Taking Pride in the Bride
India’s soft power finally comes of age. And it’s thanks to Priyanka Chopra
Priyanka Chopra might not warrantaStatueof Unityjust yet as a national icon, but she certainly did not deserve the 1,600 words of steaming hot xenophobia, racism and sexism that got heaped on her thanks to The Cut, a verticalownedbyNewYorkMagazine.
In the now infamous article, ‘Is PriyankaChopraandNickJonas’sLovefor Real?’(goo.gl/RPHTSX),columnistand comedian Mariah Smith decided, “All Nick wanted was a possible fling with Hollywood’s latest It Woman, but instead he wound up staring straight at a life sentence with a global scam artist.”
The backlash was quick and stinging. Within hours, the article was edited, toned down, its more egregious bits removed. Finally, it was deleted altogether, replaced by a cringing apology admitting “human error and poor judgement”,ratherthantheusualhalf-hearted“Regretif thisoffendedanyone”nonapology. This was no superficial paper cut. This ran deep.
Rudyard Kipling was wrong. Even if East is East and West is West, sometimes the twain do meet — at a lavish wedding in Jodhpur. Or, as this story revealed,theycanmeetinanapologyatsocial media’s great judgement seat. It’s not quite an apology for Jallianwala Bagh or the Kohinoor, but it’s something.
When the West comes to India, it is usually the knight on a white horse bringing deliverance to hapless brown people. Nick the Knight did ride in on a horse,butthisdamselwasinnodistress at all. According to Smith, Chopra “nevereventookthetimetomakesure[Jonas] was comfortable riding the horse”.Smithdoesnotrevealhowsheknew this, but her advice to Jonas was to “find that horse and gallop away as fast as you can”. That’s a colonial stereotype turning on its head right there as Nick Jonas becomes the naïve virgin fleeing the clutches of the worldly-wise princess in this Cut-rate postcolonial fairy tale.
A Cut Below the Rest
There has been a lot of debate about whetherPriyankaChopraisIndia’sfirst bona fide crossover star. Whether her stintwithQuanticowasanunqualified success or not, the show was built around her. She was the face on the poster in the subway. The indignation this article sparked — and the quick capitulation by The Cut — proves her international clout is real, not just PR fantasy.
As Aseem Chhabra, author of Priyanka Chopra: The Incredible Story of a Global Bollywood Star, says, “She became a very recognisable American celebrity from somebody who was not known at all in America.” Not bad for the girl from Bareilly.
There were plenty of Indians rolling their eyes at the breathless coverage of the wedding. But with just one horrendousarticle,TheCutmanagedtomake theentireconversationabouttheirown racism,xenophobia,misogynyandageism. As the Priyanka-Nick jokes being forwarded around on WhatsApp groups will testify, Indians are no strangers to these vices. But thanks to The Cut, Indians got to play aggrieved victim this time.
The wedding became a matter of national honour around which everyone rallied — even those who would otherwise have slammed it for being an overthe-topbrand-athon.Someonejustgive her a Padma Bhushan already.
The furore led to a larger conversation about The Cut’s editorial standards. The Cut claims to be a “premier destination for women with stylish minds”. But it came across as blindingly white, and blindsided by its whiteness. While Smith is African-American, the article showed how New York was still a little island that thought the world revolved around it. Smith was clueless that for most of the world, Priyanka Chopra, thanks to Bollywood and Quantico, was the bigger name, while Nick Jonas had to be Googled.
Most importantly, it took barely 12 hours for The Cut to axe the story. As the website Broadsheet points out (goo. gl/tyNri4), “There was a time when outrage in ‘distant’ India would barely make a dent on the New York media establishment. But today if media is global, so are the brands who finance it. No advertiser — either in New York or LondonorLA—wantstopissoffoneof the biggest markets in the world.”
Soft-Won Hard Victory
Of course, this is about business. But it is a sign of India’s soft power finally comingof age,andit’sthankstoPriyanka Chopra, rather than anyone going about hugging people across the world.
Chopra wisely chose not to lash out from her ‘happy place’. But to paraphraseformerUSpresidentTheodoreRoosevelt, it showed that real power means to speak softly and carry a big wedding veil. Better still, have six people carry it for you.
Dulhania Dilwale Le Jayenge