"I am a student for life,” Priyanka Chopra Jonas says over a video call, when I ask what she believes has helped her make a mark as a global personality. A wide smile later, she throws the question back at me: “Pooja, that’s for you to tell me. I am 40. Much of my life has been in the public eye…. I have grown in front of everyone. What do you think has worked? Has it even worked?”
Priyanka Chopra Jonas was Priyanka Chopra when Lounge first interviewed her in January 2016.
Wearing light grey cargo pants and a matching shirt, she was then shooting guns in Montreal, Canada, as Quantico’s no-nonsense FBI recruit Alex Parrish. And then slipping into a Vera Wang sequin dress to pick up her 2015 People’s Choice Award for best actress for the same ABC TV series. On the side, she was preparing for the role of a gangster queen (who seemed to be obsessed with bodycon dresses) in a Baywatch film and doing campaigns with brands like Gap and Guess. She was no longer just the “exotic” person from her 2013 music video, dancing in a shimmery dress with American rapper Pitbull.
The person sitting in front of me inside a 5.42-inch screen is different.Over the past six years, she has become a wife and a mother, travels between Mumbai, Los Angeles and New York, and has built a career that goes beyond acting, dancing and singing. In 2021, she wrote her memoir, Unfinished, which reached The New York Times Best Seller list. She has invested in the dating app Bumble, the real estate company Apartment List, the computer science school Holberton School (she wanted to be an engineer while growing up) and the luxury skiwear brand Perfect Moment. She has built a fine-dining, India-inspired restaurant in the heart of New York City, a homeware line and a haircare brand. And has created small budget films under her production company, Purple Pebble Pictures, which has given Indian cinema some award-winning regional films like Ventilator and Paani. Her dress sense has become edgier, sexier, yet subtle (remember her recent Robert Wun black dress with an Elizabethan-era twist of white ruffles as the brand ambassador of Bvlgari?).
A few things haven’t changed, though. Her lit-from-within skin makeup look (she likes to experiment more with lipstick shades), belief in hard work (the term comes up often in our hour-long conversation), and unapologetic ambition.
“I don’t follow trends. If I see too many people doing something, I just won’t do it,” Chopra Jonas says, assertively. “When I think of my business or my investments, I think of looking for a gap in the market.” A year ago, she noticed a “big gap” in the haircare sector, and, in partnership with the global beauty brands incubator Maesa, launched Anomaly, a range of eight no-sulphate, no-paraben, no-phthalates products, including shampoos, conditioners and a deep-conditioning treatment mask. From February 2021, these went on sale in Target stores across the US, her current home base. Late last month, she launched the brand in India via Nykaa: It will be available on Nykaa’s website and at physical stores in 60 cities.
Doesn’t the India launch come a little late, given that the marketing involved words like inspired or rooted in India? “I don’t think so. For any brand to be able to expand the way we want it to, I would think it’s actually pretty fast, considering the logistics, distribution, partnerships contracts. But the idea was always for Anomaly to come home. It had to, you know, because, as you mentioned, that’s where the brand comes from. Kaale ghane lambe baal, lambe, lambe baal (dark, thick, long hair)—that’s all I have heard growing up,” she replies, running her fingers through her long, curly hair.
Much like the beauty and skincare space, the haircare market is growing globally, especially after the pandemic deepened consumer interest in self-care and well-being. Market researcher Fortune Business Insights estimates the global haircare market will grow from $77.15 billion (around ₹6.2 trillion) in 2021 to $112.97 billion in 2028, at a compound annual growth rate of 5.6% in the forecast period 2021-28.
“Haircare is the third largest category after skincare and makeup in the beauty and personal care space,” says Anchit Nayar, chief executive of the beauty e-commerce business at Nykaa. “Haircare is going to get bigger.”
Small wonder then that homegrown brands like Bella Vita and St Botanica are racing for their share. What makes Anomaly different, apart from the face that launched it?
“It’s a really clean brand and the packaging is made 100% out of plastic trash,” Chopra Jonas claims. “When it comes to skincare, you will find a great formula at a reasonable price. But in my research of five years (reports, books, speaking with consumers), I found that in haircare, if you need an amazing formula it would mean a big price tag. That’s where we come in. I think the USP of my product is that you are getting something you would have paid five times more for. This is under ₹1,000 ( ₹750 for 325ml bottle; premium hair products cost upwards of ₹1,000). And the reason we were able to create this product is we didn’t spend so much on packaging. We had extra money within our budget to create something better.”
From Gywneth Paltrow to Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna, Masaba Gupta, and, recently, Kate Moss, celebrities across the world have been tapping the global beauty and wellness boom. Like Chopra Jonas, they talk of offering products free of harmful chemicals. But are they worth the hype? “If a product is not good, nobody will buy it. The face doesn’t matter then,” insists Chopra Jonas. “That’s the biggest business lesson.” While she’s unwilling to share business numbers, she says Anomaly is in expansion mode, with plans to enter the Middle East, Europe and South Africa.
A hit crossover
Whether you find Chopra Jonas’ there-not-there accent made up or her signature giggle too much, you cannot overlook the fact that she has managed to achieve what no other actor from India has. A dad’s little girl who has learnt from her father’s army mindset of hard work and doctor mother’s business skills to build an empire that’s beyond the business of films. That’s a lot of hard work, especially when you are an outsider. “I am a girl who believes in working really hard. I put my head down and I go to work. I don’t claim to know everything. One thing that—I can’t say it makes me different but what I can say is, what I do is I make sure that I learn about whatever tasks I take up, because I try to aim to be excellent. I am driven, ambitious, but I am also realistic and pragmatic. I work on the task at hand versus chasing dreams.”
Her words remind me of something she said during the 2016 interview with Lounge: “I want to be bloody good at every opportunity life offers me. Failure is not an option.”
Is that what continues to drive her?
“As I have grown older, I have realised it’s not my decision to make if I fail or not. I am in a job, which is subjective. Art is subjective. So, if something I do fails, it will fail. All you must do is decide what you are going to do after that failure. I did inherit my dad’s creative genius and my mom’s business acumen but I didn’t inherit a career, I didn’t inherit a path, I kind of had to figure it out myself,” says Chopra Jonas, who’s gearing up for her next Bollywood film with “my girlies” Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt (by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti). “I think as I have grown older, I have realised that failure and success are a natural part of life.”
Perhaps one more thing that hasn’t changed is the way she has carried the flag of India. Whether it’s her haircare range or her restaurant or films, she celebrates India on the global stage.
She continues to believe in not living with regrets. “You don’t read a book backwards. Do you?”