Find Your Inner Durga: Priyanka Chopra

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Actress Priyanka Chopra being interviewed by ITV Gold. Photo: ITV Gold.

Bollywood-Hollywood star Priyanka Chopra Jonas discusses her seminal experience co-producing The Sky Is Pink in an interview with ITV Gold’s Aditi Lamba, before the film’s release in North America.

The Sky Is Pink, starring Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar, is based on the real life story of Adita and Niren Chaudhary and their daughter Aisha, 18, who died in 2015 after being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.

Following is the transcript of the interview with minor edits for clarity and style:

You are the role model for so many South Asian-American women here. You are really celebrated and brought forth a bilateral sort of culture with The Sky Is Pink. As a producer, was it important to partake in that to really make the move more international and have that audience in mind when you started the project?

No, I don’t think you think of the audience when you are making the film. You have to be really true to the movie. Because then you’ll start using tropes. So that was very, very clear from the beginning.

Shonali (Director Shonali Bose) as a filmmaker, has a very distinct storytelling style. She always takes tragedy and mixes it up with humor and joy. I found that really amazing.

But after I came on board the project, as an actor and also as a producer, it was very important to me that this movie was accessed everywhere in the world, especially also in the United States.

I think Hindi movies don’t get their due in mainstream American television or mainstream America… just conversation, because they are considered just Bollywood, in a very stereotypical way. Whereas, I wanted to showcase Indian cinema in its entirety to America, and mainstream America that’s gotten to know me. So that was something I was very excited about doing, but it was after the movie was decided and the script was written and everything.

The movie is so realistic. It’s so really … all of the angles are basically to your facial expression. And the moments go really fast as there is satire to it. Describe to me when we talk about one of the most momentous moments of the move – the death scene. It’s almost therapeutic when we are watching it. Describe to me what you felt.

Yes, Aisha’s death day was … it was a crazy shoot day for me because I shot the death day and my wedding day on the same day. So it was like the saddest and happiest day – in the movie and also the 25-year age gap that had to be done on the same day.

But I think Shonali was super upbeat and happy because I think she has this amazing relationship with death. She believes that when someone goes and their time on earth is done – which means a death day needs to be celebrated as well because everything that they were supposed to do on earth, they’ve done before you.

So it’s such a different perspective and I found that so amazing.

Hence, when you see the movie, Aditi’s character is wearing color when everyone else is wearing white. The music of the movie is a celebration of Aisha, instead of a mourning of her death. And I just love that juxtaposition, the way the storytelling in the movie is  — because that is totally what the (Chaudhary) family is like.

Aisha gave an InkTalk, which is like a TEDTalk, on happiness, just a year or two before she died. She was the kind of girl who embodied it, looked death into its eyes, and laughed. There’s something so brave and amazingly inspiring about that.

It is very real. I felt the honesty through it. And also having a character with my own name, it felt like I was even more immersed into the movie. Aditi has a very massive breakdown in the middle of the movie and it makes her very real. Because until then, she’s playing this superhero Mom. She’s taking care of everything. She’s putting this very, very strong faith. And that’s when you see the most vulnerable side of her. I know you are very in and out in terms of emotions and have talked about it. But I want to reflect on that, the importance of that scene for you.

That scene was amazing. I spoke to Aditi a lot about what happened…. In fact, Niren (Chaudhary) narrated that scene to us and he said that Aditi just woke up in the middle of the night and started strangling him, and talking in Aisha’s voice. He couldn’t comprehend what she was saying. And in the middle of the night they h\ad to take her to the hospital. And she was put in a mental hospital for ten days.

When you don’t sleep for a week to ten days because she hadn’t slept for ten days. And when you don’t sleep you stop creating dopamine which makes you delirious. When he narrated that scene to me, I was so nervous about doing it because there’s a very fine line of making it a caricature or funny, when it go anywhere. So we did… only two takes of that scene because Shonali and me and Farhan really talked about it, and we prepped a lot before we did it; but it was one of the tougher scenes of the movie.

It was very intense. It took me back for a little bit, like wow: she freaked out. This is a very real thing. It actually happened with somebody.

Ya. And it is such an important conversation to have. Because caretakers sometimes of people who are sick, don’t end up caring for themselves. And it’s really, really important. I know the stress and tensions of having someone unwell around you. But that just goes to show that it’s important for you to also be taken care of.

So true. I know you also said you had a healing experience through this movie post your dad’s death; also because of your wedding was actually happening during the production as well. Explain to me what you think a (mixed international audience) takes from the movie.

I think this is such a universal story. Which is why I’m promoting it the way I’m promoting it. Because I want everyone to be aware that this movie is coming out, and it’s in a theater near you. You can go to an AMC or Regal, and you can watch the movie. Because I feel like this is such a universal story, an emotion that transcends language barriers, and borders. You understand it even if you are watching subtitles, because it’s something which everyone will relate to. And it’s a beautiful piece of art – this movie that has come out of Indian cinema, Hindi cinema. I’m really proud of.

It’s so international. What’s your message for your co-stars. You had two amazingly young talented (co-stars). You guys really had it all split evenly, in terms of the stress that you had to have on the movie. Your comments on the acting that you saw during the process, and that you saw in the product?

It was so important to have really amazing actors in this movie. I was the first one to be brought onto the movie. And then everyone else came on. I just knew that we had three solid actors who I could bounce against. And that’s so important in a movie like this where you’re trying to be super honest and tell the story in as honest a way.

I think Zaira (Wasim- Aisha Chaudhary) and Rohit (Suresh Saraf – Aisha’s brother Ishaan) have outdone themselves. They have such amazing performances. Farhan anyway is someone that we know who always pulls out a rabbit out of his hat, because he is such an honest performer. So it was really wonderful to have that kind of support in the movie.

As somebody who has done Bollywood, Hollywood, successful American television, a transition that people like me look up to, how do you stay sane throughout this whole process and how do you keep your balance intact in terms of how you stay connected to your roots as also how you stay connected to things that are happening here?

I feel like it’s a very individual thing. You are always put in a box and told you are too American or too Indian, or…I went to high school in America. I don’t care if I’m too Indian or too American. I don’t care what you think. I’m me. And I think it’s really important to empower our children, especially Indian kids who are second generation or who are immigrants, to remember that — You Be You.

Har kisi ka apna sky hota hai. Everyone has their own sky. Color the sky how you want. Find the power of knowing whoever you are. How you speak, how you dress, does not take away how you feel. My country will always be a very, very important part of who I am, my upbringing. And you can never take the Desi out of me. And you will see that wherever I go. I can’t help it. But I feel like it’s really important for us to not pressure our kids to be a certain way. They ar going to ba a sum of all the influences that they get — that can be Indian, and it can be American. It can be a beautiful amalgamation of both.

A last message … for all the young South Asian-American women. They are really following you and The Sky Is Pink, the theme. This show is going to be politically and socially very empowering for us, both in India and here.

For women all over the world, especially South Asian women here – it’s very important for us to find our voice and make sure that we execute it. Demand what you want. Don’t just expect someone to give it to you. Find your power, your inner confidence, your inner ‘Durga’. And go out there and get and achieve your dreams. Sometimes you won’t achieve a dream. Find another dream. But having a purpose and ambition is extremely important for women. And we are always told ambition is a bad thing. But it’s not. Purpose is what drives you; purpose is what gives you a reason to live. I feel like every woman out there needs to find that.

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