Priyanka Chopra Jonas and the Art of Flourishing

Priyanka Chopra Jonas and the Art of Flourishing

he constantly updating resume of the global celebrity is elating if breathless. Will she be famous for being famous or will the story turn?

For those who chase black coffee with a brandish of celebrities on social media to cast off inconsequential weekends in time stretched by a pandemic lockdown, Monday morning in India this week brought a forceful blast from Priyanka Chopra Jonas. Photographic baubles from the 2021 Billboard Awards held in Los Angeles had landed. The Instagram algorithm—a stalking reminder of what we like—reeled with new excerpts from Chopra Jonas’ life. Her shimmering Dolce & Gabbana dress, her romantic gel praise for husband Nick Jonas undeterred in performance by his broken rib, her stylist Law Roach on the “most iconic belt ever made” and she, in long, sleek hair cascading on her gold heeled swagger.

Among those who noticed, Chopra Jonas surged as subject of the day. Her 63.6 million followers on Instagram, 47 million on Facebook and 27.2 million on Twitter, preferred metrics in present day arithmetic, got a ball to play with. Some were put off by her accent as she announced Duran Duran at the awards, others tittered about her choice of the infamous designer duo Dolce & Gabbana. Some couldn’t stop gushing about her sexy diva-ness, others cringed as she “baby-ed” her famous husband. Matter of the fact? Priyanka Chopra Jonas may be hotly debated but is never coldly dismissed.


Thing is that like a movie script with a 7 Khoon Maaf-like multiplicity of several personas, the start to this story can be completely altered. It can begin instead with Chopra’s stunning cover for the June edition of Vogue Australia. It arrived this week too with dazzling photographs tracing back to Richard Avedon and Irving Penn kind of fashion shoots. ‘Global Superpower: Priyanka Chopra Jonas & her plea for India’, said the cover blurb. Dressed in Chanel and Bvlgari and photographed by the London-based fashion and portrait photographer Bibi Borthwick, she was like an archer taking aim, not with a taut arrow but a flowing, flying, diaphanous burgundy red fabric. That the cover line says ‘Also Starring our Tokyo Olympians’, in fine print only tells you who is winning the race.

It is incredible that the last week of May 2021 offers yet another option to start the narration of this story of ambition, persistence, strategy and success whose official alias is Priyanka Chopra Jonas. A video posted yesterday, May 28, saw Chopra and Nick Jonas make a joint announcement that the Priyanka Chopra Jonas Foundation which, in association with Give India had launched a fundraising campaign #TogetherforIndia for COVID-19 relief had raised $1 million dollars so far. They stood as a powerful couple, sombre in poise, Chopra, a breath behind Jonas thanking everyone and wishing us all safety.


The Vogue Australia cover.

“I think her popularity is indicative of a greater global appreciation of all cultures and their contributions to the world. Priyanka is a contemporary example of how someone beautiful and talented can also use their voice to make positive change. It may become an expectation in the future, that our celebrities are truly multi-dimensional, and mindful of global and local concerns. Everyone who appreciates the beauty of India also empathises with the challenges it faces, and Priyanka is the perfect spokeswoman for the times,” says Kirstie Clements, former editor of Vogue Australia and author of 2013 book The Vogue Factor.

The Woman You Want Your Daughter to Be

The restless, re-inventive persistence that fuels the continuance of Priyanka Chopra Jonas in popular culture is not a new insight. She has been amply written about for building and growing a brand including by this writer for Mint Lounge in 2016 in a story titled Priyanka Chopra, The Star Strategist. She had just won the People’s Choice award for a new series in the US for her role as a FBI agent in Quantico. “I want to leave behind a legacy…Failure is not an option,” she had told me in a phone interview from Montreal.

This story however, attempts to frame the last one year, the never-before COVID-19 stricken year when much of the world was trying to settle into a vast unsettlement. Among those in the current global landscape, who are famous and visible, who have the privilege to be and show what it means not to “languish” and, in fact, how to “flourish”, Priyanka Chopra Jonas stands tall.


Photo: Instagram/Priyankachopra

The actor with former First Couple of the United States, Barack and Michelle Obama in 2016.

The sum total of her celebrity is now bigger than the parts that made it—Miss World, actor, singer, first girl of ethnicity for Guess, an all American brand, a United Nations goodwill ambassador, a Bollywood mover, shaker, Karan Johan coffee couch-er who was later “ousted from the camps of Bollywood” for allegedly having an affair with one of India’s biggest stars. None of that matters as much as the composite.

Her brand simultaneously fits into numerous popular culture trends. “The Venn diagrams she makes—Punjabi kudi, woman of colour, fit politically well into brands,” agrees Anuja Chauhan, author, screenwriter and advertising professional. Chopra is indeed correcting the global image of us “brown girls” as she calls herself. Always alert about labelling herself an Indian, she also basks in the afterglow of a fairy tale wedding to an American music star. Reminds the world that she is feminist in her choices, humanist in social impact initiatives. She invests in tech like a contemporary powerhouse. She launched a restaurant called Sona in New York this March conveying her intimacy with food for those who may need reminding after she competitively gobbled down chicken hot wings on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon five years back.


A campaign shot for Anomaly Haircare.

Book, food, tech, acting, fashion, rescue dog, Oscar nomination, TV deal. “She is the woman we tell our daughters to be. Get out there, look at Priyanka Chopra. Pull yourselves up by the bootstraps. Do things right. Attitude, effort, ambition. She gets an A in everything,” says Chauhan. Having worked with Chopra numerous times in the past, including the Pepsi and Nokia commercials when Chopra’s celebrity was still being moulded, Chauhan says her ambition and energy remain the same. “I remember the prep for a commercial with two top female actors (Kareena Kapoor Khan was the other one); we had two dresses, pink and blue. Priyanka who would always do things right, look around the set, read the script, called us for the pink one saying she deserved it being the first to ask. This was way before the other actor had woken up to see her script. Ditto with Quantico. She was cool with going for the auditions. Being a big heroine in India didn’t stop her. It shows amazing attitude,”

Creating a timeline of Chopra’s multi-hyphenate professional moves in the last one year maybe useful for her memoirists but can be a breathless exercise with the risk of remaining unfinished. Like Unfinished, her memoir at 38 years, released this February which became a New York Times bestseller in a day or so of its release. Of course. Right before it, she launched Anomaly – her own hair care brand that includes shampoos, hair masks, conditioners which are vegan, eco-friendly and “super-affordable”. The messaging? Eco-friendly consumerism. And who better than Priyanka Chopra of the sometimes tousled, Seventies-wavy style, often bed-ruffled and love-unsettled glossy, honey-cinnamon hair, to promote it. No anomaly there.


Photo: Instagram/priyankachopra

An Oscars announcement promo post shared by Chopra on her Instagram.

In March, she and Nick Jonas announced the nominations for the 93rd Oscar awards, firmly saddled in global notice. As a couple and as two, damn good looking halves of a pop culture franchise. Among the nominations was the film The White Tiger (based on Aravind Adiga’s 2008 book for best adapted screenplay) co-produced by Chopra in which plays a conflicted Indian American wife.

We are still capping one year of Chopra at work and it is already a marathon. Last October, the British Fashion Council declared her the ambassador of Positive Fashion. Before that, in June 2020 as the founder of the film production company Purple Pebble Pictures she signed a two year, multi-million first look TV deal with Amazon. In an interview to Mark Malfin of Variety magazine, she said that as a teenager when she saw Sarah Michelle Geller in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she told herself, “That’s who I want to be.”

Vampire Slayer? Not quite. Yet lately, Chopra even without her annual, glamorously over-the-top Met Gala appearances has proved to be a bit of Mary Kom with a dude-y dusting of John Hamm in Mad Men. Female punch and male hauteur. A creature of work, train, repeat. The same-same girl who told Fallon, “I do not know how many women can say that they got to intimidate The Rock (actor, former professional wrestler, producer Dwayne Johnson, her Baywatch co-star).


Photo: Instagram/priyankachopra

Jonas (second from right) at the People’s Choice Awards in 2017 alongside (L-R) Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lopez, Dwayne Johnson and his daughter Simone.

If you stare at PC’s ferry wheel resume, her future assignments –Matrix 4 with Keanu Reeves, Amazon Prime’s Citadel and playing the convicted Ma Anand Sheela for Amazon Studios seem like a quick trailer. Who knows, she may well launch a pet foods company, a masterclass on trekking life or a sustainable maternity brand for famous mothers to be.

“One major reason that brand Priyanka Chopra continues to grow is because of the carefully oiled machinery that services it. Any editor who has had PC on the cover will know that she is represented by a battery of agencies in India and abroad, many of who disagree and fight with each other, but the friction only helps Brand PC,” says Jamal Shaikh, national editor, Brunch and new media initiatives, Hindustan Times. Shaikh who has known Chopra since the days she contested the Miss India pageant in 2000 when “ambition was still being debated as a quality”, believes that Chopra realises the importance of working hard to get roles, build her star image and keep in touch with the media. “After Quantico, most actors who had seen such success would have their nose in the air, dismissing calls from journalists back home, but PC actually threw two informal get-togethers for editors in Mumbai and Delhi to ‘say hi’,” he says.

The Studio of Modern Love and Life

Earlier this week, this platform put out a Priyanka Chopra Jonas poll on Instagram asking readers to pick favourites between her many avatars—restaurateur, actor, writer, diva…the responses spiked the traction three times above any other reader poll done so far.


An Instagram poll by TVOF.

On the other hand, for an upcoming story, a conversation with members of Gen Z on celebrities who they find aspirational revealed that Priyanka Chopra Jonas is the only Bollywood actor on the list. Her success in the West and positioning as a “strong woman of colour,” is made more alluring with quirky reels featuring her with Diana, her Chihuahua, styled with her in matching high fashion outfits. Even younger Indian actors fail to get this stamp of approval by digital natives.

Becoming big is clearly linked to thinking big but what about wearing, living and loving big? If Chopra represents diversity in terms of skin colour and origin to the world what is equally apparent is how she promotes its onion like layers. Indian, Global, Risqué, Real. Tags her affection for her parents. Never forgets to send up a message to the skies for her late father telling him how much she misses him. Or how, when her mother walked her down the aisle for her Jodhpur wedding to Jonas, she felt her father’s presence.

This February, in London to shoot the movie Text for You with Sam Heughan and Celine Dion, she told Kathryn Shattuck of The New York Times how “she had kidnapped her mother to be with her as she felt safer with her around.”


The actor with Oprah Winfrey on the talk show Super Soul Sunday.

Chopra never forgets referring to her spiritual side. Excerpts from her Oprah interview remind the world her convent education and her father “singing in a mosque”—presumably he sang Sufi devotional songs. She also told the world’s most famous talk show host about her parent’s happy marriage and how Nick Jonas was “manifested” in her mum’s dreams for a conjugal life after a string of “bad relationships.”

The tight rope walk she does as India’s most wanted desi girl abroad reveals her balancing prowess. She fasts and celebrates ‘Karva Chauth’ for her husband in desirable, wifey red garb. He fasts in reciprocation and their fans exhale a collective “aww…” And as Chauhan says “For all the talk of Priyanka’s relationships back in Bollywood, look where she is today. She has become the man she wanted to marry, even bigger. So she can marry whoever she wants, a cute little boy.”

If Chopra is wearing her revenge well, let’s not forget it is a nude, seamless inner. As her top coat is her Big Life. Like the red Jason Wu, off-shoulder gown she wore to present at the Emmys in 2016 and ended up twirling its fabric halo on the red carpet, creating a photo moment. Few will forget PC’s “longest”, Ralph Lauren trench cloak at the 2017 Met Gala where she first appeared with Nick Jonas. It took enormous space in the heads of fashion followers. As did the 75-feet long lace and tulle veil (part of her Ralph Lauren bridal ensemble) for her Christian wedding ceremony at Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur.


Photo: Handout / RAINDROP MEDIA / AFP

The couple photographed on their wedding day.

The Chopra-Jonas marital partnership and its positioning in public appearances contributes enormously to why their sky looks pink to their fans. “Priyanka’s marriage to Nick followed that of Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, who had half a dozen receptions within a few days because they had so many friends to invite. PC trumped that by strategically having her first reception in Delhi with the Prime Minister in attendance—rumour has it that the Taj was booked for the entire week and invitations were sent out only when the PM confirmed his date—which helped strengthen brand Priyanka Chopra even more,” recalls Shaikh.

Unlike the start of this story however, multiple options for a perfect ending seem to be running out. Questions persist amid the zingers. While Chopra’s exceptional andaaz is well noted (China in consumerism and fame waits to be conquered) the curiosity persists if stretching the elastic of her brand will make her a dilettante instead of an extraordinary artist. Will a fight ensue between the post-proverbial Jack of All and Master of Some? If the House of Priyanka Chopra Jonas will sell everything from dating apps to restaurants, fashion to hair conditioners, will she become famous for being famous or will she pause and inflect? Towards one, focused, powerful and piercing tale of talent that outstrips other bits for memory addicts of the future?

With inputs from Darshita Goyal and Disha Talreja 

Banner: Priyanka Chopra Jonas for the 2021 Billboard Music Awards. Photo courtesy Instagram/luxurylaw