Priyanka Chopra is just like the rest of us when it comes to work video chats.
“I just put my hair in a ponytail, put some lipstick on and make sure I am ‘top presentable.’ And the bottom, I’m in sweats,” grins the actress, visible in a white silk blouse as she playfully swings her bare feet up to the camera ahead of Netflix’s release of “The White Tiger,” her new drama adapted from the 2008 best-selling novel.
In the film (streaming Friday), Chopra plays Pinky Madam, an expanded character from the book about an impoverished Indian villager named Balram (Adarsh Gourav) who uses his wits to transcend his caste and score a job driving for a wealthy family. Balram finds himself chauffeuring the family’s youngest son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), who has returned from the U.S. with his new American wife (Chopra) – who upsets the traditional family dynamic by questioning their dramatic privilege.
Celebs in quarantine:Priyanka Chopra’s husband Nick Jonas has become her ‘in-house piano teacher’
Though the darkly humorous film tells a specific Indian story of caste friction, its themes are universal, says Chopra, 38, calling from London, where she’s been filming.
“How many times has it been that you’ve driven past a homeless person or a homeless shelter and not thought about it?” she says. “Class disparity is what this movie is talking about, and that is super-universal. … The majority of the world lives in very harsh circumstances.”
When Chopra heard that author Aravind Adiga’s book, which won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2008, was being adapted for a film, “I chased after it,” she says, meeting with director Ramin Bahrani in cities across the world. “I auditioned for it multiple times. I begged them to let me be an executive producer so I could put support behind it.”
Chopra has been working to create more opportunities for diverse storytelling for years. “I really want to be able to see South Asian stories in Hollywood,” says Chopra, noting such projects still feel like “a box that’s required to be checked” in the industry. (“White Tiger” now enters the Oscar race with a 90% fresh rating on review site Rotten Tomatoes.)
From ‘Suicide Squad’ to ‘Top Gun 2’:15 films we (hopefully!) will see in a movie theater in 2021
It’s difficult to convey just how famous Chopra, who broke into the American market with 2015’s “Quantico,” is globally. In India, she has been famous since she was crowned Miss India at 17, followed by Miss World. She’s starred in more than 50 Indian films, while making waves in the U.S. market in movies like “Baywatch” and “Isn’t It Romantic.”
In India, her fame is such that while filming “The White Tiger,” Bahrani says, “I couldn’t actually schedule certain scenes because there would be a mob and we couldn’t shoot them.” The closest example he can think of is Elvis. To accomplish an outdoor night scene covertly, the shoot started at 1.a.m. “Even then, there was a mob until 3 a.m., when they finally just gave up and cleared the streets,” he says. ” And it was like 10 times the security that we would normally have.”
More in demand than ever, Chopra recently wrapped the romantic drama “Text for You” and will soon begin filming the Amazon show “Citadel,” produced by Joe and Anthony Russo (“Avengers: Endgame”). She knows all too well her words and actions come under close scrutiny, including her whirlwind relationship with Nick Jonas, whom she wed two years ago. But she’s shifted her focus inward.
“We didn’t really have the time to get to know each other very much because of our individual careers. Our teams – and us – are always trying to just play catch-up with our schedules. But having this time and this year to be with each other and understand each other’s likes/dislikes/habits, has been a real gift. I love the fact that at the end of quarantine, we still liked each other. So that’s great,” she chuckles.
Next month, Chopra will release her memoir “Unfinished,” something she finds slightly terrifying “because it’s the most personal I’ve ever been.”
Jonas was among those who got to preview it. “Nick’s read it multiple times, she says.
But not everything made it in.
“Yes, there are things that I have taken out after I wrote it because I was terrified,” she says. “But there are a lot of things that I was like, this has to be in the book because I need whoever’s interested to really see that I’m just a girl with a crazy trajectory that happened to me.
“It required a lot of perseverance. It required a lot of humility and hard work. And I feel proud at what I have achieved today. I’m very self-made and I’m grateful for everyone I met along the way. And I hope that I still have some ways to go.”