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Accent Be Damned, Priyanka Chopra Kicks Yankee Butt in Quantico!

Why are a billion Indians wondering what world Priyanka fits in?

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I recently watched the first two episodes of Priyanka Chopra’s Quantico. There have been three, of course – as all you enlightened Torrent people well know. But India officially (ahem) has watched two, so I’ll talk about that.

But I’m not going to talk about the writing (which, frankly is a little shoddy), the cast (yuppie and fresh) or Shonda Rhimes’ art of storytelling (you’ve got Grey’s Anatomy for that one). What we will talk about, is Priyanka Chopra’s accent. ‘Cause that’s way more important than anything else the show merits, correct? Correct.

Priyanka Chopra’s accent has become a national – nay, international entity. It has assumed a face, a voice (hehe) of its own, and is loved and hated by people in equal measure. I sometimes imagine, if the accent were a person, she’d be draped in a sari at one point – at another, a Gucci jumpsuit. Much like PeeCee herself pulls off with elan.

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Priyanka’s Koffee With Karan Retort Was Not an Insult

Why are a billion Indians wondering what world Priyanka fits in?
Priyanka Chopra could not have asked for a better launchpad than playing a lead in an American TV series. (Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@PriyankaChopra)

Why this national obsession over her accent, then? Newspapers and news sites have ripped into her with delicious fervour, calling it everything from ‘inconsistent’ to a ‘Sonia-meets-Salman’ hybrid. The poor accent could well have cowered and shrunk at all this unwanted attention – even got more pronounced. But it did neither.

Truth is, while much of PeeCee’s accent is staged (she’s doing her best to sound like the half-Caucasian, half-Indian character that she plays), half of it is actually very, very real.

Priyanka went to high school in the US, she’s screamed herself hoarse for all who’ve asked how she came back because she was bullied, a la Mean Girls, and called ‘brownie’. It’s not like she suddenly adopted dulcet tones that you couldn’t bear to hear – she’s spoken the way she’s spoken for years.

If you will remember that one particularly memorable Koffee With Karan episode, when Karan in typical giggly fashion asked her what she had to say to Kareena Kapoor’s latest jibe: “Where does she get that accent, man?”, Priyanka with dignified humour, said: “The same place her boyfriend gets it from.”

Why are a billion Indians wondering what world Priyanka fits in?
Priyanka Chopra on ‘Koffee With Karan’ – always a delight to watch. (Photo Courtesy: Star World)

Priyanka’s salvo wasn’t an insult, at least not in the conventional sense of simply saying something hurtful. What PeeCee was indicating was that Saif Ali Khan too had studied abroad, he had had a half-phoren, half-Indian sort of haphazard upbringing which causes him to speak with an affectation too.

Do We Really Need Priyanka to ‘Sound’ Like Our Kind of ‘Indian’?

I have a confession to make. I am not a Priyanka Chopra fan. At least, not in the conventional sense of the term. I do not have to watch her every movie (like I do SRK’s) or salivate over every glossy that features her. But I am proud of her, incredibly so. The lady stars in an ABC TV series – the only Indian among an assortment of people of different nationalities, and at least in the two episodes we’ve seen so far, has been wonderfully refreshing.

Why are a billion Indians wondering what world Priyanka fits in?
Priyanka Chopra in two scenes from ABC’s Quantico (Photo: YouTube/Television Promos)

…you will hear me speak in a more American accent than the one that I already have! Because to be an FBI agent, you need to be an American citizen, so it was very important for me to get that right. I had dialect coaching to sound even more American and how much I have laughed! Because I told them in India anyway people think I have an accent, now with Quantico, that’s on some other level.
Priyanka Chopra to DNA

Why are a billion Indians wondering what world Priyanka fits in?
Priyanka and her co-star Johanna Braddy pose for a selfie. (Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@PriyankaChopra)

It’s not like PeeCee is unaware of how she sounds – she just chooses to own it. So, why the huge hullabaloo over her accent? Can we possibly be so medieval as to expect her to sound Indian (if there were even such a thing)? Perhaps, Kunal ‘Raj’ Nayyar of The Big Bang Theory fame has raised Indian expectations of a certain kind of cacophony, very broken, very ‘South Asian’ that comes together to make the perfect ‘Indian export’ that we can ship to the US.

But if that’s the case, are you really pinning your hopes on a blink-and-a miss ‘Indian’ role played by Anil Kapoor in MI4?

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Priyanka and Saif are Citizens of the World

Why are a billion Indians wondering what world Priyanka fits in?
Saif Ali Khan, like Priyanka Chopra has been a ‘cultural chameleon’. (Photo Courtesy: Instagram/SaifAliKhanFC)

Which world does she sound like? A billion Indians across the world wondered as FBI agent Alex Parrish stormed into their television screens, taking mysterious flights, having casual sex in a car, vowing to protect America as one of her own. Which world do people who live without racial and ethnic ambiguities sound like? People, who like Priyanka and Saif Ali Khan, are cultural chameleons, who slip into roles both on this side and that side of the world – because they want to. Because their accents aren’t stage tricks, nor are they negotiable. They’re just part of their identity.

Can we finally desist from wanting to bracket the Indian into a nicely sealed package of language, accent, colour that we’ve created for ourselves, and let her just be? Because in doing just that, we’re perpetuating a century-old colonial hangover and doing ourselves in.

Why are a billion Indians wondering what world Priyanka fits in?
Priyanka Chopra on the sets of Quantico with co-stars. (Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@PriyankaChopra)

Priyanka Chopra’s proud of being an Indian. I am proud of watching her light up Quantico like a fierce and sassy badass. The show, let’s face it, could do with better writing. Let’s focus on that, shall we?

(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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