Bollywood superstar turned American TV star Priyanka Chopra stopped by New York this month to talk about her new movie, Bajirao Mastani, which drops in theaters on December 18th. Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Bajirao Mastani tells the story of the ancient Indian warrior, Bajirao, and his two wives, Mastani and Kashibai.
BUST sat down with the former Miss World to talk about South Asians on American screens and the roles of Indian women in Western media. Priyanka spoke about going from the role of Bajirao's first wife, Kashibai, the one "who gets left behind," to the cunning FBI Agent, Alex Parrish, on ABC's crime thriller, Quantico.
You said that Kashibai is "the one that gets left behind." Why do you think it's important for her to be remembered?
I think it's interesting for her to be remembered. She wasn't sensational. She didn't come galloping on a horse, fight wars, and claim her love. She was the ordinary girl who just adored her man, waited months with bating breath for her man to come home from war. She was that girl. And she's naive, innocent. There was child marriage at that time. You were promised to each other, so that the kingdoms can come together, and so she always knew Bajirao was her husband, since she was 6 years old.
She had no choice. It was her destiny.
It was her destiny and she fell in love with him. They were best friends. Their relationship was amazing. He loved her. And then Mastani happened. And it changed [Kashibai's] life. And after that nobody has spoken about her. Nobody knew what happened to her. So this movie is the director's point of view of what the history books don't tell you, what happened between the wars when they were in their own personal spaces. This is his vision of that story.
Speaking of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, his films are alway so decadent and magnificent. What's it like being involved with that and working with him?
He's such a stickler for details and I love that because as an actor I love finding details in characters. I really believe that if you get a character right and truly right - because everyone is great in a Bhansali film, everyone's going to be amazing, like the standard that you begin with is amazing - but if you go beyond that and if you really create a character that touches people and strikes a chord, then it becomes a part of your legacy. And I think Bajirao Mastani gave me an opportunity to play a character with that possibility. I mean, I don't know if I pulled it off, but she has the possibility of being of like, "Woah, that's what happened?" I hope I've gotten it right. I really wanted to.
You have this really huge following from Quantico now and that following can carry over to your films in Indian cinema. So in a way, Indian cinema kind of owes you now, because you're possibly bringing in this huge new audience. What do you think of that?
I don't think they owe me. I think the fact that I had the ability to be a part of a show like this, I owe my Indian film industry. I have that ammunition by being trained in one of the most prolific film industries in the world, so when I walk into a set, I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm not at all thrown off about anything because I'm a professional and I've been taught in the Indian film industry, where I've done about fifty films, completely diverse parts. I think that I owe them for making me ready enough to take on the world, to have confidence enough to say, you know I got this. And I love the fact that I can give back. Indian films are so much more than just stories. They're an experience and they're experienced all over the world. They transcend the barrier of language. I mean, we reach countries like Germany, America, UK, Japan, Malaysia, but our films transcend those barriers because the emotions and the stories touch you somehow. And I'm glad I can contribute to that and get another part of the world inquisitive about Indian films.
Yeah, a lot of my friends don't know much about Indian films, but when I show them Indian movies, they're so into it.
My cast is so excited that all my films are on Netflix, like every weekend, "Oh we watched this one and this is what happens! And why did he do that?" It's great.
A lot more South Asian actors are making it to screens in the West. Why do you think that's happening now?
For me, I knew I always wanted to do it. I always constantly need to challenge myself and why it's happening with everyone else, I don't know. Look at America today, look around you, the girl next door doesn't look like one person, especially in America. America is primarily made up of people that have come from other parts of the world. I was landing in New York City, and they said some people are born New Yorkers, some people become New Yorkers, everyone's welcome. And I think playing characters in America now, South Asians are put into a niche. And that was very important to me. I didn't want to be put into a box, I didn't want to be cast because of I was Indian. I didn't want to be cast because an Indian girl is smart, and an Indian girl can be a doctor, or whatever the stereotypes of Indian people are. I wanted to be cast on merit and I was and kudos to ABC for seeing me as a step ahead in diversity. I hope that this helps people see that you don't have to be in a box and we shouldn't be.
And Alex is such a great character. She's totally not a stereotype.
And yet Indian enough, I added some fun details to Alex. I don't know if most people will notice, but she has a little Mandir (temple), which goes everywhere with her because I have one wherever I go, wherever in the world I am. My crew calls it the shrine. So wherever she goes, her room must have a little Mandir, little Indian things, like my own bracelet. She's extremely in touch with her roots, and at the same time she's a modern day, global girl. Her roots don't define who she is.
Quantico returns to ABC in March 2016 and Bajirao Mastani hits select theaters on December 18th.
Images via EROS International and NDTV.
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