Priyanka Chopra Jonas' memoir Unfinished is an effervescent account propelled by bouts of introspection
Priyanka Chopra Jonas has a lot of ground to cover in her 38-year-long life, which is far from finished. She does not hover over any phase of her journey in the book, except the ones she chooses to — and those turn out to be the most rewarding bits.
Reading Priyanka Chopra Jonas' memoir Unfinished takes me back to Natasha Bedingfield's irresistible pick-me-up song 'Unwritten':
I am unwritten
Can't read my mind
I'm just beginning
The pen's in my hand
The reason we cannot label either Chopra Jonas or her book as a finished product is not only because there lie ahead multiple chapters in the life of the 38-year-old actor, but also because, as she points out, she has been as undefined as water. She takes the shape of whatever she is thrown into, taking a deep plunge with unshaken faith in her malleability.
Right when it was assumed she has taken the bus to Hollywood and will never work in India again like a certain Shekhar Kapur, she signed Shonali Bose's family drama The Sky Is Pink. Kareena Kapoor Khan told her on Koffee with Karan, "Don't forget your roots," — and she did not. Similarly, when she was announced as a Salman Khan heroine in Ali Abbas Zafar's Bharat, it was touted as her ghar wapasi post a 'flash in the pan' Hollywood stint. But she walked out of the film, got married to Nick Jonas, and is now involved in as many as over a dozen international projects.
Examples galore, Priyanka has always straddled different worlds and surprised us with her choices. Her production house Purple Pebble Pictures that she runs with her mother Madhu Chopra, is currently developing a Universal buddy wedding comedy with Mindy Kaling but only after churning out 10 medium-to-low budget films in other Indian languages like Marathi, Punjabi, Bhojpuri, Assamese and Sikkimese.
Her mother's carefully chosen words for the production house also personify Priyanka. "Purple" stands for royalty because "you're a queen," as Madhu puts it. But her highness is no stoic figure overseeing the kingdom she has amassed over the years. She is constantly on the run, often across countries. She is like a rolling stone that gathers no moss. "But you're not that big so you're a pebble," her mother explained to Chopra Jonas. She can strive for #WorldDomination with as much ferocity as one does while protecting their loved ones; she can be the pebble which snowballs into a landslide, and yet be a minor chunk in the pebbledash that adorns a home.
Priyanka does not shake things up with her memoir through tell-all revelations like a Rishi Kapoor did with Khullam Khulla or even Vidhu Vinod Chopra did with Unscripted. Her narrative is a deeply personal one, though she admits to have she guarded about ten percent of her life while shining a light on the remainder. She does drop a couple of cryptic mentions that form a part of that ten percent, and gossipmongers will have a field day decoding those by joining the dots like only they can.
But Chopra Jonas' intention is not to wink at her readers. In fact, there is very little to read between the lines here. She calls this memoir a "between-the-interviews." That may give the impression that Unfinished reads like a deeply introspective account of her life. But it takes that shape only when she chooses to go there. For the most part, it reads like the narration of a show where Priyanka is constantly dishing out one anecdote after the other in linear fashion. The childhood portions are wholeheartedly invested in her relationship with the doctor parents, with no mention of "I always loved acting because I participated in this school play...". On the contrary, Priyanka never talks about when the acting bug bit her. It appears that it never did, and Priyanka gradually warmed up to it, again a testament to her malleability.
Aspiring actors solely looking for some gyaan or hacks need not read Unfinished because Priyanka does not claim to be a master of her craft. However, she does spell out a couple of observations that she learned from her filmmakers and co-actors that came in handy. One of them, this writer feels, comes the closest to defining her style of acting. "In my experience, only children have isolated emotions. If a little child is angry, he's angry. If she's excited, she's excited. But as we evolve into adults, our emotional and intellectual capacities broaden and deepen, and expressing this complexity is one of the jobs of the actor."
Process these words and picture Chopra Jonas in the scene from Dil Dhadakne Do, where her character breaks it to Rahul Bose's that she wants a divorce because she does not love him despite trying. There is a multitude of emotions on her face and in her eyes, including guilt, shock, and epiphany. Similarly, in the scene from Bajirao Mastani, where her character rebukes her husband (Ranveer Singh) for falling in loving with another woman by saying, "Aapne toh humara guroor hi chheen liya." Again, there is pride, remorse, betrayal, and self-doubt.
This hybridity of emotion is reflective of Priyanka's real self, given the wide range of thoughts that cloud a nomadic mind. This also seeps into her writing.
She often says: "We're getting ahead of ourselves," before retracting to the diverted chain of thought. But these detours are not disorienting. They only make her more relatable while pumping up the energy and verve of her narrative. Even in the 38 years of her life that she maps, there is enough ground to cover. So she does not hover over a particular section for too long.
Readers may feel restless while plodding through her account of the Miss India and Miss World pageants, where she stretches a day to several pages. She definitely chooses to throw more light on that part of her life — the first stepping stone to fame — than the acting career she is known more widely for. But those bits speak volumes of what a small-town newcomer feels after being thrown into the deep end of the pool of fame and glamour. From expressing her aversion to the swimsuit contest to admitting her lack of awareness about Mother Teresa's passing when she was asked to name a living personality that inspires her, Priyanka lucidly describes the turmoil within while putting up a confident front. She also eloquently describes how she felt dwarfed at the first sight of other contenders, leaving her "in a cloud of their perfume and [her] own insecurity."
There are several other professional confessions she makes, like being reprimanded by choreographer Raju Khan for not getting a dance sequence right for 30 takes in her debut Hindi film; being asked by an established filmmaker to get cosmetic implants, and getting replaced from a film by the lead actor's girlfriend. But the most telling, as per this writer, is her admission that her music career could not meet her "artistic standards and expectations." Her first taste of a career in the West was through music, including collaborations with Pitbull and will.i.am. But she claims she let down all those who accompanied her on that ride before she moved on to what she knows better — acting.
But it is her personal confessions that are far more compelling. While she says she is grateful to her brother Siddharth for sending her pictures to the Miss India pageant without her knowledge — and that kickstarted her juggernaut ride — she also says their relationship was considerably damaged when all the attention and resources were redirected to shape her career. He was left behind in the US with relatives for a long stretch while his parents travelled with her for her initial professional endeavours in India.
She also discusses relationships (without naming anyone because
privacy "it's not about them, it's about me!") and how she used to become a different person when in love. She says she could not wrap her head around why she became so dependent in a relationship when all her aunts, grandmothers, and mother have been fiercely individual women. This work-in-progress phase of her relationships is far more intriguing than the eventual chapter on Nick, which tabloids would skim the entire book for.
But the chapter this writer would recommend this book primarily for is "Grief". She addressed this phase of life superficially during the interviews of The Sky Is Pink. The pain of having never dealt with the grief of her father's death was palpable in her performance of a mother who struggles to overcome the demise of a young daughter in the film. Priyanka recalls in the book that she never confronted the pain and just soldiered on with her work commitments. She says that physically demanding parts like Mary Kom helped to channel her pain and cash in on the numbness.
We sense a very different Priyanka in this chapter who, rather than dashing to the next touchstone, halts and studies a tree, a building, a bystander whom she would otherwise miss noticing. Sample these words: "When my dad died in 2013, I had made half-hearted efforts to find a therapist to help me with my grief. This time, in a more paralysed state, I didn't even try. I should have. I didn't consider medication. I should have. All I wanted was to spend time alone, until finally, finally, I was tired of being sad... I tried to remind myself of who I used to be when I'd had a spark. After a long time, I realised that I missed that person. I wanted to be her again."
Rather than shoving aside a major part of her life to the closet or the locker or the tuck box like she used to, Priyanka Chopra Jonas says she eventually chose to stare grief right in the eye. There is another ten percent of her life tucked away somewhere that she may bring out in the open when she is ready. Till then, the story remains both poetically and literally unfinished, just like our fascination with her.
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This is the second such incident to take place within seven days. On 7 May, the BSF had opened fire at a Pakistani drone in the same area shortly after it entered the Indian territory