Why Priyanka, Deepika will come to regret their Hollywood roles
The Bollywood actresses are too gifted to play second fiddle to a bunch of white actors with little talent beyond their bulging biceps and deep voices.
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With Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone playing leads in upcoming Hollywood productions, the moment of arrival for Indian cinema, or more accurately Indian acting talent, seems to be finally here.
Priyanka is set to play a villain in the upcoming edition of Baywatch (the movie) while Deepika will star opposite Vin Diesel in the latest XXX production. Fans are ecstatic at two of Bollywood’s greatest talents making it to foreign shores.
And yet! Both films are part of the formulaic franchise in which their gorgeous physicality will play a greater role than their nuanced acting. While the films are expected to do well given the high-voltage action sequences, they cannot be called real Hollywood fare, by which I mean the stuff that gets considered by the Academy come February.
Aishwarya Rai has walked this road before Priyanka and Deepika, but the only film from her foreign junket that is worth remembering is the Indian-origin Gurinder Chadha’s Bride & Prejudice. Rai also starred in Provoked, about a battered housewife in the West, but that story too was essentially a “brown” story.
Aishwarya’s role in the Pink Panther movie (2009) was not just forgettable; it was also mocked by her Indian fans for its slightness. That was a thoroughly “white” film, and it was clear that she had got a raw deal in signing up for it.
True, Deepika and Priyanka’s roles are a step up. Both Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel are hugely popular, bankable stars whose presence would ensure box office success of the respective movies. The most well-known actor in Aishwarya’s film was Steve Martin, who has been all that active since his Father of the Bride days.
Even so, one can’t quit the feeling that the roles are really a compromise in that they have been signed on so that a foothold in Hollywood may be established. This is all the more surprising for Priyanka who plays an American lead in a major television show. Surely, she could have waited until a meatier role came her way. Look at the Latinas, on the other hand. From Penelope Cruz to Salma Hayek, Eva Longoria to Eva Mendes, Latin American actresses have been storming Hollywood for some time now. Penelope, for example, has done starring roles in film by Woody Allen (Vicky Christina Barcelona) and Ben Stiller (Zoolander 2). She is, of course, the beneficiary of Pedro Almodovar’s largesse (Broken Embraces, Volver) but that can be put down to their similar linguistic heritage. (They are both Spanish.)
Of course, the Spaniards and the Mexicans have far greater currency in Hollywood than the Indians. Look no further than Alejandro Inarritu, fast becoming one of today’s most accomplished directors. No Indian-origin director has reached that pedestal. M Night Shyamalan came close but he frittered it away. Besides, he was genre, restricted to horror.
All of this may be why Priyanka and Deepika are making do with these rather slim choices for their big-screen Hollywood debut. Curiously, it reminds me of Priyanka’s abysmal Bollywood debut, an eminently forgettable film called Andaz, in which she and an equally sultry Lara Dutta vied for Akshay Kumar’s attention. Her brilliant career graph makes one rue those initial movies, and one wonders why she did not choose better since she was a Miss India. Deepika, on the other hand, was smarter in that she debuted opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om.
I have a feeling that should their Hollywood careers take off, the actresses will come to regret their first films there. Both of them are at the zenith of their game back home. Their combined talent, mixed with Ranveer Singh’s nonpareil acting, lifted Bajirao Mastani, otherwise a slender film in my view, to great heights. In Piku, Fashion and others, both Priyanka and Deepika have given performances of a lifetime.
It is, therefore, somewhat galling to see them play to the stereotype of the lusty belle riding behind the tough dude, as he goes about destroying enemies and putting on the macho act. Deepika and Priyanka are too gifted to play second fiddle to a bunch of white actors with little talent beyond their bulging biceps and deep voices.