She did 'Aitraaz', she did 'Krrish', all contrasting work, felt Rakesh Roshan, who directed Hrithik and PeeCee.
“Fail, fail, fail and then rise like the Phoenix” – Priyanka
Fortuitously, the rise was possible because a film called 'Krrish' pulled her out of the emptiness that follows heartbreak and filled it with the happiness that a big break brings in its wake.
'Krrish' was also the film which ensured that Priyanka’s turn as the crotch-grabbing vamp of 'Aitraaz' wouldn’t stamp her as the next Bindu.
'Krrish' was her introduction to the big league of A-Listers.
Subhash Ghai’s eyes twinkled as he remembered, “One major thing that happened during 'Aitraaz' was that Rakesh Roshan who was making 'Krrish', called me home and gave me a nice meal too. He was tossing names around and wondering who to cast in the film when I suggested Priyanka. He asked me if I could show him some of the scenes from 'Aitraaz' and I said ‘Yes’. So he and Hrithik went to Empire Studio where the mixing of 'Aitraaz' was going on and saw some scenes of the film. After two days, Priyanka sent me a big bouquet of flowers with a note that read, ‘Thank you very much, it worked and I’ve signed Krrish.’ She got established as a heroine from there.”
Rakesh Roshan who brought her the much-needed patch of sunlight at that junction, described what he saw in Priyanka to cast her in the role that every leading lady of Mumbai was hankering after.
“When I was making 'Krrish', I wanted to take an upcoming girl because I was myself not sure if I could make this film in the time-frame I’d set for it. I had never before attempted such a subject; it was such an unusual superhero film. Since I was not very confident of how much time I’d need for it, I wanted to take a new girl who would adjust her dates with me and with Hrithik. I had met Priyanka a long time back when she was staying at the Holiday Inn and had won the Miss World title. I had interacted with her and seen potential in her.”
“To be certain, I rang up Subhash Ghai. She was working in Aitraaz at that time. I asked him if I could see one or two reels and he said, ‘Sure’. They were either mixing the film or doing the background score, I don’t remember. Hrithik and I both went to Empire. Abbas-Mustan were also there. I didn’t know that she was playing a vamp in it but I saw the fire in her and said, ‘Yes, she is a very fine actress.’”
Even if she’d initially dithered and struck a Hamlet pose – to do or not to do 'Aitraaz' – Roshan was impressed that once she went into it, “She did it with full confidence, with full conviction and courage.”
“I thought she was the right girl to cast in 'Krrish', so I called her home. I narrated the whole script to her and I said, ‘I’m taking you for my film because one, you are a good actress and two, I want all the dates as per my convenience. You’ll have to block your dates for me.’ She agreed and that’s how we started working together. I dealt with her directly.”
“I gave her the script, I gave her the narration, and I took the dates from her. Financials were also dealt with directly. She had come with her father and we spoke about it. It was very easy and neat, she came from a very dignified family.”
Observations about Priyanka don’t differ from director to director. There’s consensus that she’s a director’s actor but each had his own way of making her grow and deliver, either adding to her repertoire of performances or aiding her in her climb to stardom. Sometimes, it made her famous tear ducts that work overtime, come to the fore as they did while filming one particular sequence of 'Krrish'.”
Rakesh Roshan smiled, “We were shooting a volleyball sequence where she is playing with her friends and so is Krishna. He is alone with those girls. Priyanka had to hit the ball but while doing that, her one leg used to go up which wasn’t looking nice. I told her that, I said, ‘It looks very amateur, so don’t put your leg up.’ I wanted her to hit the ball straight like how a man would but she kept repeating the mistake; she was just not getting it right.”
“I thought the only way she would do it well was if I scolded her. So I said to her firmly, ‘Can’t you understand what I want? I’m telling you not to put your leg up. Why don’t you pay attention?’ And she got it right this time but she started crying after that. I went up to her and explained that I only scolded her so that she’d get the shot right. ‘I didn’t mean anything, and see, you got it right,’ I said to her. ‘I had to put that fear in you so that you concentrate and do it.’ That was the only time I scolded her.”
“Otherwise, it was a pleasure working with her.”
“We started the first shoot in Kulu-Manali, we were there for almost fifty-sixty days. I never had a problem with her,” he confirmed. “When I called her for the sequel to 'Krrish' too, she was very excited and said, ‘It’s even better than the first Krrish.’ I’ve really enjoyed working with her and I’m sure she’ll be there in 'Krrish 4' but I can’t say what the length of her role will be the third time around.”
“When I worked with her in 'Krrish', I never realised that one day she’d be going to Hollywood. But I always knew that she would hit the top bracket here. It’s her professionalism and her acting abilities that have taken her to where she’s gone today.”
“Once upon a time, there was the feeling that beauty queens can’t act because a few of them came (in the early ’70s) and couldn’t emote at all. But that stamp isn’t valid anymore. Today, anybody can become a good actor or an actress; there’s no prejudice against anyone. There are so many TV actors too who’re very good. But you also need luck to make it. Priyanka has tremendous talent, great discipline and a lot of luck. It’s a combination that works for anybody. Even for us,” he added.
Priyanka was one such exceptional case where every right element was blended well.
“She was so good in 'Mary Kom'. She did 'Aitraaz', she did 'Krrish', all contrasting work. Then she did 'Bajirao Mastani', she was so good in it, she had the film in her grip. Terrific dialogue delivery and that dance she did (‘Pinga’ with Deepika), all of it was very high-quality work. She did not have the main role in 'Bajirao Mastani' but to have accepted the assignment with a new, younger heroine like Deepika, and then to do justice to it, required exceptional confidence,” Roshan observed.
With his vast experience of studying and working with a smorgasbord of actors, Rakesh Roshan also analysed her external appearance to explain why a girl who wasn’t a natural stunner had succeeded in her own country and then caught the fancy of the West too.
“Though Priyanka is tall, she still has a certain fragility. She is all-woman, very sensuous. She is like Rekha and Sridevi, she can carry off an Indian and a Western look.”
“Her upbringing keeps her rooted. Her parents are (father was) educated and good people to talk to. I know Priyanka’s also knowledgeable and a good conversationalist but unfortunately, when I am on set, my interactions are all about work. I don’t mix around because I am in my own thought process.”
“But I’ve seen her move from here to Hollywood and I like the way she carries herself with dignity, the way she dresses up. She has really put Bollywood on the world map. I’ve seen two seasons of 'Quantico' and I can see that she has everything it takes to succeed there. There was a lovemaking scene in the car in 'Quantico' and she did it so well. There was nothing dirty about it because she did it without fear. It’s the way she carries herself that makes everything she does look neither bad nor vulgar.”
She may be no born beauty but, said a perceptive Roshan, “She’s got some magic in her that comes alive when she’s in front of the camera. If you see her personally, you might not find her that attractive but she’s beautiful on screen. Now even at the personal level, she’s looking very nice because success gives you a certain beauty and glow.”
Roshan’s own 'Krrish' was her first big taste of top-grade commercial success and she gave it the respect that it deserved.
Excerpted with permission of Bharathi S Pradhan and Om Books International from Priyanka Chopra: The Dark Horse.