become a big name as a singer. Not many know that I sang in the Tamil film Tamilian when I started out as an actor.”

Why has she not sung in a Hindi film, other than a few lines in Bluffmaster! in 2005? “I recorded a proper song for Vishal-Shekhar in that film. But then I told them not to go ahead with that song on the album.”

She is mock angry when we mention that Zanjeer is releasing on the same date as her cousin Parineeti Chopra’s Shuddh Desi Romance, and so they are in competition this week. “Why should you see it that way?” she says sternly. “I call it a Chopra weekend! Both movies will be great to watch.”

Coming up is also her biopic on Mary Kom, the five-time world boxing champion, and Priyanka has dedicated herself to excel in the film. “It’s not only about the physical shape I need to be in, but I have to become Mary — it’s an organic process like Farhan Akhtar’s in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. I have to also learn a completely new sport — boxing. The challenge for me is that Mary is not only alive, but still active as a boxer. Mary is just 30 years old and now a friend too after I have met her. So I really hope that I can do justice to her.”