x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Priyanka Chopra is breaking Bollywood barriers

The star of Don 2, Bollywood beauty Chopra talks about her action role and preparing to enter the music business with an album next year.

Priyanka Chopra with Shah Rukh Khan in a scene from Don 2. Courtesy Excel Entertainment
Priyanka Chopra with Shah Rukh Khan in a scene from Don 2. Courtesy Excel Entertainment

Burning rubber in high-speed car chases spliced with intense close combat shots are not the typical backdrops for a Bollywood female lead. But this is exactly what Bollywood beauty Priyanka Chopra dived into as a no-nonsense cop in Don 2, the latest Indian blockbuster now playing in UAE cinemas.

"It was fun being a tough chick. I'm not someone you can mess with at all," said Chopra about her role as a woman who trains for four years to be a police officer and chase down a wanted criminal played by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.

"There is a lot of hand-to-hand combat. You need to be really quick, agile and fast. We had to train very hard because action is all about finesse and training. For the car chase, we trained for seven or eight days on the streets of Berlin. We were driving at 100 [kph] and had to go between buildings and down the stairs."

Her shoulder-length hair pulled back from her face and a pistol slung in a shoulder holster, Chopra, 29, was also part of the 2006 movie Don about an international gang of smugglers headed by Khan. The movie was a remake of a 1978 hit by the same name, in which Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan played the lead.

The sparks that fly between the gang leader Khan and Chopra carry through to the sequel, Chopra said.

"It becomes her life's mission to catch Don, but when Don is in front of her she is frustrated and angry by the emotions she feels," explains Chopra, who has starred in 35 movies since her 2003 debut. "Although she says he doesn't affect her, it's very obvious that he does."

Remaking a classic is always a gamble and there are high expectations riding on Don 2. The movie has been directed by the talented filmmaker Farhan Akhtar, who has delivered hits such as Dil Chahta Hain and Rock On.

Chopra believes that remakes are crucial for the younger generation of south Asians who have not seen cult 1970s films made famous by Bachchan.

"It's great for a lot of us because many of us have missed out on the classic movies," she said. "These movies present the classics to my generation and the generation after me so we too can enjoy the characters. Remakes are inspired by earlier films and I think it's a great trend."

Critics say Chopra's action-packed shots are refreshing, as is her role selection.

"After a long time, we are seeing a woman in the action scenes," said Vajir Singh, a trade analyst and editor of Box Office India magazine.

"There have been actresses in the past in action roles, but it has been a while since we saw a woman in a fighting role. Priyanka is talented, takes on different projects and so the interest among the audience remains."

A former Miss World, Chopra has established herself as one of Bollywood's leading ladies with hits such as Kaminey in 2009, Dostana and Fashion in 2008. She has won several awards, including India's prestigious National Award two years ago for her Fashion role as a top model who hurtles down a drug and alcohol-laced path in the world of haute couture.

Chopra also won praise as the feisty Sweety in Kaminey, a crime drama about a couple caught in a web of drug lords and corrupt cops. It was hailed by the Indian media as a must-watch film.

Strong female leads are rare in the male-dominated, super-competitive Indian movie industry. Chopra says she remains picky about her roles.

"First it has to be a good story, it must be the kind of story that I would want to go see in a theatre," she said.

"Then the part has to be substantial, it has to stand on its own. It has to give me something new, something to play with."

But sometimes, her instincts can go wrong. She played 12 different roles, portraying a girl from each zodiac sign in the 2009 movie What's Your Rashee. The film crashed and critics panned it as unwieldy.

Almost a decade into the movie business, she remains sensitive to criticism. Only her family and friends know where to find her when a movie tanks.

"I shut myself from everyone in my room," Chopra said.

"I feel battered. I get crabby, I'm not a nice person to be with. Even if I get good reviews [and the movie doesn't] I still feel terrible. It breaks my heart, I cry."

Chopra has set out to explore a parallel career. She will also channel her passion for entertaining into the music business.

In August this year, she signed a deal with Universal Music to record her debut album and will be managed by Troy Carter who also manages American singer Lady Gaga. She is currently writing and recording an English-language pop album to be released by the middle of next year.

Her foray into the global music industry will be the first by an Indian movie star.

Famous Indian musicians such as sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, singer Asha Bhosle and composer AR Rahman have collaborated with international names such as violinist Yehudi Menuhin, George Harrison, Boy George and Mick Jagger.

Chopra traces her love of music to her father, a surgeon who is passionate about music. Indian singers Kishore Kumar, Sunidhi Chauhan and Shaan are among her favourites. While Rihanna and Mariah Carey top her western music list, she also enjoys performers such as Michael Jackson and Madonna.

"I want to be an entertainer with my music, too," said Chopra. "Right now as an actor, I entertain with my movies. I want to bring that persona into my music. I'm really excited and nervous about it."

Never one to plan her career, she says opportunity has found her.

"I do love singing but I never thought I'd be a singer," said Chopra.

"It's just that my entire professional career happened by chance. I've stumbled into music the same way, too."

rtalwar@thenational.ae