Shailesh Kapoor: Priyanka Chopra: India’s Breakthrough Girl

15 May,2015

By Shailesh Kapoor


It’s been a breakthrough that we have waited many long years for. ABC network commissioned Quantico, the new drama series starring Priyanka Chopra in the lead, last week. Our mainstream media, including the entertainment media, largely ignored the ‘news’. It was perhaps understood as another Indian actor taking up another bit role in a US production, in her desperation to go global.


But when the trailer and the poster were released mid-week, the degree of Priyanka Chopra’s achievement was visible in full measure. Playing the half Indian-half Caucasian Alex Parrish, Chopra was at the centerstage of the promotional material, which unambiguously pitches her as the lead protagonist of the show.


Though the news story got momentum after the trailer, I’m not sure if its true significance has been understood. For the last four decades, perhaps more, we have craved for representation in the Hollywood market. Every little ‘achievement’ has been celebrated, be it Amrish Puri’s Molaram in the Indiana Jones film, or Vijay Amritraj’s two-bit role in Octopussy.


We pretend to own Slumdog Millionaire as if we produced it. We can make a big deal out of our leading ladies visiting Cannes. The Indian media would pick up any story that pitches an Indian celebrity on the global stage. Even Ali Fazal’s blink-and-miss in Furious 7 got its share of coverage.


But in all these years, there have been very few real achievements. Indian actors have been cast in films like Gandhi or Slumdog Millionnaire because the nature of those roles demanded that Indian actors be cast in them. (Even there, Bin Kingsley was preferred over Naseeruddin Shah!). There have been some individual accomplishments such as those by Anil Kapoor, Irrfan and Nimrat Kaur, but nothing as significant as Priyanka Chopra’s latest victory. After a singing debut that can, at best, be described as a semi-successful experiment, she’s bagged something any Indian actor would be willing to give up the 200 crore blockbuster for.


If Quantico succeeds, it would be an added bonus. But even if it doesn’t, the floodgates may have opened in no uncertain way. Bagging prominent parts in Hollywood is as much about talent as it is about having the right agency representation. Chopra’s breakthrough may encourage many others to aggressively look at how they represented and positioned globally.


The media response over the last three days has been on expected lines. There has been basic news coverage headlined around Chopra, some troll pieces on her accent in the trailer, and then, the focus moved to her white Zac Posen dress at the Quantico event two days ago.


When the series goes on-air, you can be sure that Chopra will have to face her share of brickbats from the social media and the Indian press. But none of that will take anything away from her spectacular achievement at the global stage. An achievement we must celebrate whole-heartedly.


PS: On a related note, Quantico can be a massive boost for the English Entertainment category on the Indian television, which so far continues to languish as a super niche cousin of the English Movies category.


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