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Citadel Underscores Priyanka Chopra Jonas' Career Conundrum

While her Hindi film career has seen her make more than a few exceptional choices, craft has been backburner-ed for commerce when it comes to Chopra Jonas' global innings. Manik Sharma writes.

Citadel Underscores Priyanka Chopra Jonas' Career Conundrum
Priyanka Chopra Jonas in a still from Citadel. Amazon Prime Video
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Last Updated: 09.03 AM, May 28, 2023


This column was originally published as part of our newsletter Stream Of Consciousness on May 28, 2023. Subscribe here. (We're awesome about not spamming your inbox!)


“YOU think I play for the minor leagues?” Priyanka Chopra Jonas asks a foe in an episode of the boisterous, at-times-loony Prime Video series Citadel, which concluded this week. Marketed as a one-of-its-kind global franchise that will eventually branch into several other languages, Citadel is a marriage between the superhero silliness that the Russo Brothers unleashed upon the world with two massively successful Avengers films, and the restrained, somewhat sobering world of international spy intrigue that novelists and writers have regularly exacted in their stories.

Citadel isn’t masterful, nor does it look like it has earned its jaw-dropping commission fees (in the vicinity of $250 million). You can probably list 20 other shows on streaming made at half that budget (Prime Video’s own Jack Ryan for one) that look far more grandiose and taut, while also exhibiting that rare thing — guile. Citadel, on the other hand, is a mix of far too many ingredients, some spicy, but most stale. Chopra, though, is as terrific as she could possibly have been.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas has been acting for roughly two decades now. Roles in Andaaz and Aitraaz segued into admirable turns in 7 Khoon Maaf, Karam and Kaminey. In films like Don and Barfi, Chopra offered evidence of her tenacity and persistence in seeking roles beyond the usual sugar-spun-in-soft-wool packaging Hindi cinema has templated for many of its leading women. Her marriage to American pop star Nick Jonas was timed in between excellent choices like Dil Dhadakne Do and The Sky is Pink.

To play embattled women in their late 30s is a path not many actresses in the Hindi film industry take on a whim. It has implications. The irony, however, is that Chopra’s pursuit of global stardom hasn’t quite resembled the maturing middle of her arc in India. It’s angling towards something, whose quality might be debatable but could actually transport her to an even better space.

In The Matrix Resurrections
In The Matrix Resurrections

In The Matrix Resurrections (2021), Chopra was barely there. In Baywatch, she was as forgettable as the film itself. And in Quantico, perhaps the best that can be said is that she managed to keep going. This month Chopra also appeared in Love Again, a buzzy millennial rom-com that seemed like an odd follow-up to a sprawling spy epic and its global pretensions.

That said, Chopra’s adequate acting abilities and chirpy persona, coupled with a conflicted accent that sounds like she’s perpetually caught between airport immigration counters, have helped her manufacture a vast if imprecise form of celebrity. You can bet that studio executives at Marvel have measured up the body suits, identified the South Asian market, and are on their way to offering Chopra the opportunity to star next to a green screen. Frankly, it’ll be nothing short of a landmark.

To set the record straight, Citadel-like stories are conceptualised with the corporate urge of domination as opposed to storytelling. This is Amazon’s bullish bet on creating something akin to a Marvel franchise on streaming. Nobody had Emmy nominations in mind while writing or imagining Citadel (except when titling the series) and it’s probably why — despite its multi-million dollar backing — cast members like the much-loved Stanley Tucci act as though they’re dispensing information over a wine-tasting buffet instead of engaged in high-stakes espionage. (He’s *so* good at being unenthused that you’ll wonder why someone with a gun in his hands would couch his commands with all the politeness of a valet asking for your car keys.) Citadel is absurd, but also blazingly fun.

The point is that a post-Marvel world offers a lot of vaguely popular faces a shot at instantaneous glory without having to continue their grind of building a filmography. In Citadel, Chopra and her co-star Richard Madden have been cast as attractive, cocky spies who can be sensualised as much as sensationalised for their senseless action sequences. Chopra, to her credit, never looks out of place, punching suited men, delivering chaste dialogue, and conversing with a diverse field of actors — all of whom we’ve seen in far better outings.

In Quantico
In Quantico

But that’s the pedestal or the exact launchpad where you become akin to a Vin Diesel or a Dwayne Johnson — a media juggernaut unto yourself. This is a shot at critique-immune popularity, one that accords only a chosen few the insularity that genuine stardom guarantees. For Citadel Chopra was also paid the same as Game Of Thrones alum Madden. She won’t win awards for it anytime soon, but the question is: does she really need to?

Indian actors may have started to appear in global projects with regularity but their ascent must also be analysed with what actually is “global” and what merely feels global. The late and great Irrfan Khan’s most notable role in a foreign production, you might argue, is possibly his awkward, underused stint as the empathetic billionaire in Jurassic World. The ripples of such giant concoctions have far greater implications in terms of impact, when contrasted with meatier roles in more obscure — if better — productions.

To which effect, Chopra possibly understands what she wants to become, or what she possibly can’t. For everything she gains in stardom, she might lose in thoughtful, subtler artistic pursuits. But then again, who can blame her for trying to ascend that podium of universal recognition, as opposed to the acclaim of being “that Indian actor who is good”? Frankly, the former sounds like a far more formidable strategy compared to the underdog quality of the latter. The latter sounds good on paper, but for the economics of cinema, nothing spells tangible like the numbers known faces bring in. It’s the kind of power that opens not just doors, but entire markets.