Priyanka’s ‘Unfinished’ is Measured, Engaging & Full of Humour
The memoir offers insights into her relationship with her father and the highs and lows of her life in limelight.
Before 2015, often when Bollywood superstars were asked if they had Hollywood aspirations they would reply with variations of ‘I am already a star; why would I start at the bottom somewhere else?’ Essentially, they didn’t want to audition for roles or have to introduce themselves to the media in a brand new market. And, this is what made Priyanka Chopra Jonas different.
In spite of having been one of the most famous faces in the country, she didn’t resist doing multiple auditions or walking into the offices of media houses to introduce herself. In her memoir Unfinished, Chopra Jonas writes, “I swallowed my pride and reminded myself constantly that just because I’d received recognition in one part of the world was no reason that I should automatically receive it elsewhere”.
She writes about going for the Roc Nation pre-Grammys party only to realize that she wasn’t where all the A-listers were; the pep talk she gave herself in a toilet just before walking in to audition to play Alex Parrish in Quantico – which made her the first Indian-born woman to lead a prime-time network show in the United States; and, being a bundle of nerves before her first press event for the ABC show.
In the last five years or so her fans, colleagues and the Indian media have celebrated every one of Chopra Jonas’ trailblazing milestones in the US – her first big Hollywood film (Baywatch), her triumphant red carpet outing at events like the Met Gala, presenting at the Oscars, being the first Indian to get a solo American Vogue cover – but until now only her inner circle knew what it really took. And, Unfinished offers a rare but tiny peek at how she pushed boundaries. Chopra has always been fiercely protective of her personal life (‘While I may be open about 90 per cent of my life, there’s 10 per cent that remains just for me’) and that hasn’t changed even when she sat down to tell her own story.
Unfinished is no juicy tell-all so don’t pick up the book looking for any bombshell revelations.
Chopra Jonas describes the book more as an attempt ‘to take stock’. “It’s probably the first time as an adult that I’ve felt the desire to look back and reflect on how I’ve gotten to this moment,” she writes. The biography starts in 1999 with her younger brother Sid suggesting she enter the Miss India pageant because he hoped it would get her out of the house so he could have her bedroom, and ends in the hillside home that she now shares with husband Nick Jones, where she’s planted a Gulmohar tree in memory of her father.
For die-hard fans who have tracked Chopra Jonas’ movie career from The Hero: Love Story of a Spy (2003) to The White Tiger (2021), large parts of the book would be familiar.
In past interviews, she’s talked about her teenage years in American high-schools where she learnt to adapt to a whole new culture but also was bullied by racist classmates, how and why she began her move to Hollywood, how straddling different continents meant multiple trans-Atlantic flights, jet lag and exhaustion and even her whirlwind love story with Jonas that started with him sliding into her DMs. And, yet there is enough to keep a reader invested through the quick and easy read.
Chopra Jonas has often talked about her incredibly close relationship with her late father LT Col. Dr Ashok Chopra, so it’s not surprising that in the most emotional parts of the book she chronicles their time together. There are lovely anecdotes from childhood when Chopra Jonas and her father had a pact that he’d shower her with attention when he came from work. She would ‘wait for the sound of his motorbike’ and race out to meet her father, who would take her for a ride around the neighbourhood’. And, the wisdom he shared with her while she was in kindergarten – ‘Be like water. Find the best situation wherever you are and make it work’ – that shaped her life. Her regret at not spending enough time with him in the last years of his life before he died of cancer in 2013, and the overpowering cloud of grief that enveloped her for years after, are some of the most revealing parts of the book.
Unfinished is far less illuminating about her decade long career in Hindi films with Chopra Jonas choosing to leave out far more than she chooses to record. There is some talk about misogyny and patriarchy within the industry with a big director telling her that she needed breast implants, an actor replacing her in a film with his girlfriend, and male actors coming late on set. But these have zero to little impact because Chopra Jonas chooses to not to call them out by name. There are references to a few past controversies starting with the allegations of a nose job even before her film career took off (she writes that it was a nasal polyp surgery gone wrong), the fairness cream endorsement she did, #armpitgate and the episode of Quantico that angered a certain section of Indians.
Her writing sounds exactly how she talks – measured, engaging and full of humour and energy. Reading the book is an intimate experience, like Chopra Jonas is sharing stories of her struggles and triumphs over an adult beverage. And, despite being an international movie star, a lot of her stories, especially those from her childhood, are very relatable.
Born into a family of military personnel meant that Chopra Jonas moved cities with her parents every few years. During one particular move when she burst into tears at the thought of leaving her friends, the actress’s father explained to her how moving cities was an opportunity for her to ‘leave her mistakes behind and ‘become whoever you want to be’. Chopra Jonas’ move from Bollywood to Hollywood has afforded her the same chance once again. As she continues to gain a more solid foothold in America, Unfinished, which understandably has the international audience as its intended target, is her way of reinventing herself.
(Karishma Upadhyay is a journalist and author of ‘Parveen Babi: A Life’.)
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