How Priyanka Chopra has mastered the art of celebrity
Priyanka Chopra successfully transitioned from Bollywood superstar to genuine Hollywood celebrity through talent, grit and a "deal with the devil", writes Caitlin McBride
You’d be forgiven for not knowing Priyanka Chopra’s name.
She has more than 65 million followers across social media, most of whom are from her native India, where she is considered more than an A-list celebrity and less than royalty.
Although the Chopra-train hasn’t yet pulled into station in Europe, certainly not with the same ease at which it has in Hollywood, her star power in undeniable.
The 37-year-old has had arguably one of the most talked-about career trajectories in recent pop culture memory; enjoying an association with a royal wedding, marrying a Jonas brother in a number of different ceremonies, overcome racist and sexist trolling, being one of the few women of colour to lead to a major American network television show and a Vogue cover.
Earlier this week, Chopra, who covers the new issue of InStyle, gave a refreshing description of the pitfalls of fame. Although she clearly wasn’t thrilled with the public interest in her private life and the backlash over the 10-year age gap with husband Nick Jonas (26), there were no pleas for privacy and ‘woe is me’ type wallowing. In fact, she described celebrity as “the deal you make with the devil”.
She might very well be one of the few celebrities who understands exactly what it means to be a celebrity, warts and all. For a life of exceptional wealth and privilege, you sacrifice a lot of your personal privacy and some trust among your inner circle.
Priyanka makes the public interest work in her favour, securing lucrative brand partnerships and using her increasing profile to pitch coveted acting jobs and set up a production company.
Chopra knows the art of this because sought it out and executed it with such precision, a thesis could be effectively published on her guide to securing mainstream fame.
At the age of 18 in 2000, her mother entered her in the Miss India pageant and despite coming second, she was sent as her country’s representative to Miss World in what could fairly be argued as evidence of fate. After she took home the global title, she was catapulted her into the spotlight in her native countries, grabbing every opportunity with both hands and pretty soon, she became a bonafide Bollywood star.
By the time she decided to give it a shot in Los Angeles, she had 54 film credits to her name and has a fanbase stretching across millions - and a bank account to match.
Her career-defining turn was in 2015 when she landed the lead role in Quantico, a crime thriller which aired on ABC for three seasons, and this accomplishment wasn’t just a celebration of a coveted - and well-paid- television gig, but also the fact that she was the first South Asian woman to front an American show.
Three years earlier, she had been approached by the network’s former executive vice-president about appearing on American television, but she was wary of being typecast by her heritage. 20 scripts later, she fell in love with the part of Alex Parrish, which she played for three years before show was cancelled last year, including a lengthy filming stint in Dublin.
By the time the red carpet invites started pouring in, Priyanka was already a well-oiled machine: she knew how to walk the walk, talk the talk and look the part thanks to her experiences with fame in India.
By the age of 33, she was as professional as it could get - she not only understood the trappings of fame and what it required, but also learned how to manipulate it to suit her ambitions. (In the same InStyle interview, she said: “I want to change the world a little bit. My big endgame is creating a formidable career and legacy for myself, but at the same time I want to have moved something.”)
Just two years ago, she was playing the villain in the film adaptation of Baywatch and while the project was, as expected, critically panned, it gained a cult status among fans and showed her big screen acting chops to power players in Hollywood.
It also helped that she had a close friendship with royal bride-to-be Meghan Markle, something with whom she had been close for years when they were both working as actresses. By the time her relationship with now-husband Prince Harry was publicised in 2016, Chopra was well-positioned to handle the public interest.
Pretty soon, she was the go-to source for all things Markle, who had been instructed to no longer speak to the media unless it was in an officially sanctioned capacity and was effectively silenced by the British royal family after Harry proposed.
Depending on which publication you read, the pair are either incredibly close with Chopra getting an introduction to baby Archie Mountbatten Windsor, or not speaking after a pregnant Meghan didn’t travel to India for her wedding last year.
Chopra was enjoying a royal-adjacent career boost that others like Meghan's friends Jessica Mulroney and Abigail Spencer also have. But few could have predicted the intensity of the coverage around her relationship with Nick Jonas (26), whom she wed last year after just a few months of dating.
It seemed hardly a week went by during the month of December that there wasn’t some sort of coverage around a new element of their multi-day wedding celebrations in India and the US. The coverage culminated in an American Vogue cover, complenting the eight Vogue India covers already to her name.
At the time, she was accused of enjoying the coverage a little too much, debuting wedding dress after wedding dress in a myriad magazine deals and social media posts, but the criticism reached its peak when she was the subject of an article by New York magazine’s The Cut which described her as a “scam artist” who duped her husband into marrying her for fame.
It was a long-form feature on what many trolls had been writing about for months in the comments section of news website and social media and other dark corners of the internet.
“Nicholas Jonas married into a fraudulent relationship against his will this past Saturday,” the author, Mariah Smith, wrote for The Cut.
“All Nick wanted was a possible fling with Hollywood’s latest It Woman, but instead he wound up staring straight at a life sentence with a global scam artist.”
The piece was deleted soon after the backlash and an apology was issued, but screenshots last forever.
And Priyanka hasn’t forgotten it either, preferring to keep a dignified silence during the height of the furore last year.
"Commenting on some stupidity means it eventually becomes important because I gave it importance. A lot of people don't understand that way of thinking. It's not a myopic thought...it's a long-term plan,” she told the magazine.
Even her sister-in-law Sophie Turner, newlywed wife to Joe Jonas and Game of Thrones star, described it as “wildly inappropriate and totally disgusting”.
The Jonas Brothers, who are in the throes of a comeback tour, were an American cultural zeitgeist in the noughties. When Priyanka was busy building up her IMDB credits in Mumbai, her husband Nick, 10 years younger, was a Disney Channel superstar and dating Miley Cyrus.
Their pairing seemed unlikely, but their chemistry undeniable.
Although both Nick, Joe and Kevin, have successfully moved into adult solo careers, you can’t underestimate the impact they had on young women in particular. She is now a proud Jonas Sister, the name used to describe the brothers’ wives - Priyanka, Sophie and Danielle Deleasa, who have formed a movement all their own.
Women the world over who grew up with the Jonas Brothers have matured alongside them and are now crushing on their wives and the unbreakable familial bond they seem to possess.
Ambition is not a dirty word and Priyanka Chopra is proof.