Priyanka Chopra, and her accent, in her latest TV outing, seem to be creating quite a stir
Last week, Indian star Priyanka Chopra made her debut on American television in the suspense drama series Quantico. There was a lot of buzz before the airing, and that doubled after it was done. The Internet teemed with rave reviews, discussions on the storyline, comparisons to 24, etc. But the biggest talking point on social media was PeeCee’s (as she’s known among her pals in Bollywood) accent, which instantly developed its own hashtag and began trending on social media. Not quite American, definitely not Indian, but somewhere in between, the twang alternating between strong and mild depending on the situation. It was right there, along with her bright smile and long legs on interviews on Good Morning America and Nightline, and was quickly and inventively dubbed Bro-Mulgi.
Indian audiences were both thrilled that an Indian was headlining a big international TV series, and equally unforgiving for getting there with an accent. On Twitter, @PiratedSardar tweeted, “We have ministers with fake degrees, but Priyanka Chopra’s fake accent deserves our full attention.” PeeCee herself admitted to being stressed having to put it on, despite getting lessons from a dialect coach every day, “There can be a thin line and there are times when I have crossed it.” Which leads to another thought: if Benedict Cumberbatch’s British accent is deemed swoonworthy, and Olivier Martinez’ French accent sexy, then why is Priyanka’s accent such a big thing? It’s a role she’s playing, isn’t it?
Rushing to the actor’s defence was a band of ‘third culture kids’ or TCKs, who empathised with her teen years spent in the US in a public school in Boston and the odd part-time accent that grew from this stint. Rega Jha, Buzzfeed editor, herself one of those gazillion TCKs living around the world, explained how important it was as a young Indian kid to fit into school in the US. Like PeeCee, she too developed a marked ‘accent’ in an attempt to integrate with her classmates and not stand out as a misfit. “What’s hardest to explain, especially to those who’ve grown up within one unshakeable cultural universe, is that none of us are faking it.”
Makeup artiste Ralph Daniels was rather stunned at how many comments PeeCee’s accent has garnered. “I’m amazed. In today’s day and age, can an accent really be such a bone of contention? With the number of people these days living for long stretches abroad with many expat friends, it’s easy to subconsciously pick up an accent to make yourself better understood. Do people really expect Priyanka in Quantico to speak like Apu in The Simpsons?”
Social media analyst Helen Issar agreed. “People are so much more vocal on social media than they are otherwise. They can be judgemental, picky. The ability to see the negative comes more easily than the ability to see the positive. Priyanka has been a great brand ambassador for India, and that’s what we should see.” Priyanka, who says she wants to break stereotypes, and describes her character in Quantico as ‘ethnically ambiguous’ and puts it in context herself, “We (Indians) all don’t smell of curry.” True. It’s more like the smell of success.