Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra adds sex appeal to a Disney cartoon about sentient aircraft

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Santa MONICA, Calif. -- The press kit for the Disney movie Planes employs the "e" word to describe Ishani, a henna-tattooed female aircraft from India competing in an international airplane race.

Yes, that's right, she's "exotic."

But if the word may elicit a potentially stereotypical view of Asian womanhood, it's doubtful actress Priyanka Chopra, who voices the character, would have any objections. The 31-year-old former Miss World actually takes ownership of the adjective in her song Exotic, which quickly hit No. 1 status on iTunes India when it was released last month.

And so it goes for Chopra, an established Bollywood star, simultaneously expanding her reach in both the field of music and in Hollywood.

"Disney approached me about the role about three years ago and it just seemed like something fun to do," she says. "Being part of a Disney movie would be the closest I'd ever get to being a Disney princess, I think."

Chopra went into the role of Ishani without having to fall back on her formidable beauty, relying instead on a naturally sexy-smoky vocal quality nurtured in her birthplace -- Jamshedpur, India -- and tempered in the United States, where she spent her formative years from the age of 13 to 17 in diverse urban centres including Queens, Boston and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"It's a huge test for an actor to be sitting in a booth and to create a character which will get your personality at the end of it," she says of the experience of giving Ishani her voice.

In fact, she says she recognizes herself in the visual depiction of Ishani as well.

"They filmed us while we were dubbing and eventually when I saw the movie, I saw Ishani has the same expressions as I did when I was saying the lines," she says.

"That was really cool because, oh my God, that's my face," she says. "(It's) creepy, but it was fun."

If the role does succeed in getting Chopra a foothold in a Hollywood career in front of the camera, it won't be a crucial career move. Indian movies have evolved since she began her acting career in 2002, and roles for women have correspondingly expanded beyond the staple singing-dancing-romancing ingenues of Bollywood's rigidly formulaic past.

"It's a great time for Indian cinema because we're making all kinds of movies," she says. "Especially as a girl, I've had amazing parts that have been written for me that are very different and very unconventional.

"In my last movie (Barfi!), I played an autistic girl as the main lead of the film, which probably would not have happened 10 years ago," she says. "So to play characters that are so different and to have that accepted in India, it's really great. We're moving out of our mould, and telling stories with great content."

As for playing an airplane in Planes, Chopra found a way to make that personal.

"I live on a plane because I'm always flying around the world," she says. "Out of a year, I probably spend 100 days on a plane. So I have a very intense relationship with a plane."

Planes opens in theatres Friday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 8, 2013 C3


Updated on Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 9:00 AM CDT: adds photo

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