How Priyanka Chopra is Breaking the Glass Ceiling and Building Bridges For Women & Diversity in Film

Priyanka Chopra: Actor, Producer & Activist

Priyanka Chopra: Actor, Producer & Activist

More than just a pretty face, Priyanka Chopra is a Bollywood bombshell turned Hollywood superstar with brains, beauty and a heart of gold.  The actor, producer and activist will deliver an inspirational talk on ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Chasing a Dream’ as part of The Penguin Annual Lecture 2017 in Delhi on December 26.  This past September Priyanka was named guest of honour for the Toronto International Film Festival TIFF Soirée.

TORONTO, ON – SEPTEMBER 06:  Actor Priyanka Chopra attends the TIFF Soiree during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 6, 2017 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by GP Images/WireImage)

The annual star-studded gala fundraiser kicked off the festival with proceeds going towards Share Her Journey, a campaign created to increase female voices in film and other media. One of only a handful of journalists scheduled for a sit-down with Priyanka before the Soiree, my dress and heels hugged my torso and toes unforgivably tight as I (not-so) patiently awaited her arrival. With a delayed flight and growing mass of fans eagerly waiting outside the TIFF Bell Lightbox to catch a glimpse of their fav celeb walk the red carpet, you’d think she may have felt a little frazzled and rushed.  But the C in PC is super chill. Having starred in over 50 Bollywood films, played vixen villain in Baywatch, two more Hollywood movies in the pipeline – Isn’t It Romantic? with Liam Hemsworth and A Kid Like Jake with Jim Parsons and with several producing projects in the works, including her film Pahuna: The Little Visitors which premiered at TIFF, Priyanka is making her mark in the film industry on her own terms.

When she finally arrived for our sit-down, Priyanka walked into the room with the biggest smile and friendliest demeanour.  Chatting with the mega-star felt like playing catch-up with an old girlfriend and the gab fest began. During our sit-down together, Priyanka opened up about her thoughts on diversity in Hollywood, breaking down barriers, make-up & early wake-ups and her go-to spot in the t-dot.  As the downright shitstorm of a year in the entertainment industry wraps up, now seems like a perfect time to celebrate this shining star and cast a glimmer of light on the direction Hollywood will hopefully be headed for in 2018 and beyond — an industry with more heart, soul and diverse women leading the way.

Here are some highlights from our sit-down interview:

 Let’s talk diversity in Hollywood as well as how it ties in with your own company Purple Pebble Pictures.

PC: Well diversity, it’s a big conversation and everyone is talking about it but what’s actually being done about it. I mean parts are still not being written for people who look like me. It’s still a conversation; you have to create the roles that you want, you have to fight for them, you have to demand them and that’s why you see so few people in terms of representation.  And I’m not even just talking about Indian, I’m talking about immigrants, I’m talking about people who don’t look what is considered ‘norm’ in entertainment and I think that’s where it needs to change.  For me that’s been a big fight, a personal sort of fight because when I was in school in America I didn’t see anyone who looked like me on TV. I still don’t see as much (laughs wryly) and that was so many years ago. So, what’s the steps that we’ve taken, really?  That’s very important to me — I hope to be able to break down and shatter, sort of, doorways where it doesn’t become a novelty, where it becomes a norm to see people like us. That is my end game and I hope if not with me then in the generation after me, with whatever we do, they get the opportunity to have a level playing field.

Purple Pebble Pictures

With Purple Pebble Pictures that’s what I’m trying to do in India as well, is give multi-lingual films an opportunity.  So India, I don’t know if too many people know, has 50-plus written and spoken languages.  Every state has its own written and spoken language — not a dialect but a written and spoken language and they all have a local film industry which is very popular but doesn’t get as much support and eyeballs as it can… I want to be able to find storytellers from small villages and states or people who don’t get opportunities to actually come out there and tell their stories…And [find] first time filmmakers and new talent.

 Tell us about your latest Purple Pebble film, Pahuna: The Little Visitors.

Pahuna: Little Visitors

PC: I’m very excited about Pahuna. Pahuna is a film from Sikkim. Sikkim is a state in North East India and its right on the border. So this story basically deals with two children and what their perspective to being a refugee is;  what their perspective to suddenly being displaced because the adults have decided it’s time to go. Or what their perspective on religion is because they’re from Nepal and Nepal is predominantly Hindu, whereas Sikkim is predominantly Buddhist and Christian so they don’t understand what’s happening. So it’s a story of two kids who get displaced from where they are from, Nepal, and have to build a life for themselves in adversity and then trying to understand what’s going on with themselves. It’s a really super sweet movie.  Both the kids are first time actors from small villages who we found, who have been trained in the movie.  My director is a first time director. So it was a passion project and I’m really happy that it’s reached all the way here.

What does your involvement with TIFF and the Share Her Journey initiative mean to you.

PC: I think the Share Her Journey is such a great initiative because women need a platform in the world today especially in the world of entertainment. I mean we’re still in a world today when you have a female director, you know people say ‘oh my God that’s a female director’ instead of just saying that’s a director and we’re in 2017. So it’s great to see TIFF — they’ve made a five year commitment to gender equality or to support women in film; whether it’s filmmakers, whether it’s talent and I think that’s a great initiative.

Speaking of Toronto, you’re no stranger to this city and you know Toronto loves you!  Now that they’ve been here a few times, what are some of your favourite spots to hit up when you’re here?

PC: You know I never leave the Ritz! (laughs!) I feel like this is the third time I’ve been in the same hotel in the same room!  I’ve always made such short trips, but I do have a bunch of friends here and a few of my friends are filming movies here so I’m excited but I’m just here for two days so I never get to see anything!

We’re super excited about your new ABC Bollywood comedy. A show about Madhuri Dixit — ‘the Queen of ’90s Bollywood’ — how awesome is that! Can you give us some more detail?

PC: It’s in development, it’s too early to say. We’re still just developing the story. It’s a sitcom based on Madhuri’s life, which is what excited me the most.  You know, a big Bollywood star just leaving everything for love and becoming a soccer mom in middle America. So it’s a sitcom based around that which I think can be really, really fun and funny!

A full slate is an understatement!  Between Quantico (Season 3!), all of your producing projects and commercial work do you get any downtime? 

PC: Umm, no and it’s alright. (laughs) I don’t like downtime. I mean, I need downtime if I’m sick or if I’m unwell but otherwise I’m


usually alright.  My schedule is literally written by the minute. ‘This is when you need to wake up, this is when you need to sleep‘. Like my assistant sends me a message every night to get eight hours of sleep you need to sleep at this time.

What time is wake-up? Is it crazy early? PC: It depends…whatever time the morning needs. But usually my night is scheduled  till at least just right when I have nine hours so that I can get a turn-around otherwise it’s all so hectic.

Finish with some fun? Let’s play a quick game of ‘Priyanka in a Pinch: Q & A’

You’re stranded on an island. You bring  — Friend or Lover?  Loverrrr (coy laugh)

The top track on your playlist — Hindi or Hip Hop? It’s not Hindi actually right now…or HipHop…it’s just Pop.

Your make-up must have — Mascara or Lippy?  Mascara.

What’s your perfect pout — Matte or  Gloss?  Matte. I have too much lip for gloss.

Guilty Treat — Salty or Sweet?  SALTY!

Celebrity crush —  Clooney or Elba?  (Pause) That’s a tough one. (Take them both!) Anyday. If you’re offering I’ll take it! If you’re offering — DONE. Both. (laughs loudly)

And it literally was a gabfest. We were so busy chatting afterwards, we said our byes without remembering to take a snap together.  Next time…maybe a group shot with Clooney and Elba!