It is one of those awkward moments when you don't know the politically correct statement to make. Our Hollywood export Priyanka Chopra has made it to the cover of Time magazine. The magazine, in its May edition, counts her among the "Top 100 Influential" people in the world.
As always, Indians are prone to celebrating anything/anyone that makes it in the West, as though it is the ultimate and final act of approval. As for ABC, it was a matter of jumping into the new trend of shows featuring women protagonists (Orange is the New Black, How To Get Away with Murder).
However, saddled with a poor script and no big names ready to risk it, the best bet was to go over-the-top on publicity. Before airing the show, they pasted Priyanka Chopra's face across all major cities in the US - billboards, buses, bus stops, our Piggy stared at us from every corner.
So here we are celebrating Chopra's great influence on the world.
|Priyanka Chopra on Time magazine's May 2016 cover.
The problem is, it is confusing whether it is a proud moment or just embarrassing to see Ms Chopra posing for Time, a news magazine that was once the last word in journalistic credibility under powerful editors such as Jason McManus, Henry Grunwald and Norman Pearlstine. The rumour/legend is that the editors' apathy for story-selling publicists was so venomous that they were not even allowed near the reception.
Sadly, it is difficult to feel over the moon for Priyanka. How exactly has Priyanka Chopra influenced the world? Or her viewers? Or the Asian film industry? Or Bollywood? None of this is to say her achievements are not noteworthy, and it is interesting to see international media take note of her. But mostly it is embarrassing to see the height to which a good publicist can take an average actor and the depth to which credible journalism can fall for it.
Time is a milestone in journalism created in 1923 by Briton Hadden and Henry Luce, making it the first weekly news magazine in the United States, and its special issues have always made news. The person who makes it to the Top Influential List is always someone who readers take seriously for his/her contribution to the world and is also the magazine's political/social statement, be it the Pakistani girl who fought for child education, Malala Yousafzai or the Pope.
In January 2006, the magazine (which has always featured a person on the cover) just wrote the word "YOU" and named it as the Person of The Year, with a short explanation: "Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world." It was finitely the most influential cover of all time.
|Time magazine's January 2006 cover.
However, this year the magazine has played the safe route with six different covers instead of taking the responsibility of choosing that one person who the world must take note. Time will hit the stands with six different covers with seven prominent faces featuring on the covers. This includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicki Minaj, Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan, Lin-Manuel Miranda, International Monetary Fund managing director Christina Lagarde and actress-singer Priyanka Chopra. Make everybody happy.
With print media in a flux thanks to dipping circulation and advertising revenue, it is a good strategy. You have to do what you have to do. Most editors of the current generation have sucked it up and succumbed to the "revenue" pressure at some point or another.
Which still does not explain Piggy Chops. Of course, Indians have gleaned over this multiple cover strategy and focused on Priyanka. It is another feather in her cap. I am not sure any of them would honestly remember a single role or a dialogue from any of her movies, or what award she presented at the Oscars. Memories are short in India, especially our collective memories.
In terms of acting skills, Priyanka Chopra barely made the line in Bollywood. Her reincarnation as a singer went unnoticed despite her collaboration with will.i.am. There are no memorable movies that she made in India that influenced viewers, leave alone the film industry or the world at large.
While we celebrate the publicist-pumped success of Priyanka Chopra, we have forgotten the names that crossed over the border without much ado or adulation from Indians or the media.
That is what is sad about this moment of pride. We forgot Naseeruddin Shah in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Kunal Nayyar in the seven-Emmy-winning television show The Big Bang Theory, Gurinder Chaddha who directed Parmider Nagra in the hugely successful Bend It Like Beckham, Irrfan Khan who is pretty much a constant in Hollywood today with a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance for his role in Slumdog Millionaire.
Most of us forgot Irrfan's mature Pi in Life of Pi, the Pakistani cop in A Mighty Heart opposite Angelina Jolie, a biopic on the search for the kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. And Anil Kapoor, who played a far more influential role by making a space for India in global cinema with Slumdog Millionaire and 24. Those who mocked him for his blink and miss appearance in season one must watch its second outing.
So, as proud I am of Priyanka Chopra and her pouting performance in Quantico, I shall reserve some of the celebratory fireworks for the stars who don't make it to great magazine covers.