WHY PRIYANKA CHOPRA JONAS WASN’T AFRAID TO WRITE A REVEALING BOOK ABOUT HER LIFE
by LAUREN CODLING
IS THERE anything Priyanka Chopra Jonas cannot do?
Not only is the 38-year-old an internationally recognised actress, producer, businesswoman and Unicef goodwill ambassador, she is now also an author.
The release of her new memoir, Unfinished, sees Chopra Jonas bare all about the highs and lows of her life, from her early years in India and the loss of her father in 2013 to her rise to stardom and marriage to singer Nick Jonas.
To mark its release, Eastern Eye sat down for a Zoom chat with the Indian star.
What was the moment that led up to you feeling that you wanted to write the book and reveal such personal stories from your life?
I’ve always loved writing a lot and I was approaching 20 years of being in the entertainment business, so I felt I should talk about my innermost thoughts. When we went into quarantine last year, the book really took shape as I was home for five months and took the time to be reflective. It just flowed out of me and I didn’t know how to stop it. There are a few things I’ve taken out of Unfinished, actually, because I was like, ‘stop it’. I’m terrified about sharing this book, but also excited in a way. Now, I feel secure and confident enough as a woman that I’m good talking about the difficult things I never discussed. It’s okay for me to be vulnerable with the people who have known me and the people who are getting to know me.
What was your publisher’s reaction to your first draft?
She wanted me to dig in deeper in a lot of places, but I’m really grateful she did because despite being in the public eye, I’m a very private person. I’ve been a public person for more than half my life, but it doesn’t mean I owe explanations about my life choices. I’m quite young to be writing a memoir, so I called the book Unfinished because there’s so much I want to do in my life.
Did you learn anything new about yourself while writing the book?
Yes, I write in very long sentences (laughs). While I was recording my audio book, I have learned that I have meandering thoughts – I’m thinking of one thing, and then I will go into another thing, and then I come back into another thing. So, whenever I write the next book, that’s something I’ve learned I need to work on.
You’ve written about your family and friends in the book. Did you ask them for their permission? How did they feel about it?
Everyone who is mentioned in the book has read it. I was very clear about that; I didn’t want any surprises later. Every time I wrote about a particular moment in my life, I would call whoever was in the memory to corroborate the story as my version was usually very different from their version of it. In doing that, my family and my extended family were a big part of my writing the story. Memory is a funny thing; you leave behind a lot of things.
What did your husband (singer Nick Jonas) think of the book? Has he read it?
Yes, he’s read the book. But what he thought about it? You’ll have to ask him.
You juggle a lot of roles in your life; which is the most rewarding?
I think what is most rewarding is being able to balance them all, and accelerate them. I am not someone who has a 10-year plan. I’m not a planner, I’m very spontaneous. I live my life by striving for excellence within the day. If I am doing 12 hours of interactions today, I want to make sure that each one of you gets my level of excellence. I feel like my year will be excellent, because today, I am excellent. I have lived my life like that so I feel like I take a lot of pride in being able to balance all the facets of my life well together. You’re vocal about female empowerment.
Is there something in particular that really infuriates you about how girls or women are treated in south Asia?
Through my work with Unicef, I see just how easy it is to take away an opportunity from a girl. People don’t even give it a second thought. And it’s not just an Asian thing, it’s a global problem. Women are reduced to just marriage and children. As soon as I got married, the first question was, ‘when are you having babies?’ No questions about the three films I’ve got coming out or my book. But no one’s asking the guys that question.
How has the pandemic changed the way that you have been filming?
I’m on set at the moment in the UK and it’s scary; I won’t lie. Even though all the rules are being followed, everyone is wearing masks – apart from the actors – and people keep a big distance because we’re the only ones who have to take off our masks on set. It’s a strange, new environment, but it’s my job and it’s my job to deliver. Hopefully, the content we’re creating will be worth it.
Reflecting on the past year, are there any activity or lifestyle changes that you made during lockdown that you will carry on doing once things return to normal?
Yes, I started working out (laughs). I used to have the metabolism of a gazelle, but the 30s hit you differently, man. On the other side of 35, I was like, we need to start training. I’ve now started enjoying it, which was something I never did. I was always on such a fast pace prior to lockdown – I used to forget to eat and have 10 cups of coffee. But during quarantine, I really focused on myself, and I’d love to take that forward as my life becomes crazy again.
How do you switch off?
I definitely take two or three hours at the end of the night to watch a movie, do dinner, decompress, talk with my family and friends. That’s something very recent. I never used to do that in my 20s.
You have become famous both in India as well as Hollywood. What makes you able to transcend cultural boundaries?
I have no idea! Ask the people who let me do it (laughs). I tried to stay true to my evolution; everyone changes, right? I’m also not someone who’s afraid of new cultures or new things. I’ve always been someone who’s a student of life, I love learning. I didn’t know how to write a book, I just went with it, and I’ve learned so many things while I was writing. I think that’s a big reason why I’ve been able to balance the two.
Why do you think that it can be so difficult for south Asians to break into the mainstream entertainment industry in Hollywood?
It’s taken me a 10- year journey since I came to America to be in the position that I’m in now. It took me pounding the pavement and dealing with rejection. The first headline I was ever featured in referred to me as a Bollywood star – not even my name. I think it comes from a place of not having diversity in Hollywood. When I was at my first Emmy Awards after party, I was with (actor) Aziz Ansari and we were counting all the south Asians in the room. There was only six. Aziz said, ‘that’s good – a couple of years ago, there were only two.’ But I prefer to think about the progress we’re making and empowering those who are trying to make that progress, like Mindy (Kaling), like Aziz, all of these incredible south Asian actors and talent who are creating an example of opportunity. As a producer, my dream is to be able to influx Hollywood with south Asian stories, talent and writers, because we’re one fifth of the world’s population. When you look at global entertainment – meaning English language entertainment – we don’t have that representation at all.
You’re currently working on a new wedding comedy project with Mindy Kaling. What can you reveal about it?
As a producer, I wanted to create content for myself, because I wasn’t really getting scripts that I felt very compelled about. I wanted to align with people who I think are amazing and Mindy was one of the first people I called because I really admired her writing. I said I wanted to do a buddy comedy with her and she was really excited about it. And this was a year after I got married; we thought about an Indian- American mash up wedding. It’s still being written, but I’m hoping to shoot it next year.
What are your future goals?
A big question! As an actor, I want to be able to do parts that inspire me and make me uncomfortable. I want to produce movies that have social narratives, or are provocative or are fun. I want to be able to spend more time with my family too.
For those reading Unfinished, what do you want them to take away from it?
I want readers to feel like they’ve gotten to know me, as a human being, instead of someone you read about in news. I would love readers to know I wasn’t born where I am today. I have had a trajectory and a journey, which is self-made with a lot of trials, tribulations, hardships and blessings. I would hope readers will take away if you invest in yourself, the sky’s the limit.
Unfinished by Priyanka Chopra Jonas is published by Michael Joseph and is out now