The year was 2000. I had just walked into the newspaper office, where I worked in Kolkata. The editor informed me that I would have to do the interview of a Miss India runner-up, who was visiting the city for an event. The appointment was set at 1 pm at the five-star hotel where she was staying. Her name is “Priyanka Chopra” the editor told me. I nodded. Not too excited. I had been on a late shift the night before, and only coffee could do it for me at that moment. Not some Priyanka Chopra, about whom I knew nothing, and didn’t care to go to Google.
All I knew was Priyanka Chopra was a Miss India
2000 was the year when Lara Dutta had won the Miss India Crown, Priyanka Chopra was the first runner-up and Dia Mirza the second runner-up. The pageant had just happened and by then we had become blasé about beauty queens (it had been 6 years since Sushmita Sen’s Miss Universe win) so the names and faces had already slipped out of my mind.
Those were the days when there were no PRs handling every celeb in town, fiercely guarding them, lest you take 5 minutes more for the interview. It was as simple as walking into the hotel, making a call on the house phone and then meeting the celeb in the lobby, in the coffee shop or even in the room.
Priyanka asked me to just go over to her room. I had the photographer with me and she was okay with that. I remember stepping into her super tidy hotel room – trust me, you haven’t seen what an untidy celeb room can be – and next I noticed her clothes more than her face.
She was in a very ethnic long black kurta with beautiful embroidery on the shoulders. But her ethnic attire did nothing to hide her super tiny waist and tall frame. Her hair was in a bun and she had minimal make-up on.
I settled on the sofa and very comfortably she sat on the bed next to me. She looked shy but warm. She hadn’t got used to interviews yet, she said.
I didn’t know I was talking to the future star of Bollywood, and Hollywood
Since I didn’t know much about her and hadn’t jotted down the questions it was more like a chat that we got into. She told me about how she moved from one school to another, about how she was super proud of her mother’s achievements and how she was preparing for the Miss World Pageant.
I would be dishonest not to say that it instantly crossed my mind that if this young lady here “really” had it in her to win it on an international platform.
I, of course, did not share my thoughts with her. Neither did I know then I was not only talking to a future Miss World but also the first global superstar from India.
But the interview was coming to an end and I had already liked her immensely. She had a way with words and her eyes twinkled when she spoke.
Her event was at night in the same hotel.
“I have come all alone and I don’t know anyone here,” said Priyanka Chopra.
“Hope you are coming tonight, then I can chat with you again,” she said with a smile. There was a simplicity in it. It touched my heart.
Needless to say, the journalist got stuck at work till midnight and since the interview – “the job”- was already done the editor saw no reason why she had to go again to an event to meet the same person. (Though I don’t know how he would have reacted if the Priyanka Chopra of today had asked me the same.)
So I couldn’t meet her anymore.
I had to wait for 8 years to meet Priyanka Chopra again…
2008. Fashion was releasing soon and Priyanka Chopra was in Dubai promoting her film. I had moved to Dubai, I was working with a magazine there and I had an interview appointment with the “star”. In 8 years the simple, sweet girl in the black kurta had become the biggest star in Bollywood and everything around her had changed. Except for one thing, to which I am coming later.
There was a “junta” of PR people outside the luxurious meeting room where the star was giving her interviews. They would decide who could go in and who could not to talk to her. A pretty lady was flitting in and out of the door of that room. She was her secretary. She promptly handed me her card.
When I walked in Priyanka was in the garden doing a photoshoot. She was in a short branded silk dress, in branded high heels and her hair blow-dried to perfection. She was checking the photos on the digicam and telling the photographers which angles work for her. The make-up artist was there to do the necessary touch-ups every 10 minutes.
This lady was no more the one I had seen earlier, comfortably plonked on the hotel bed, talking nineteen to the dozen. Stardom had touched her and everything about her had changed, I thought.
I never told her about our Kolkata meet
Journalists and actors meet and work together. It is a given. They meet a number of times. But that doesn’t mean a star would remember a journalist. So I always maintained never to tell an actor that we had met before. Sorely to avoid the embarrassment of being told, “Oh! Really? I don’t remember.”
I slipped into the very comfortable, but curt, high chair. Priyanka Chopra sat opposite me. A long ornate coffee table stood between us. She sat back in style, one shapely leg placed on another, head tilted at a perfect angle and the dress perfectly in place. She was polite, confident, spoke well and answered all my controversial questions. Yes, there were enough to ask her now. I didn’t ask her anything about home, family, school anymore because the world knew about it.
Once the interview got over…
Priyanka looked at me quizzically.
“You didn’t tell me one thing though,” she said, smiling.
“We have met before. In Kolkata,” she added.
I was stumped. I couldn’t have ever foreseen this.
I told her I didn’t because I was not sure she would recognize me after so many years.
“I knew you the moment you walked in. But I was waiting for you to tell me. But you didn’t,” she said.
I was almost blushing. The PR junta and Priyanka’s entourage were looking at me now. The photographer accompanying me gave me the look that I had finally arrived.
That’s why she is Priyanka Chopra
It is said celebs don’t become stars without a reason. They have qualities that set them apart. In Priyanka’s case, I would say it is her humility. Add to that an elephantine memory.
It’s been 11 years since that meeting and Priyanka has now joined the league of Hollywood celebs and a little birdie told me that in the US, her stardom surpasses Nick Jonas’. Post Quantico Priyanka Chopra has really taken over the world.
But I will always remember Priyanka Chopra for the gift she gave me. The gift of wonderful memory and I hope she stays the way she is, no matter how big a star she becomes.
Happy Birthday Priyanka Chopra!