Priyanka Chopra Jonas Believes in Walking the Walk, Not Talking the Talk - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Priyanka Chopra Jonas Believes in Walking the Walk, Not Talking the Talk

Priyanka Chopra Jonas Believes in Walking the Walk, Not Talking the Talk

By Pallabi Munsi


Because for all of us, winning should become, quite comfortably, a way of life.

By Pallabi Munsi

Actress, singer, film producer and former Miss World Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who first captured our attention by dominating Bollywood in India, is now making her mark in Hollywood. And on top of that? A new book called Unfinished. She drops in to The Carlos Watson Show to talk about her fearless rise to the top. The full interview can be found on the show’s podcast feed.


Carlos Watson: Did I hear you say that Tupac was a crush of yours back in the day?

Priyanka Chopra Jonas: Yeah. I mean, think about it. This was like 1996, and I was living in Queens, New York. At that point, just about finding myself. And he was a large part of it. I had just discovered hip-hop in general. Dre, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Tupac, Biggie. I was a teenager and he was a large part of that for me. I was very, very upset when he was shot.

Watson: So take me back to Queens. For some reason, I had it in my mind that you were largely in India traveling the world, but I didn’t have you living in Queens as a teen.

Chopra Jonas: It’s peculiar, but I lived in India until I was 12 years old. And then I came to the U.S. to visit my mom’s family, my mom’s sister and my cousins, and everyone was here. And I was kind of bought in by the big high schools and not having to wear uniforms. And in my school you wore uniforms. [In the U.S.] girls wore makeup in middle school. At that time, at 12, I was like, yes, I want to study in this magical land of vanity.

I told my mom I want to move here, and my mom’s sister was very happy to take me in. So I kind of lived with my mom’s sister and brother for a period of about three or four years. And they moved around in their jobs. So I lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I was in Indianapolis for a bit. I was in Queens — Flushing, Queens, actually — for a good year. Then I was also in Newton, Massachusetts, before I went back to India.

Watson: I so love that. I did not know that. So you really do have a beautiful, mixed experience growing up from Iowa to Newton. And where in India did you grow up?

Chopra Jonas: Well, again, because my parents were in the military, we moved every two or three years. So I lived in New Delhi, I lived in Lucknow, I lived in Pune. It was so many cities that I moved around in. But when I went back from the U.S. at 17, 16 to India, I moved to this small town called Bareilly. And it was such an amazing mix of going from Boston, Newton, to Bareilly; it was such a big change.


Watson: So wait, how did you decide to do the Miss India pageant?

Chopra Jonas: I actually didn’t decide on it. It was sort of fate that did it. When I came back to India and I was 17, my brother was 10 years old. He was kicked out of his room because I was a 17-year-old, and my dad was like, “Well, she needs her own room.” And my brother, Sidd, was kicked out and told, “You either live with grandmother,” or my mom put a bed in between their bedroom and mine and said, “Well, that’s your new room,” and he hated me for it. 

He, at 10 years old, used to watch the Miss India Pageant. At the time, I’d gotten these mall shots, the ones with soft focus, your hand on your face. He had them in front of him and told my mom, “Why don’t we send these pictures in and maybe she’ll have to go to Mumbai if she gets selected.” He just wanted to get me out of the house to get his room back.

My mom found it funny and went with it. Once I got selected, I mean, I’m competitive. You put me in a competition and I’m going to swim. That’s just how it happened. It wasn’t an ambition. It wasn’t something I grew up with as an aspiration. It was my brother.

Watson: What would happen if Sidd hadn’t suggested that? What do you think? Where would you be?

Chopra Jonas: Well, I was actually applying for a scholarship program for engineering. I wanted to get into some form of tech. I was very into math and science at that point. Technology really fascinated me. This was the turn of the millennium at that point and information was a really big deal. The internet had just come in. So I was very curious about all of that. I might have gotten into tech if I hadn’t done this, but whatever it would’ve been, I would’ve swum real fast.


Watson: Did you ever have meaningful fear, and do you still? Because you know, a lot of people are ambitious. Some people dream fearlessly, but a lot of people hesitate, we feel stuck, we feel like we’re not quite sure. Did you ever have any of that or no, were you blessed in a different way?

Chopra Jonas: Of course, of course. No one has a 100 percent track record of being a certain way. Change is the most constant thing in life, and there are times where I felt stuck, and it’s OK to be stuck for a little while. It’s OK to feel vulnerable, and it’s OK to leave something unfinished as well. I have tried various things because I like to try new things and I want to evolve, but you know when something doesn’t work out, you have to give it your 100 percent and then just back off, try something else. As Aaliyah said, “Dust yourself off and try again.” It’s really as simple as that.


Watson: I’ve loved seeing you talk about issues of poverty, of ambition, of fairness, of all these things. I really appreciate it. I saw you do it with Global Citizens. Anything interesting and surprising you feel like you’ve learned about fairness, about opportunities for people to grow and realize their dreams in the last year or two? 

Chopra Jonas: The one thing that I have recognized, and I’m including myself, is we all talk about being woke, and we all talk about being aware of what’s just and what’s right. But how much are we really doing about it? We ask the big questions from everyone around us, but what are you doing? How desensitized are we as individuals to the world that exists around us because we’re so focused on our sole ambition?

And I think that’s really important to inculcate empathy, compassion in our children, in our acute environment because both can exist together. You can have singular ambition and want to sort of pull yourself out of whatever your circumstances are, but at the same time, you can make a larger table as you go along. And within your journey, if we create opportunities for others along our way, that’s just going to make a better world, isn’t it?

Watson: Do you feel like you do that, and how do you do that best?

Chopra Jonas: Absolutely. I’m definitely not coming from a place of just talking the talk. I’ve been somebody who has walked the walk and I can only do it in my own way. And as a filmmaker, as a producer, that’s what I’m doing. My company was built about six years ago. Seven, eight years ago, I founded the company, but it was not to be a launch vehicle for movies for me.

I have produced almost 10 movies in India, which gave opportunities to new directors, new writers, first-time filmmakers and told regional, local stories. Even here, I’m building my company, not just creating opportunities for myself, but aligning with a movie like The White Tiger, for example. A movie with an all-Indian star cast to be the No. 1 movie in one of the largest streaming services in the world is historic. With all brown people, that’s not happened, and that gives me pride. And that’s me walking that walk.

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