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My Brush With Priyanka Chopra, the 17-Year-Old Miss India

The rise and rise of Priyanka Chopra

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As a reporter in the Times of India, covering the crime beat, I was promoted to the infinitely more taxing chore of interviewing the Miss India – anointed at the annual ritzy-do conducted by the sister publication Femina.

Tete-a-teting with Sangeeta Bijlani, way back in 1980, was my first Miss India responsibility.

By the way, I said ‘taxing’ because every other reporter wished to be in my keds. Moreover, there was only so much I could ask of an ultra-poised winner, clutching on to a tall bouquet and longing to scram the hell out of the melee. Ms Bijlani had stated categorically, “Yes, now it’s the movies for me.”

Fourteen years later, Aishwarya Rai was sporting but heart-clutchingly disappointed on being seconded to Sushmita Sen at the pageant. And aah La Sen was the most unconventional of the drop-dead-gorgeous femmes. She oozed angst. Perhaps because I was subjecting to her that classically dumb question, “So, how does it feel?”

In response, Sushmita Sen had rolled up her eyes towards the multi-star hotel’s chandelier, exhaled a mist of Marlboro Red, to retort, “How do I feel? Bloody exhausted, if you ask me.” Unquotable quote that, omitted from the gush-prose, front-page anchor piece.
The rise and rise of Priyanka Chopra
Miss India, Priyanka Chopra is crowned by Miss World 1999, Yukta Mookhey after winning the Miss World contest at the Millennium Dome in London November 30, 2000 
(Photo: Reuters)

Hang on, though. This isn’t a thesis on the decades-long Miss India interfaces of my life as a reporter. On the coveted glam beat. It’s simply an attempt to offer a perspective on my first brush with Priyanka Chopra, who was all of 17 on being declared Miss India and subsequently Miss World, circa 2000. Underage to even sip champagne.

Apna beauty pageant queens were the darlings of the world, around then, they were the champions.

The rise and rise of Priyanka Chopra
Priyanka Chopra with Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar on the sets of Mujhse Shaadi Karogi 
(Photo: Reuters)

Now, for some strange reason (my fault), I don’t have a clue about how Ms Chopra had responded to that chestnut, “So how’re you feeling?” All I can remember, that unlike her predecessors, she hadn’t dripped cliches. She had smiled expansively, as if to convey, “I don’t know really.” And facial expressions cannot be quoted.

That anchor piece in the TOI, was pure hack. My bad. The news editor had even thundered, “What happened to you? You still smitten with your Sush and Ash or what? Mark my words, this Priyanka girl will go places.”

Er, maybe. If you say so.

“Do a better job, next year or I’ll pull you out of the beat, you’ve been on it for donkey’s years,” news ed warned. “Or do a follow-up report on this girl soon. You haven’t been fair, have you?”

“Yes, sir,” I mumbled. “Kaan pakde. I’ll meet her again…soon.”

The rise and rise of Priyanka Chopra
Priyanka Chopra with Hrithik Roshan on the sets of Krrish 
(Photo: Reuters)

In the line of duty, I’ve met her on innumerable occasions but have failed miserably to corner her for a tale-all interview. Could be the everlasting Sushmita-Aishwarya hangover. Honestly, at most I’ve extracted only two telling comments from Priyanka Chopra in the course of hey-how’re-you-collisions.

The first one was at a film sound recording studio, where she popped out of the head honcho’s cabin. Aaha, so it’s Bollywood for you, after all? Outfitted in all-white pant suit (drat, why do I have a memory for fashion trivia?), she had answered wanly, “No, no.”

Then what? “Just checking out my options,” La Chopra trailed off “I don’t know if I can handle show business.”

The rise and rise of Priyanka Chopra
Priyanka Chopra 
(Photo: Reuters)
And the second one, was when an early, quite cruddy Priyanka Chopra film had clicked big-time. She grinned, “Yes, can you imagine!”, a read-twixt-the-line squelcher for the film whose mega-success was sparked by its sexy dances in the rain. No, I won’t mention the film’s name, it would be a breach of confidence, and it would be “unfair” to today’s accolades-grabber. She’s on a roll.

Today, the once-reluctant actress is an A-list heroine (superseded only by Deepika Padukone methinks). She has been awarded and feted justly for her performances in Aitraaz, Fashion, Mary Kom and Bajirao Mastani. So okay, Barfi..! should have fetched her an armful too, but never mind.

The rise and rise of Priyanka Chopra
Priyanka Chopra with Kangana Ranaut and Mughda Godse promoting her film Fashion 
(Photo: Reuters)
She has recorded pop songs. She’s the top selling point of the American TV series Quantico. Plus the grapevine goes that she may snag a part in the feature film version of the Baywatch series, yup the very one which made Pamela Anderson’s pin-ups go viral on college campuses.

More: Priyanka Chopra’s an eyeful as a incorruptible cop in the promos of the upcoming Jai Gangaajal. She’s a Padmashree. Things are getting unstoppable: she will be a trophy presenter at the February-end Oscars ceremony.

At home in Bollywood, she’s a feisty factor on the global entertainment scene. In effect, a prudent move that. At the age of 33, she has cemented an alternative.

The rise and rise of Priyanka Chopra
Priyanka Chopra performing at an awards show (Photo: Reuters)

A reservation though: she has also announced the formation of a film company which will produce cost-effective films, initially in languages other than Hindi. Badhai ho. However, the mechanics of film production can be scary: too many financial nitty-gritties involved, which require personal monitoring. Does she have the time and talent for that? Shhh, the lady knows what she’s doing. So I’d better shut up, already.

Come to think of it, Peecee or Piggy Chops, as she had been fondly nicknamed ,would be perfect interview material at this very moment. Naturally, quite a few of them have hit the print medium of late, but clearly, both the questions and answers have been guarded with a capital G.

The rise and rise of Priyanka Chopra
Priyanka Chopra with Shah Rukh Khan as brand ambassadors of an international watch brand 
(Photo: Reuters)
No point in dredging up the rumours about her serial liaisons, the most persistent one involving Shah Rukh Khan. How come she isn’t being paired with the Khan again? She was the prime choice for Farah Khan’s Happy New Year, wasn’t she? Will she be cast in Don 3? No projects with Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan or Shahid Kapoor either? On the sunnier side, Peecee doesn’t need male bulwarks to sell a project, she possesses market equity. Nice. More than nice actually.

Piggy Chopra resides in an apartment done up in Tudor décor. She logs up a record-breaking number of flying hours. On-the-sets technicians describe her as a dream to work with. Example: the crew of the ill-begotten Zanjeer remake rave that she never ever showed up late or argued about the ‘motivations’ behind a scene (this ‘motivation’ mumbo jumbo’s practised by all from A to Z, not by Pee Cee). And hey, it’s all quiet on the Shah Rukh Khan front presently.

Chashme buddoor really. Overtly, then, it could be surmised that Priyanka Chopra’s in the best zone any boomtown’s heroine could be.

That news editor was right.

(This piece is from The Quint’s archives and was first published in February 2016. It is being republished to mark Priyanka Chopra’s birthday.)

(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and weekend painter)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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