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“I want to be a game-changer”

Guest Editor Priyanka Chopra in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): This year, you’ve completed a decade in the film industry…

Priyanka Chopra (PC): When I did Krrish, I was just one year into the industry. I remember I was shooting for Aitraaz, when Abbas-Mustan told me that Rakesh sir (Roshan) had called. He had seen me at a funeral and wanted to cast me but he wanted to see some of my work first. I told them not to show him Aitraaz because then he would never cast me! He doesn’t make those kind of films. However, Rakesh sir watched the film and cast me as this innocent girl in Krrish. Aitraaz had not even released then. And even though Krrish 3 is the third part in the trilogy, it was like a sequel for me, after a career of nine years. Looking back, I used to be so scared of Rakesh sir.

He has a special vision which is why seven to eight years after Krrish first released; he can still make a sequel. I have treated this film as a completely new film because our characters have evolved. This is the longest franchise ever. Even English films don’t have a gap of 13 years.

After all these years, people are still excited about the franchise. Rakesh sir is a visionary who has pioneered the sci-fi genre and made it commercially viable. It is superb to be a part of that kind of film. In addition, he has given every character the space to grow.

In Krrish 3, my role is pivotal and there is a duality to my character. I play his wife. I play the good, fun, ambitious girl who is a journalist. Then I suddenly become evil. Bringing in that body language and that change in voice was very interesting for me. Plus, among the main five cast members, I am the only one without superpowers in this film. But I have something with me… I can’t reveal what it is but it is something that everyone in the film is after.

BOI: How much have you evolved as an actor in the last decade?

PC: I have understood myself a lot better. I was speaking to John (Abraham) a few days ago, and we were talking about who would be celebrating a decade in the industry. There’s me, John (Abraham), Shahid (Kapoor), Lara (Dutta) and Katrina (Kaif). I remember when Hrithik was giving interviews and was talking about Koi… Mil Gaya, which he had done in 2001, I wasn’t even in the movies then. My life has changed so much since then and I am still part of that franchise. I have learnt a lot more about myself.

I wanted to be an engineer and suddenly I became Miss World. And movie offers started rolling in. I was just 18 years old and I didn’t know what to do. No one from my family had ever visited Mumbai. Since I am a very practical person, I told my father that I would give my movie career 18 months. If something worked out, I would pursue it; if not, I would go back to college. People take a year off all the time. But, during that one year, Andaaz and Aitraaz happened, and I signed Krrish. Things changed drastically but I still didn’t know what acting was all about.

I thought all you had to do was apply some make-up, wear great clothes and read some lines. I didn’t know it was an art. I didn’t know that I could make a difference in creating a character; what star power is or the kind of a star I wanted to be. Did I want to be an actor or a star? It took me at least five years to understand it all. Now I have reached a point where I don’t want to be rich or famous; I don’t want to be a star. I want to be an actor. I want to be a game-changer. I want to change the way people expect women in this business to be. I want to be someone who can show people I can do things they thought I couldn’t.

When I did Barfi!, everyone asked me ‘what about your glamourous image?’ There wasn’t a single song for me in the film. Even during Aitraaz, people said, ‘Vamp ban ke reh jaogi.’ Then, when I did Fashion, everyone said that actresses did women-oriented roles at the end of their career. That was way back in 2008. Heroine-oriented films weren’t liked by people. They said these films didn’t get an opening. Yet Fashion took a good opening despite Golmaal Returns, which released along with it. All this in spite of being an A-certified film. That was a big victory.

I want to do films; I want to do music; I want to push my boundaries and blaze my own trail. Otherwise, it’s all too easy for me because I am a commercially successful actor. It would be easy to do only big-budget, big-banner, hero-centric films. I do those films too, but I also want to keep doing the other kind of filmss. Bahut kam log hain jo yeh kar paate hain. And I take pride in the fact that I can do that. So if I can do a Krrish, I can also do a Barfi!. Whereas I’m doing a Gunday, I’m also doing a Mary Kom. When I did 7 Khoon Maaf, I also did Don. So, every year, I decide to do films that are different from each other.

BOI: What, according to you, is star power?

PC: I think it’s when you command respect and don’t have to demand it. Star power is when people come to watch you, more than what you do. Very few people have star power. People become stars and they come and go. But they are not superstars. They don’t command it. Har generation mein kuch actors toh star banenge hi, but what makes a superstar a superstar, is that you don’t care what you do, tum galat karo, sahi karo, tum ho. That is a superstar.

BOI: At what point did you begin to feel that you belonged to the industry?

PC: About a year or so... in the last two years, actually. I felt like I had made a place for myself. I feel like I can now be responsible for other people, like my cousins and my family. I can be the person to protect them. Pehle main apne aap ko protect nahi kar sakti thi. Now I have reached a place where I can protect myself. It’s my own space and no one can take it away from me. That’s the power I command.

And I can take a lot of risks in my career. It’s a gamble. I feel, what’s the point staying in the same genre and being comfortable? I don’t believe there’s any growth in doing that. And everybody needs to grow. Everyone needs a promotion. I don’t want to go like, ‘Arrey, ab toh sab khatam. Ab kya karoon main?’

I have stopped feeling afraid of failure. I have found my feet. Today failure doesn’t scare me. Earlier, failure would put me off, but today that is not an option. I am very competitive with myself.

BOI: You have been a part of some of the biggest blockbusters like Don and Agneepath. You have also done films like Fashion and signed Mary Kom. Is there a certain satisfaction in doing a film that revolves around you vis-a-vis a blockbuster?

PC: As long as it’s successful, it’s the same satisfaction. Success matters. I have always said that the box-office matters. When a film has my name in the credits, all that matters is how well the film does. Whether one has one scene or 15 scenes, everyone contributes to a film equally. A film does not belong to just one person, even if you are the lead cast and the film is only about you. So even when there’s blame, it has to be shared. I feel bad for the boys sometimes as they take all the blame. People say, ‘Oh, women have it so tough in this business!’ The heroes always end up taking the blame. If it is a film where everyone has contributed, then everybody is to be blamed.

BOI: Since you’re a risk-taker, what drives you to choose a film?

PC: I am very stupid like that. When a film is narrated or when I read it, I have to feel the way a member of the audience does. But that is such a risky way of choosing a film because sometimes we watch bad films too, na? Some films are interesting when you sign them, par woh bante bante kuch aur ho jata hai…

BOI: For example?

PC: I can’t say which. But I can’t work on a film unless I feel 100 per cent for it. So when I am doing a film, I feel it’s my Mughal-E-Azam. I don’t realise when the bad reviews come, when people hate the film and it becomes a flop. I have no feelings at the time because I become so close to a film. A lot of actors watch their films when they are in edit and they have an opinion on whether it’s going to do well or not. I can’t tell at all. I always work with my directors or co-actors to creatively make a film better because it’s eventually about the film being better.

I’m like, ‘Yeh scene aise nahi hona chahiye or iss trailer mein yeh scene nahi hona chahiye.’ Most of my directors and co-stars let me do it as they have faith in me. I have worked with some of the biggest directors but they still listen to me. Sometimes, they pick up some of my suggestions. I believe the director is the captain of the ship so even if they don’t agree with me, then no matter how irritated I am, I will sit for 20 minutes and figure out how to do what the director wants me to do.

BOI: How do you react to success and failure, earlier and now?

PC: Back then, I would lock myself in a room and cry for weeks. But when my work began to be appreciated, I started feeling a sense of satisfaction. Now I don’t remember the last bad review I received. Can you?

BOI: No.

PC: So I can convert the misery of my failures by saying that ‘mere haath mein hai hi nahi.’ There was a time when I felt the onus of a film was on me because I was the lead. Mera kaam tha ki jitna aapko diya gaya hai aap utna karo. Since I started doing that, whatever I have done in a film I have given my 100 per cent.

BOI: You have been a good actor ever since your first film Andaaz. Yet it took a very long time for the industry to like you. Why do you think that happened?

PC: A couple of reasons. It was considered that I knew how to act and it wasn’t like ‘Oh god this girl is a stick and she can’t move or act.’ And it also wasn’t like ‘wow, she’s a born actor.’

In my first film, my entry was post-interval and my character died before the climax. My first solo film was Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, which was after seven films and it became a hit. So I was on the way to becoming a star, not an actor. But Aitraaz cemented that for me a little when people said, ‘OK, she can act.’ After that, I have landed every film I got on merit. I have never got a film because I was recommended for it.

I have always picked good films, even though they haven’t been the best films of that year. Every film I have done is a step in a certain direction. So I don’t think there is a specific reason I can cite to explain why the industry did or did not accept me. I also came from outside the industry. I didn’t have an uncle, aunt, friend or even a college buddy here. So it was very difficult to carve a place in an industry where everyone is someone’s uncle or aunt. My co-actors were just co-actors. I was so scared of everyone; I was just 18.

I started my career working with Akshay (Kumar), Salman (Khan) and Sunny (Deol). So it took me also some time to open up and understand what I wanted. And I think it took the industry that long to accept me. Now, people write scripts for me but that took a long time to happen. I have climbed the ladder of success slowly.

In Kaminey, I had eight scenes but they made an impact. Yes, the film was written very well but I worked very hard on that movie. I even had a Marathi coach tag along with me everywhere I went. During Fashion, I used to make Madhur (Bhandarkar) speak to me only in Marathi. I take my job very seriously and I think that’s why I have achieved whatever I have. It has not been easy.

BOI: What is more important for you – critical acclaim or box-office numbers?

PC: Box office numbers any day! It helps if a film gets great reviews because more people will turn up to watch it.

BOI: Now do you understand numbers?

PC: No, I don’t understand numbers at all. On a Friday, I’m told that itna opening hua hai. That much I understand.

BOI: When you green-light a film, do you think about commercial aspects of the movie such as the director or a big name as a co-star?

PC: Of course! I think of everything. The first thing before I even read a script is the banner that’s producing it. Because for me, aapki script jitni acchi ho, if your producer doesn’t have the capability to give life to that vision, then there is no point. Even if you make a film on a small budget, you have to have a producer who can take it forward. The producer is the most important aspect of a film, then the script and the director.

BOI: Does that also give you the liberty to work with new directors?

PC: I have worked with a lot of new directors. I am the first heroine most debutant directors work with, like Tarun Mansukhani, Nikhil Advani and Sanjay F Gupta. According to me, a director has to be a leader. He has to have his own opinion and pull a certain weight. While listening to everyone’s opinion, he should have the sense to pick the right feedback. He is the only one who sees the film with his vision. Regardless of how unbiased I am as an actor, I am still going to see it from my perspective. You need a lot of experience to see a film for what it is. And you get a sense of this when you’re listening to the director narrate the film or when you’re talking to them.

BOI: Being a game-changer, will we see you producing or directing a film?

PC: God, no! I want to do things that push myself. I am like the wind; I don’t know which direction I will take. I have a very short attention span. Which is why it’s great that I am an actress because I keep moving from one character to another quite easily.

BOI: What changes have you observed in the industry?

PC: It has changed 360 degrees from the time I entered this industry. Now, parts are being written for women. The audience has changed. Suddenly, content is king. It is not only about jo bhi film nikalo hum dekhne chale jayenge. Thanks to multiplexes, small films are also able to make money. That has also helped these films grow. So much money is now pumped in because of mushrooming multiplexes. With corporates coming in, suddenly there is this level of professionalism that has come about. Yes, solo producers have dwindled and the studio system has introduced a certain transparency. Everything has changed for the better. I feel very privileged.

BOI: A lot of the top male actors demand a share of a film’s profit as part of their remuneration…

PC: (Cuts in) Yeah, they don’t do that with heroines! Damn! (Laughs)

BOI: What is your take on that?

PC: It puts me off that the boys get paid 25 times more than we do because we work just as hard. But where there’s demand, there’s supply. Let’s not be delusional or sexist or feminist about it. People want to see male-oriented films, so those films make ` 200 crore. But Kahaani made 60. It was fantastic for a film made on such a small budget to recover so much money. There are so many films like that coming up now. We are slowly getting there. We live in a male-dominated world. Not just India. Women have to fight for their rights, survive and demand their success. We have to work extra-hard. We have to work extra-hard to get that recognition.

Movies are a reflection of society but society also is a reflection of the films you watch. It’s a vicious circle. Slowly, much like in real life, the perspective on women is changing. Similarly, the premium on women will also change.

BOI: When you talk about being a game-changer, you choose the kind of roles no actress would have chosen a few years ago. For instance, you will be playing Ranveer Singh’s sister in one of your upcoming films and his love interest in another, Gunday. Is that also part of your game-changing strategy?

PC: Yes. For me, it’s super challenging that I can convince the audience that Ranveer can be my boyfriend in one film; doing an item number for him in another; and my brother in the third one.

BOI: How important is it for an actress to be relevant in these times? You are working not only with big-league actors but also with the younger breed.

PC: I think I am at a very lucky age where I can do all of it. Arjun (Kapoor) and I have been friends even before he became an actor. He began his acting career with my sister (Parineeti Chopra). We were part of the same group of friends. So when I started working, I was much younger than I ought to have been. So right now, I can work with boys who are older than I am. I think I am one of the few actors who can handle that range because I started out very young.

According to me, I have to convince the audience that when I play a part, I am not Priyanka Chopra, I am that character. That’s what the greatest actors are known for, whether Robert De Niro or Mr Bachchan. Whatever role they play, you are like, ‘Oh, my God, this person is so convincing in telling this story.’ So I believe whatever age you want to portray, whatever region you want me to come from and whatever clothes you want me to wear, I will convince you that I deserve to be there and that’s my range. Abhi tak toh sab theek hi hua hai. (Laughs)


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