From Miss World to prime-time star, Priyanka Chopra wins the world every time

While most 18-year-olds are contending with exam nerves and driving lessons, Priyanka Chopra was already Miss World…

Priyanka Chopra

Being crowned the world’s most beautiful woman, however, only proved Chopra’s entry to wider society. Since then, she’s gone on to become a global style icon, a Bollywood legend, an award-winning Hollywood star and much more.

Though now it seems unlikely that anyone could ever deprive her of her many achievements, these would have been all but inconceivable back in 1982 when she was born into a military family in Jamshedpur, a small town in India. With the Miss World win tucked under her Gucci belt, it was only a matter of time, however, till Bollywood – India’s take on Hollywood – came calling.

Priyanka Chopra

Looking back on her first steps onto a sound stage, Priyanka Chopra says: “When I got a movie offer, I thought: ‘Ooh, let’s try this too’. While I hadn’t come from a film background and I hadn’t learnt anything about films or film-making, I found I had a thirst to know everything about it. I immersed myself in cinematography, editing, soundtracking, post-production…” 

Eventually, her hard work paid off, but it’s fair to say she was no overnight success. Initially hired as an eye-candy, it wasn’t until 2004 that she finally proved both a critical and commercial hit. This was the year when, playing against type, she stole every scene as Sonia Ray, a manipulative man-eater, in Aitraaz, a romantic thriller that stormed both the box office and India’s film awards.

After this, the floodgates truly opened. A string of box-office hits, nationwide recognition and awards – including the Padma Shri (one of India’s most prestigious civilian honours) –  quickly followed. It was almost inevitable then that Priyanka Chopra should set her sights higher still, aiming for musical and screen successes in the West.

Priyanka Chopra

But her foray into the former met with mixed success. Both her albums failed to create a buzz, pretty much marking the end of her musical ambitions. Fortunately, she had a more luck in the acting stakes, with small screen success hers for the taking.

And take it she did, going on to secure the lead in Quantico, a peak-time terrorism drama that saw Priyanka Chopra take on the role of Alex Parrish, a newly-recruited FBI agent. The role made her a household name and won her the Best Actress award in the prestigious People’s Choice Awards. But before the celebrations were over, dark clouds were gathering around the Quantico lot.

Priyanka Chopra

With Quantico getting cancelled just weeks into its third season, the show hit a new low when one particular plotline saw it attract international condemnation, while many personally vilified Chopra for turning her on her own people. The plot – branded “ridiculous”, “stupid” and “implausible” by online critics – saw Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) set out to thwart a conspiracy by rogue Indian scientists to blow up New York, and then blame it on Pakistan.

With many alleging that she had betrayed India by acquiescing to such a grotesque plotline, pretty much all of the outrage occasioned by the episode in question focused on its leading lady.

With the series already cancelled, however, it is a storm that Chopra will surely weather. Indeed, the bandwagon seems to have already moved on. Right now, the media is more focused on her ‘am I / aren’t I?’ relationship with Nick Jonas, an Americna singer. Whether this is true love or a tactical diversion from her own goal on the Quantico front is of, course, highly debatable.

What is less debatable, however, is that even as her FBI procedural heads off to re-run heaven, Chopra’s own career remains very much on course. With two new Hollywood projects already in the pipeline, as well as an expected return to the Bollywood throne, her most intriguing new venture will see her branching out in a whole new direction, with Unfinished, the first volume of her memoirs, set for publication next year.

Text: Suchetana Mukhopadhyay