Priyanka Chopra Jonas: Love Big
Priyanka Chopra Jonas
Priyanka Chopra Jonas is a multi-award-winning actor and producer and one of the most recognized personalities in the world. A former Miss World, she made her movie debut in 2002 and has appeared in more than sixty films produced in India and the United States. In 2015 she made history as the first Indian-born actor to lead an American network TV series when she starred in the ABC drama Quantico. For her work during her longtime association with UNICEF, Chopra Jonas was awarded the prestigious Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award in 2019. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Nick, and Diana, Gino, and Panda, their three dogs.
You can find Priyanka on her Instagram, on her Twitter, on her Facebook, and on her Youtube. You can also watch Priyanka on her show Quantico and her latest movie The White Tiger, both of which are streaming on Netflix.
Each year on his birthday, Priyanka posts beautiful tributes to her father. Watch her post from 2020 here.
CW: Sickness and death of parent
Kate Bowler: I’m Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens. I’m a historian, author, aggressively fast walker. But lately, in a world that promises endless progress, even now in a pandemic, I’ve realized I just need to be a person. It’s hard to give up on the feeling that the life you want is just out of reach. If only you tried. Eat this food, find that relationship, just get the kids graduated or the parents this kind of care. Only then will I feel different. Better. Whole. But that’s not the way this works. When I was 35, I was diagnosed with stage four cancer. And here’s the very fun thing about that. The world loves you better when you are shiny, when you are cheerful, when you still believe that your best life now is right around the corner. I’ve written multiple books on the history of the idea that you can always fix your life. So I’m going to be the one to say it. There are some things we can change and some things we can’t. And it’s OK that life isn’t always getting better. We can have beauty and meaning, community and love, and we will need each other if we’re going to tell the truth. Life is a chronic condition and there’s no cure for being human. I thought things would be different by now, didn’t you? But here we are a year into the pandemic, a year into losses that are too many to count. There is no pretending now. There’s no glass wall between us and them. The unlucky, the can’t get it togethers. We are stuck as we are. Fragile, imperfect and caught in a web of things we didn’t choose. Like these four walls, like my decision to paint them forest green in the early 2000s. We’re here, trying to face the world as it is. So how’s that for a welcome back, but welcome back, thank you for being with me as we launch another season. A brand new set of guests with gentle wisdom and zero essential oils to sell. Together, we will have no easy formulas. So let’s be human together. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, today’s episode is all about love. The loves that constitute us, the loves that break our hearts, the loves that keep us going. My guest is someone you probably know. Her career in the entertainment industry started in a hilarious way when her little brother submitted her for the Miss India pageant without her knowing, only because he wanted his room back and figured this would fast track the process and that it did. So here’s to little brothers everywhere and the love of family and of place and of community that holds us up and holds us together when we lose our way.
Kate Bowler: Our guest today is an award winning actress and producer and humanitarian and entrepreneur and recipient of the Kate Bowler Prize awarded in the category of most beautiful eyes. She is one of the most recognizable people on the planet, Priyanka Chopra Jonas. You may have gotten to know her as Alex Parrish from ABC’s Quantico or as Pinky in her new Netflix movie, The White Tiger. Please see it. It is stunning. Priyanka has appeared in over 60 films in her home country of India and in the US. And also she’s a gorgeous singer and no big deal now also a writer. Her memoir, Unfinished, tells the story of her journey and it is a delight. Priyanka, it is so lovely to meet you.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas: Oh, my gosh, Kate, you made me sound cool to myself too.
Kate: You are amazing. You were born in eastern India, but you moved all over the country as a child. For people who might not know about the incredible geography and internal diversity of India, would you mind giving me a sense of the different kinds of places you lived and fell in love with?
Priyanka: Oh, my gosh. That’s like asking for a needle in the haystack. India is an experience. You know, whenever my friends travel to India, I always try to prepare them for it because it’s not a vacation. It can turn into anything you want it to be. India is a country that is diverse, more diverse than anything you’ve ever seen. Every state you go into has a different spoken and written language, not a dialect, but like alphabet and like a language, different clothes, different holidays and different foods. So it’s almost like multiple countries in one. And because of our colonized history, we have an extreme sort of Western influence, but at the same time are extremely traditional because of the ancient history that India is adorned with. I mean, it’s tens of thousands of years old. So you have that pull of tradition and you have modernity because of being influenced by so many different cultures from around the world that have invaded and colonized the country. So it’s diverse, like you won’t believe it. It’s a confluence of an assault on every sense in the most beautiful way, whether you kind of have to go in and free fall and die. Well, I have a love affair with India. I love the country not just because it’s mine, but I have spent so much of my time getting to know it and I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface.
Kate: The love you have of place, the love of being from there and the roots it just permeates this book. One of the great loves of your life is obviously your family. I had the privilege of growing up in a part of Canada with a very large Indian immigrant community. So I have like a little glimpse of the kind of extended family that you grew up with. You have a much more expansive definition of family than many people who grew up with in America, don’t you?
Priyanka: Definitely. And I think a lot of countries depend on the extended family network rather than being sort of singular within your singular network. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I had in my life if my mom’s siblings hadn’t taken me in. You know, my grandparents had raised me. My mom wouldn’t have had the opportunities that she had. And, you know, I just think that even for my family, with my cousins who lived with us, etc., there’s something so amazing about knowing you have a family network that for me, at least exists around the world. Someone to always call on, and it’s not weird. You always have somewhere to go. And being like, you know, I’m coming over for dinner and I’m staying for the weekend. And my family, it’s more like a year or so.
Kate: Yeah, yeah. Two years later. Yeah, I loved that. I loved the feeling, the feeling of the gifts of interdependence. You know, that if we can move away from this model of like rugged, exhausting independence. There are seasons of our life where we just can’t be self-made, we need to, like, sink back into the people who can love us and help reconstitute us.
Priyanka: But the way I think about it sometimes is like, why do they have to be mutually exclusive? Why do we feel a sense of self if every part of us is self made? Is it pride? I mean, that’s my question to me, my career is self made, but the human that I am, the person that I am, I would have never been that person if it wasn’t for the people that affected it, you know, and everything is connected. I think it’s important to give up control sometimes, to truly be independent, to truly not be running after something which has been set by society or someone else. What is your true independence? And that comes from being able to love fully. That comes from being able to give your body, your heart, your mind, what it requires, not what people think it should be.
Kate: You know, I was struck by the number of times in your life where you ventured out, where you did something brave and there were seasons of kind of exposure, like being the bulldozer who goes out and makes her own path. And then. And then times where, I don’t know, maybe you needed to be carried by others or helped along the way. The feeling of always being a group project is something I think I have started to embrace a little bit more now that I’m a little more fragile than I used to be.
Priyanka: I do think that it’s OK to understand that no human is an island. If we can share happiness, it’s sharing sorrow that is most crucial. I truly believe that, you know, we’re always going to be around for people in good times. But if you can be around people in tough times. I think that’s very important and that, it works the other way as well. We’re so willing to receive at good times we have to be willing to receive at bad times, because only when you receive can you sort of hold yourself up and feel like you’re not alone. And that is such a powerful thing.
Kate: It sounds like one of the strongest role models or maybe shapers in your life of that kind of beautiful radical dependance and interdependence in good times and bad came from your parents. Your parents have quite the love story. Your dad faked an illness in order to get your mom’s attention. Am I right?
Priyanka: Well, this is what I’ve heard. So, you know, it’s not the horse’s mouth, but this is what we grew up with, that she was a female doctor actually at this hospital in Bareilly and my dad was in the military also posted there and he saw her at a party. Next he wanted to find out how he could see her again, figured out she was a friend’s friend and worked at this hospital, landed up there. And the quickest way to see her, I guess, was saying, look, you know, I need to see this and this doctor and made up an excuse to have tummy ache or something. And she knew he was lying too but went along with it. I mean, he had a miraculous recovery and asked her out. It would make a cute movie.
Kate: Totally. Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s Meg Ryan there for sure. Tom Hanks is absolutely making this plot work. And I love that they are both doctors in India, both very committed to each other, each other’s careers and also their patients, a love of others that they obviously passed on to you. You wrote that doctoring is sacred work. What did you mean by that?
Priyanka: It’s not every day that you get to hold a human brain or a human heart or bring life into the world or someone has an accident. They are not in control of their physical being. Like I really believe even when my father was diagnosed with cancer and he survived eight years, it could not have happened without his guardian angels on Earth, which were his doctors and nurses who took care of him.
Kate: Your love for your dad just is all over these pages. It sounds too like there was I mean, some really awful stages in just trying to when he was first diagnosed, get him the care he needed right away.
Priyanka: It was very troubling because it was in the liver and they had a really clean surgery. But during surgery, something was nicked inside and that created an infection. And that was that was just it was six months in the ICU. He was, you know, emergency flown to the US at that point. You know, it’s just he had an insane journey. He got out of it lived five years of his life, built his new business, graduated and lived with such a zest for life.
Kate: And so in love, just so in love with his family and his kids. I always think love is in the details. And like you give the best details, the one where you said he loved music and so he loved to play the table. What was it someone said? He played a mean table.
Priyanka: He used to just start in the middle of a party. And we were like, yeah, let’s like sing and he’d just pull up a table and start like drumming it. And then the room would be singing and everybody thought they were a singer.
Kate: Oh my gosh, that is so classic. I’m always very struck when people, you know, you describe him when he went into remission, just roaring back to life. And I always love to hear about how people live in that after, you know, maybe having been so close to death, some people find that they have like a new appetite to live. It sounds like that was really your dad. He wasn’t going to let anything slip by him.
Priyanka: Totally. I mean, while he was working, he put my career in front of him and in front of my mom. My parents put my career before them because my life suddenly brought me to Mumbai and they live in Bernini. So it’s almost like if you live in the Midwest and you suddenly, your 17 year old has a massive career in L.A., my parents were like, OK, I think we need to think about relocating, which is really young. And this is a crazy industry to navigate. So, family support is a is a given in India. It’s not. You don’t your kid’s not going to go out at eighteen without that support of knowing that you have your parents to come back home, do to yourself. That’s just a given with Indian culture. You know, my parents, they had just started their own practice and they shut that down, moved to Mumbai, started all over again, then started an administrative job and gave up surgery. That would help settle the family, and so by the time he went into remission, came out of it, he came out of it with like full zest because he’d given up so much. And by then I was at a place in my career which was a little bit more stable. So he took music on again. He stopped administration, picked up the scalpel again. In fact, went to Columbia and got a degree in cosmetology and came back and started a cosmetic clinic, all of this in like five years, you know, he just started doing the things he loved. He recorded an album, which he couldn’t finish.
Kate: What? That’s amazing.
Priyanka: But he went in you know.
Kate: Went all in, I love that.
Priyanka: It was so inspiring to me.
Kate: There’s something really beautiful about being way up close to someone who is determined to live full throttle.
Priyanka: Absolutely. I mean, it really gave me a sense of gratitude to understand that life is a gift. We take it for granted so much every day because we get stuck in the mundane of the minutia, everyday stresses and the pride and the ego and the drama. You know but I think, I truly believe that everyone has their own amount of time to be on the earth. The one thing we all know is we’re going to be born and we’re going to die. It’s going to happen to all of us. And when I was sort of dealing with dad’s illness, I came to terms with the fact that, you know, everyone has their own journey. And I think the purpose of our life is to live it with a pursuit towards happiness and joy, and I saw him do that when he came out of it and it really became an example of how I wanted to live. So within the crazy pressure of my public life and the stakes and all the things, I think how my dad dealt with his illness, how brave he was in the face of it, and how much life he devoured while he was ill, like shaped me for devouring and doing so many things and not stopping because of fears and insecurities. And, you know, this.
Kate: There’s radical permission there. Yeah. It sounds too like in the last two years of his life that he worked so hard to be undiminished as his illness came back, a stage four. It sounds like, you know, to the very end he was so determined to be invincible and loving and present. I mean, if you don’t mind telling me about that really beautiful moment you had at the Times of India Film Award, I thought that was really, really touching.
Priyanka: The last one year was really tough on him, of course, but on all of us as well to watch a mountain of a man sort of diminish. But I think he protected me and my brother more than, me specifically, more than I think his friends or his brothers were with him. I have to say, for a very long duration, his elder brother and his younger brother stayed with my dad for months on end in the hospital, telling him stories, taking care of him. Family was in full support, but just watching the deterioration in him giving up, I could see it. I know my dad. I could see it even though whenever I used to walk in the hospital, he would sit up. He’d comb his hair and put on his cologne. But I saw it and I remember he was my biggest champion in my career. Like, I think his childhood dream was to sing in Bollywood movies. And and he had to take the more practical route of being a doctor. And when he saw me coming into entertainment, I think he was really excited about this being sort of his dream as well. And even though I didn’t go to music initially, it was still like something. He was always a performer, always on stage, whenever he did stage shows in jump off stage and like he was that person. So when he was so invested in my career that last year, I remember there were these awards, there were the Toisa Awards, Times of India awards happening in Canada. And my dad had to go for treatment in Rochester, in the US anyway in New York. So I asked him if he would like to come to the awards as well, because I was nominated that year for best actress and there was buzz around me winning. And I wanted him to be with me and he was just so weak by then. This is four months before he died. He was so weak by then he had all of his like bile sort of bags inside his shirt. He wore a suit. He put on a tie, went in his wheelchair to the awards ceremony. And of course, I’d been around the industry for a while. So everyone knew this was my dad. So, you know, the film industry was really kind. And so when the award was announced and I won, I looked at him and I was like, I would love for you to come on stage with me. And he had this big smile and everyone helped him get up and he was like, I want to walk on my own. People came to try and help him. And he was like, No, I got it. And he walked up the stage, his own man, and gave a speech. He was just championing me all over again. The last time he did it. He was like you have chosen a true artist and thank you. And I was like always my cheerleader, my dad.
Kate: Oh, I imagine that must have, just for a parent to see their child succeed like that, it must have been really soul completing for him. That would be, yeah, sorry, I’m just thinking, like whenever, you know, when I was, like, trying to figure out how to wrap up all my stuff, I, I think everything I picked I would have picked for my kid. So I just I think it’s really beautiful that you guys shared that kind of like a mountain top. It must be nice to be. That’s a good mountain top.
Priyanka: Yeah. And it was one of the last ones that I choose to remember. You know, I really believthat I came to an understanding of acceptance of grief because you have to sometimes just have to accept the cards that are dealt to you. And I accepted that my grief is never going to go away. It’s going to be my companion. It’s going to hang out with me and it’ll come up some days and stay for dinner and some days maybe won’t even come. I want to remember the life lived, not the person gone. And what we do control is how we celebrate the memories.
Kate: Yeah, that’s beautiful. Mm. That’s my friend Nora McInerny says she says you don’t move on from grief, you carry it with you. And I always, I always loved that because it made me feel like there in grief, you never get to be a part from it because it’s, you know, because it’s the language of love and like you’re never going to not be in love with that person and that relationship, and, yeah, I miss it every day.
Priyanka: Yeah, and it’s OK too. But I think it’s also important to understand that it’s OK to not miss it some days and it’s OK for it to not be the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning and not feel guilty about not having that memory. Like I used to feel really mad at myself when I didn’t dream about my dad or I didn’t have thoughts. And I was like, why is he not like, why am I not thinking about it? But it was OK.
Kate: Yeah. When so much is taken from you, it can be really deeply satisfying to settle into what you know and what you cannot just control, but like contribute. You know what I mean? Like during a time when there’s like a win in a time of endless loss and it sounds too like simultaneously it was crushing for a season that spanned a few years.
Priyanka: I’m used to running at a really fast pace because I have chosen doing multiple things at the same time in everything. And I love trying new things for the first time. And I’ve just been that person, so I couldn’t suddenly stop that pace. But here I was mourning deeply, not just my father. I was mourning a relationship. I was also mourning, moving to America and on a show for like 11 months a year where I didn’t know anyone. And I was just 15 hour days, six days a week. And I was just dealing with all of it alone. And I think that’s when it all came crashing down on me, like I was running as fast as I could, because that’s the only thing I knew how to do. So I didn’t know how to stop that pace, but emotionally, I was not being able to keep up. I didn’t have time to deal with what I was feeling. I kept shoving it under the carpet and it just kept becoming bigger and bigger. And eventually it was seductive enough to keep me there. You know, I was I was in a place of just deep sorrow and I couldn’t explain. And I didn’t want to be around anyone and I didn’t want to talk to anybody. And I just wanted to be in the comfort of me and what I knew and the sadness that felt familiar. And that was a good two years of my life that I spent doing that.
Kate: Yeah. Yeah, and just to creep back toward life again.
Priyanka: And creep is a great word because people think that you’re going to wake up one morning and you’ll be like, OK, I’m not sad anymore.
Kate: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. The loss isn’t devastating.
Priyanka: Very gradual process. It’s almost like a victim in a way. Every day is new day and every day is is a big fight and really choose to want to be on the other side, to have to put in the work every day and like addiction, slowly grief becomes sort of a part of you.
Kate: And it sounds too like you found your own way to come back to life and you know, and to have new, beautiful beginnings, you have a wildly romantic love story of your own that has carried this this next chapter of your life. I love that I am in a moment where I get to say, tell me about Nick. This is questions I never thought as a historian, I’d never get to ask. So comma Priyanka, tell me, tell me about Nick.
Priyanka: So I had just recovered and healed from a part of my life that I was open to sunshine and happiness. And he stepped in exactly that time because I hadn’t. I’d known him for two years before that had been closed and shut, you know. So I think that’s why the book pivots into such a joyful place, is because I think I had spent a good amount of time dealing with what I was feeling. And I really did realize that it is not the lack or the loss of people or the gain of the joining of people that give you joy or sorrow. It is where you are within those shifting relationships that make you who you are.
Kate: When you say all that, I picture like an aperture, you know, like it just opens up to, opens up to joy, and that’s like and that’s a story about you and it’s a story about the person who gets to walk in. That’s beautiful. Also, I am a huge fan of, like, doing things that are completely over-the-top, like things that are so wonderful and ridiculous that they are like completely for no reason. So, for example, I have done like a worldwide tour of the world’s largest things. So like if there was like a ball of twine, but it’s enormous, like I must see it or just totally dumb things, or like huge dumb parties or taste tests, like now we must taste ketchup, 200 of them, like I’m very committed to like things that are wonderfully over the top for absolutely, just because it brings joy. So when I discovered that you at your wedding had a musical dance off with your family and his family, I was like, that’s it. That’s the only thing anyone should do. From now on. You have lived a life of extravagant love. I’m into it.
Priyanka: But I have to say that from where I come from, in my part of the world, that’s very normal. It’s called Sangeet. It’s like basically a rehearsal dinner. Like you guys have a rehearsal dinner and we have a rehearsal dinner, but with singing and dancing. India’s a very musical culture. Our rehearsal dinner is called The Sangeet, but it has a musical sort of dance off or a talent off, you say, between the two families to sort of show off who’s better. You know, and it’s actually it’s goes back hundreds of years, this tradition. But it’s actually a way of the families getting to know each other because, again, we have such an extended family culture that this is a way of the families being like, all right, that’s the aunt and that’s the cousin and that’s, you get to know everyone’s relationships without having to do a boring like this is that person you know? A marriage in the Indian context is usually between the families more than even as the bride and the bridegroom. Ours just was extravagant because that’s who Nick and I are, we build a stage in all of it. But usually you can do it like in a ballroom or in the drawing room. But it was also, you know, we are those people. I’ve never said that. I’m definitely not subtle.
Kate: Subtlety sounds boring.
Priyanka: And my train was twenty-five feet. So that’s definitely not a trait of mine. The Sangeet usually, you know, like it’s usually like people will do it in a hotel banquet hall, like a one foot stage or even do like the family sitting and eating and everyone’s performing on stage or whatever. It can maybe you can maybe have choreographers, you can get in music. Ours looked like Coachella.
Kate: That’s so fun. That is so fun.
Priyanka: Is was insane. Getting the family together to rehearse was the biggest stress of my life.
Kate: Oh no.
Priyanka: Yeah, its was crazy. I don’t know how Nick did it with his family because they did such an amazing show. They danced to like Bollywood songs and came out of a cake. It was all, yeah,.
Kate: No, I love it. I love the like intense, absurd jubilation that you that happens when you just get to love that delightfully. That is so fun. And now maybe I want to jump out of a cake. I have never done that. And now I feel like that..
Priyanka: The only way to love is to love big and love fully and you know, sometimes it’ll be for a lifetime. Sometimes it won’t. Sometimes people will be in your life for a little bit, your family, friends, and sometimes they won’t, you know, but you still keep moving. And that’s important. And you have to love in every way as big as you can. It’s such a joy.
Kate: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about the loves that built your life. Priyanka, may we all be so determined to love so big that we keep asking for more and more. This was such a joy.
Priyanka: Thank you so much Kate. This was such a lovely conversation. And you’re such a boss. You really are.
Kate: We lose things every day. Jobs, our health, our certainties, people we love, people we were. Our grief reveals what mattered because grief is the language of love. Love can break our heart and love can help put the pieces back together once again. And love is so many things. We love our cities and our homes and our family across the country and our friends who have become family. We love our partners and our spouses and our kids and our grandkids. We love our neighbors except the ones who live across the street and neighborhoods. Mine has a taco and whiskey truck. We love our careers, our ridiculous hobbies. We love who we’ve been and who we might yet be. These are the loves that make us who we are, the people and places and vocations that constitute us because we are not entirely self-made. We are a group project. So blessed are you, dear one. You who spend this day of love alone by choice or by circumstance may you know, deep in your bones that you are loved beyond measure. You for whom this is the first Valentine’s without your person. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, our hearts break with yours. Sometimes love costs us everything. You who believe that all your best love is behind you. May you be surprised today by the way love shows up in a snowflake or a song or a sip of your favorite tea. You who struggle to love whose own heartbreak has made being known seem impossible. May you take a tiny risk toward intimacy today because you are so worth loving. Love is big and has room enough for us all and thank God that we are a group project. I couldn’t do this. All of this without my friends and my family and the teachers I see over Zoom. Bless you. Without spiritual communities and colleagues and the comfort of prayer, without delicious meals and yummy candles and small delights. And without you, dear listener, sending you so much love today.
Kate: And before I go, it’s almost the season of Lent. I know, I know. The big bummer of the church calendar, the forty days leading up to Easter. But I like to think that Lent is the perfect season to tell the truth about the way things really are. Sometimes things really are incredibly awful and it is hard to see anything but the pain and suffering that surrounds us. We need each other to orient ourselves to the light, to hunt for hope, to speak realistically, to make our way through. As a Lenten practice for the Everything Happens community, I will be posting a video every morning on Instagram, as well as sending out daily email reflections to help orient our day. Because we are in this together, this whole being human thing. I hope you’ll join me. Visit KateBowler.com slash Lent to sign up for free.
Kate: Now here’s the part where I get to tell you that this episode was a group project. Like all the best things in life. Today’s episode was made possible by our lovely partners, the Lilly Endowment, the Duke Endowment and Duke Divinity School, who support our faith and media project. We are so grateful for their generosity and investment in what we do. And of course, my team, Jessica Richie, our executive producer, Harriet Putman, our associate producer, Keith Weston, our sound designer, and the rest of the Everything Happens crew who make this project so fun. Dan Wells, AJ Walton, Mary Jo Clancy, JJ Dickinson, Launa Steward, Kelly Dunlap, Erin Lane, Jeb and Sammi, thank you. This is Everything Happens with me, Kate Bowler.