‘My quest’: Priyanka Chopra brings Bollywood to Toronto

No Indian star has made a bigger splash in Hollywood than Priyanka Chopra. Above, Chopra attends a premiere for ‘The Sky Is Pink’ at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Invision/AP)
Updated 14 September 2019

‘My quest’: Priyanka Chopra brings Bollywood to Toronto

  • Priyanka Chopra was the first Indian actress to lead a primetime US series
  • ‘The Sky is Pink is Chopra’s first Hindi-language film in three year

TORONTO: No Indian star has made a bigger splash in Hollywood than Priyanka Chopra — and the “Baywatch” actress said she is on a quest to shatter myths about Bollywood, including its approach to sex.
Chopra was the first Indian actress to lead a primetime US series with FBI thriller “Quantico,” and cemented her global celebrity status by marrying pop singer Nick Jonas last December.
That star power secured a glitzy, red-carpet slot at Toronto’s film festival for “The Sky is Pink,” Chopra’s first Hindi-language film in three years. It is the only Asian film on the prestigious gala lineup at North America’s biggest movie festival.
“People get surprised when they see ‘The Sky is Pink’ and they’re like, ‘this is not a Bollywood movie.’ Bollywood is not a genre!” Chopra said ahead of the premiere Friday.
“It really is my quest to educate people in that.”
Directed by Shonali Bose, “The Sky is Pink” tells the tragic true story of Aisha Chaudhary, an inspirational Delhi teenager whose life was cut short by a rare genetic disorder.
Chaudhary delivered a TED talk and wrote a book on her battle before her death in 2015 at the age of 18. But the film focuses on her parents, exploring how their marriage and love — and even their sex life — survived the loss of two children.
Until recently kissing was rarely shown in films made by conservative Bollywood, better known abroad for its colorful musical numbers and fairytale romantic plots.
“I don’t think we haven’t spoken about sexuality in Indian films — we do,” said Chopra, 37. “I think sexuality is spoken about in many different ways in Indian cinema.”
“It’s culturally sensitive, yes,” she added. “India is an amalgamation of modernity and tradition. And this film is made by a modern Indian. So hence, you see what her language is. This is true to who she is.”
Bose, whose own marriage ended after she lost her son, was approached by Chaudhary’s parents to make the film.
Chaudhary had been a fervent fan of the director’s work, and never fulfilled her “dying wish” to see Bose’s previous film “Margarita With A Straw.”
Bose said she was moved by the request but chose to focus on the parents after learning of their “amazing” love story and care for their child.
“They wanted the film to be about their heroic dying teenage girl, and I don’t feel she would’ve wanted to be on a pedestal — actually she was really cool and humble,” she said.
Chopra, who does not have children, said she drew on others’ experiences, including Bose’s, to play Chaudhary’s mother Aditi.
But there is plenty of Chopra in the role too. At one point her character is described as “the ‘almost’ Miss India.” Chopra herself was crowned Miss World in 2000.
As beauty pageants led to acting, Chopra, who attended school in the US, said she held onto her global outlook.
Also a singer, Chopra has released songs with US chart-toppers including Pitbull and The Chainsmokers.
“It’s a genuine quest of mine to be able to cross-pollinate cultures, and to be able to take Indian cinema to the globe as much as I can,” she said, adding: “It’s not the language that’s the barrier — it is the fear of the unknown.”
Movie-mad India has the largest film industry in the world in terms of the number produced — up to 2,000 every year in more than 20 languages, according to industry data.
Bollywood star Akshay Kumar regularly appears in Forbes’ annual list of the world’s top 10 highest-paid actors.
In recent years Bollywood’s influence has spread in North America, thanks to a growing, affluent South Asian diaspora — and a smattering of Western converts.
But while other Bollywood actors and actresses have landed high-profile roles in the US, such as Deepika Padukone in 2017’s “XXX: Return of Xander Cage,” none are as recognizable as Chopra.
“I really hope that there’s so many more entertainers from India that get the opportunity and push themselves toward global entertainment,” said Chopra.
“The world of entertainment is so global now,” she added. “With streaming coming in everyone from anywhere can watch anything.”


REVIEW: ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ crackles with tension

Reese Witherspoon (left) and Kerry Washington in 'Little Fires Everywhere.' (Supplied)
Updated 30 May 2020

REVIEW: ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ crackles with tension

  • Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington clash in picture-perfect suburbia

LONDON: As faithful period recreations go, “Little Fires Everywhere” channels the nuances of Nineties US suburbia with an almost unparalleled degree of affection. Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the eight-episode adaptation of Celeste Ng’s 2017 novel skillfully captures the cookie-cutter perfection of the white picket-fenced homes and playfully riffs on pop-culture motifs like “The Real World” and stereo faceplates. But while there’s some fun to be had in reliving the 1990s, the show sets up its far-more-serious storyline and tone from the cold open of the very first episode. Mother-of-four Elena Richardson (a stellar Reese Witherspoon) watches her sprawling house go up in flames and viewers are led to believe that troubled daughter Izzy is the main culprit. Over the following episodes, the show backtracks a few months to the point where free-spirited artist Mia Warren (a subtly intense Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl move into town, starting a chain of events that leads to the two families becoming intertwined, and to the titular blaze.

The two mothers clash almost instantly over their different approaches to life and parenting, while the arrival of Mia and Pearl (both black and ostensibly poorer than many of Shaker’s residents) also threatens to upset the carefully cultivated status quo enjoyed by the predominantly white community. The series sets its two leads up in direct opposition — so it’s fortunate that Witherspoon and Washington not only spark off one another with palpable dynamism, but also dominate when apart, imbuing their characters with very different (yet equally captivating) maternal ferocity. There’s some awkward, heavy-handed exploration of racial disparity in the late 20th century, but with limited running time, this discourse tends to get lumped in with the show’s other talking points — class, art, adoption and motherhood. On occasion, this propels the narrative along nicely, but there are times when it may have been better to slow down a little and get into the intricacies of some of the other characters.

Instead, the show delves deep into the two leads’ backstories, showing how their different experiences have molded them, and the writers and directors (including the late Lynn Shelton) spend what little time remains with their respective families. Much like Ng’s novel, the Richardsons and the Warrens are the focus, but the show leans even more heavily on Witherspoon and Washington. Thankfully, with actors so engaging, it’s a choice that pays off.