A pas­sion for help­ing oth­ers

Friday - - Society -

Sophia Lauren,” Paul Mar­ciano, CEO, cre­ative di­rec­tor and co-founder of Guess, said of her. “With the In­dian movie in­dus­try ex­plod­ing on a global stage we could not have found a bet­ter global brand am­bas­sador.”

Priyanka says she never re­ally planned her ca­reer or her life and def­i­nitely did not set out to be an ac­tor. “I wanted to be an aero­nau­ti­cal engi­neer. Go­ing to Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in the US was my am­bi­tion in life,’’ she says. But she be­gan to ac­cept roles in Bol­ly­wood fol­low­ing her Mis­sWorld win and then, she says, “some­where along the way I re­alised ‘Hey, I love do­ing what I do!’’’

The ac­tress took a huge risk ac­cept­ing a neg­a­tive role in her very first film, Aithraz – some­thing many Bol­ly­wood ac­tors refuse for fear of be­ing type­cast or up­set­ting their fan base. Priyanka was praised by crit­ics for her role as So­nia Roy, an am­bi­tious woman who ac­cuses her male em­ployee of sex­ual ha­rass­ment. But once that be­came a hit, there was no look­ing back. She was flooded with more of­fers and went on to do chal­leng­ing roles in­clud­ing one in 7 Khoon Maaf – in which her char­ac­ter mar­ries seven men and mur­ders them all – and play­ing an autis­tic girl in Barfi!

Priyanka is not shy at try­ing her hand at biopics ei­ther. When five-time world box­ing cham­pion In­dian Mary Kom punched her way into the lime­light af­ter win­ning a bronze at the last Olympics, Priyanka promptly signed up to por­tray her. The film about Kom, who was born to a land­less farmer in Ma­nipur, north­east­ern In­dia, and over­came many chal­lenges to make As the Good­will Am­bas­sador for Unicef, Priyanka works tire­lessly for the cause of girls in In­dia. “I guess the pas­sion for so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity was sown early in my life,’’ she says. Her par­ents, Ashok and Madhu Cho­pra, who were doc­tors in the In­dian Army, would con­duct med­i­cal camps in small vil­lages that had no health-care fa­cil­i­ties. “My job was to help the phar­ma­cist hand out pills to the pa­tients. I took my job very se­ri­ously,” she says.

When she turned 13, Priyanka was sent to live in Queens, New York, with an aunt so she could get an Amer­i­can ed­u­ca­tion.

“From Bareilly, in In­dia, I was trans­ported to Amer­i­can high school cul­ture in the heart of Queens, al­most overnight.

“High school, as you know, can be the world’s big­gest cul­ture shock and for me it was mul­ti­plied by a bil­lion! It was a com­pletely new and a for­eign move for my life as I had known it.

“I went from be­ing this good In­dian girl from a small town in In­dia to be­ing a soul sis­ter in my head, com­plete with the braids, puffy jack­ets and gold hoops on my ears. I spent all my pocket money on clothes. I was a good girl but I still man­aged to give my fam­ily a few sleep­less nights,’’ she re­vealed re­cently.

When she was 17, she re­turned to her fam­ily in In­dia and, six months later, walked away with the Mis­sWorld ti­tle in 2000 at Lon­don’s Mil­len­nium Dome.

The ti­tle cat­a­pulted her to star­dom and Bol­ly­wood, where she went on to win a clutch of awards, in­clud­ing one of the pres­ti­gious Film­fare awards, which recog­nise Bol­ly­wood films, while gain­ing mil­lions of fans.

To­day, she un­der­stands the power of star­dom and wants to use it to make a dif­fer­ence. “It’s an im­por­tant part of who I am. It’s a very in­di­vid­ual thing, the feel­ing of giv­ing back is very per­sonal.”

Many movies and mil­lions of ru­pees-worth of en­dorse­ments later, Priyanka is not show­ing

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