The Penguin Annual Lecture 2017 was delivered earlier this week at Delhi’s Sirifort Auditorium by actress Priyanka Chopra, eliciting mixed reactions from the literary community. While some criticised the publishing house’s populist choice of bringing in an actor, rather than a writer, there were those who didn’t mind cheering for the global icon.

“This was the only motivation I needed”, one member of audience said. Whereas another, unimpressed listener went, “People just get famous and they get any platform to speak.”

Chopra spoke on the theme, “Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Chasing a Dream”. Here, the actress enumerated her twelve rules of success. These included points like “know yourself”, “be fearless”, “be greedy for your ambitions”, “don’t settle on someone else’s benchmark”, and so on.

“I am not very fond of the phrase ‘glass ceiling’,” said Chopra. “It breaks the context of everything I have done and it puts all my achievements into a box.  It’s as if my ambition was to find a glass ceiling and break it. But all I wanted to do was to chase my dreams, my ambitions, and become the best
version of me.”

The actress said that despite “hating” the term “glass ceiling”, she chose to speak on this topic because she hoped that through her experiences, she would be able to provide the right “tools” to people who wish to live and follow their dreams. She urged everyone to “not define yourselves by glass ceilings made by society”.

“I want you to aim higher, and that’s what I did,” said Chopra. “I arrived here by being fierce, fearless and flawed. I believe everyone is flawed in some way or the other.”

She added, “Most often we don’t allow ourselves the ability to dream beyond our imagination. We don’t allow ourselves to think about the future. We are afraid of change. We are afraid to move away from what is familiar. Either that or sometimes we are too rigid to let our dreams evolve. Loosen up. Shake it off a little bit. Change is the only constant thing in our lives and you are never too old or never too experienced to learn something new.”

Anchor Sonia Singh, from NDTV, was in conversation with Chopra for the post-lecture session. Singh praised Chopra for her recent successes—for being an international actress who, having earned tens of millions of dollars, is among the highest paid celebrities in the world. “Do the zeroes matter?” Singh asked. And Chopra responded, “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon. I work very hard at what I do. And I think each one of us deserves to be compensated for it.”

“I looked for roles which were substantial and gave me something to do and moved me; where I was relevant to the film rather than just being a pretty face.”

She also said that it is really surprising that men are not asked the same question. Shouldn’t we all be celebrating, she said, the fact that one girl has gone out there and made it big? She added: “My question is: Why aren’t there other females on the list? I am extremely proud of myself that I had the ability to work so hard, that I can stand shoulder to shoulder with my male counterparts today… But at the same time it brings up the question as to why there is just one of me. Why is there only one me when there are so many female actors out there?”

Chopra is today a Hollywood sensation. On being asked about the cultural differences between Mumbai and Los Angeles, she said there weren’t many.

Chopra also shared a number of instances where she’d had a rough experience in the Indian film industry. She said, “I had situations when I was thrown out of a film when a girlfriend of the director was recommended. That was an abuse of power. I couldn’t do anything about it because I didn’t have the power. I was removed from many such situations because I don’t cater to the whims and fancies of powerful men. I cater to people who give me respect.”

The other issue addressed at the talk was racism, vis-a-vis Chopra’s American experience. “Racism exists,” said Chopra, talking about the America where she went to study years ago. “People used to call me brownie, curry and so on. I used to think, ‘What is wrong with me and what can I do to change it?’ Without realising the fact that you don’t need to change anything about yourself. And if you can still get noticed by people, that is when you are a success story and that’s what I did.”

The actress said she has always chosen to tread uncharted paths. “I have always chosen paths where I have never been the arm candy. I left that a long time ago.” said Chopra. “I looked for roles which were substantial and gave me something to do and moved me; where I was relevant to the film rather than just being a pretty face.” 

On being asked about her marriage plans, she said, “When the time is right I’ll get married. I love homes but I am not apologetic about my career. I have sacrificed a lot to achieve what I have achieved now. So once I get my match, I will settle down.”

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