Whether it is as Guess’s first non-white face, or being India’s first singer-actor to have also made it big abroad, or the first Indian actress to own a Rolls Royce, Priyanka Chopra loves making history. In another career and historical first, she will be portraying on celluloid for the first time, a woman athlete.
Through her successful film career, she has become one of the highest-paid Bollywood actresses and a smashing success on the international scene. This exotic beauty is poised to take over the world leads a triple life as an actress, GUESS’s It-Girl and pop-singing starlet riding the wave to super-stardom.
Who is the real Priyanka Chopra – an actor, singer or model?
I like to experiment with my work. The way I see it, I don’t consider myself a star or an actor, I see myself as a trailblazer. I like to do unexpected things. Turning musician was an interesting thing to do because I do sing. For me, it’s never a transition; it’s an extension of being creative. I’m an actor and I love movies. But yes, I am finicky about work – whether it is about what I choose or how I do it – it just has to have my stamp on it.
Your next release is about a lot of firsts – the first film on a woman athlete in Hindi, the first time we see you in a bald look…do you look at Mary Kom as a biopic or as a sports film?
Very honestly, neither. This is the first time a Hindi film is telling the story of a woman athlete. 80 per cent of the film is recreated – it is inspired by Mary Kom and not a minute-by-minute account of her life. I look at it as a film whose story needed to be told. This is an inspirational film about an icon who was a five-time world champion before she became famous! So this is a story that explores that dichotomy. This story is about every girl out there that is going to say, “I’m not going to be limited.” Mary is a daughter of a rice farmer; she went on to be a 5-time world champion. She is a mother of three, an Olympian and has won national awards from the President.
The amazing thing is, she is just 33 years old! She went against all odds. It’s a story not just based on her life but it’s for me — for you and for every girl out there. I want everyone to feel the feeling of “not giving up”. More than a biopic or a sports film, it is a film about empowerment.
What was the most amazing experience of playing Mary Kom?
See I don’t look like Mary Kom at all – so that was the first challenge. We tried the prosthetics option too, but then decided against it. The idea was to imbibe her personality as far as I could – her philosophy, her mannerisms, and her life. And I spent an amazing time with Mary – going to her house, getting to know her. She is a superwoman – a mother, a homemaker, a world champion, a sportsperson – the dichotomy of her personality was very enriching and rewarding to study and portray.
And what would be the most taxing bits?
It would most certainly have to be the physical part of the preparation. I was shooting Krrish and Gunday while I was preparing for the film. All my opponents in the film were real boxers. It was very difficult to shoot with them because they are real boxers and they don’t know how to fake a punch, they had to really hit you. So I had to get hit a lot and that was really hard so I would shoot and train in boxing all day and then head to the gym at 10 in the night.
I give a lot of credit to Samir Jaura who trained me for this. He kept motivating me constantly – “chalo aadhe ghante ke liye karte hain” (Let’s work out for half an hour). He even travelled with me so there wouldn’t be any breaks in the training. He made sure that there were no gaps so even after a long day of shoot I would train at late hours just to be on the right track. Samir’s programme included a lot of functional training, stretching to improve flexibility, hi-rep training to increase stamina and core workouts – which was a shock to my body initially but I managed. Mary Kom is one of the hardest films of my career – I have shed blood, tears and sweat for it and I am honoured that Mary Kom herself was my inspiration for the two years I put into this film.
You are being modest here…you shot for the movie at a time when you were still coming to terms with immense personal loss… Well actually you can never come to terms with that kind of a loss. I started shooting for Mary Kom just days after my dad passed away. Not because I am a hero or anything, but because I had to get back to work so that I would not completely break down.
Mary Kom was the last script my father read and even while he was in hospital, he would check on my training, ask me for updates and inspire me. Even Sanjay Leela Bhansali, thought I would take some time off from shooting and told me there was no hurry. But I just had to get busy and I came back on the set on June 14 after dad left on June 10. But dad would have wanted me to work, so the muhurat shot was held on June 17. I am hoping he will be seeing the film somewhere as my tribute to him.
Would you recall your reaction when you were asked to play Mary Kom?
I was very excited…thrilled to bits really! And contrary to what people may think, I had no apprehensions about playing Mary Kom despite never having played a sportsperson before. See I don’t do easy. Challenges bring out the best in me.
To bring her (Mary Kom’s) personality on screen was the hardest part. To bring the part of a fighter, a homemaker, and a mother was a challenge – and I love challenges. You just have to say “it is not your cup of tea” for me to get up in an instant and say “okay let’s do this”.
What about your next music project? What does music mean to you?
I have just come back from L.A. and you will hear a new singe very soon and that’s all I want to disclose right now. I have discovered another part of me through music. My next album should be out soon. My music is very much like me as a person. Whenever I was in the studio, I always ended up doing whatever I felt like, depending on my mood. My album is going to have mid-tempos, ballads, pop songs, dance records, like all different kinds of music. It was a new experience for me. I wrote vocals and poetry, but I never thought I would write a song. I started with lyrics and slowly got into the music and composition. I just realized along the way that it was something I could do and I learned how to do and I enjoy doing it. So there are a few songs on the album that I wrote myself. When I was in school, I was very influenced by 90s hip-hop, like Dre, Tupac, Biggie, TLC, and Destiny’s Child. At the same time, I really like top 40 pop music, so I don’t have a specific artist that I look up to, but working with Beyonce would be a dream-come-true. I love the way she sings, she’s a powerhouse performer. She makes amazing music but I love her on stage. I think she’s incredible on stage. A pop chick song would be really cool