The first time Nick Jonas met Priyanka Chopra, he got down on one knee.
Jonas tells me the story on a sunny afternoon in Las Vegas, in an expansive suite at the Wynn. He has just flown in to meet Chopra, who has been here a few days for a charity event. The engaged couple haven’t seen each other in weeks—not since a trip to India, where, by the time you read this, they will have wed in a pink sandstone-and-marble palace in Rajasthan.
By some miracle of genetics (or dermatology), Jonas, 26, has the same fresh face that graced the cover of Tiger Beat ten years ago, but his once-wavy hair is now cropped short, and even black long sleeves cannot hide the small mountain ranges that are his biceps. Though their age difference has been a point of obsession in the press (Chopra, at 36, is ten years older), Jonas seems the more senior and serious of the two. He moves around with a quiet, clandestine intention, as though, in addition to ordering room service—two turkey burgers, no buns—he might be looking for his house slippers. (“I call him Old Man Jonas,” Chopra says when I note this.)
Seated primly on the couch in a mustard-and-black floral sheath by Christian Dior and black heels, Chopra is chatty, exuberant—and psychotically pretty. Sophia Loren–in–her–heyday pretty. Take-her-to-a-Dodgers-game-and-you-will-end-up-in-the-owner’s-box pretty. (That happened on their third date.)
Jonas uncorks a bottle of champagne and pours us mimosas. The bended-knee encounter took place at the Vanity Fair Oscars party last year, he explains. Jonas was hanging out at the bar, dressed in a velvet suit, a white rose tucked into his breast pocket. He noticed Chopra breezing through, in a long black sequined Michael Kors Collection dress.
“And I put my drink down,” Jonas tells me, “get on one knee—this is in front of a bunch of people—and I say, ‘You’re real. Where have you been all my life?’ Like, loud.”
Nick and Priyanka were not perfect strangers. They’d been texting each other for months because—well, because this is a 2018 love story. (More on the texting later.) Chopra had a car waiting and a flight to India to catch, but that didn’t stop Jonas from suggesting a drink. “I looked at Anj” (her manager, Anjula Acharia), Chopra says. “And I said, ‘Five minutes.’ ”
It would be almost a year and a half before Jonas proposed. Naturally, they would spend most of that time not seeing each other. Yes, Ralph Lauren invited them to attend the 2017 Met gala together—not knowing anything about their months-long text flirtation. And yes, they met for a proper drink a week before the Met at the Carlyle hotel in New York. Chopra ended up inviting Jonas to her apartment that evening—even though her mother was home watching Law & Order in her nightgown. (Introductions were made, and Jonas confirms that Chopra’s mother, Madhu, was indeed wearing her nightgown.)
All along there were signs, chemistry, a mysterious familiarity building. Looking back, Chopra can pinpoint the moment she felt a subtle shift. She was on a date in L.A. with Jonas and he said, “I love the way you look at the world. I love the drive you have.” “As a girl, I’ve never had a guy tell me, ‘I like your ambition,’ ” Chopra says. “It’s always been the opposite.”
PRIYANKA CHOPRA IS undoubtedly one of the biggest movie stars in India. She’s acted in more than 50 films, including India’s first superhero franchise, Krrish. She played an autistic runaway in Barfi!, India’s submission to the 2012 Academy Awards. For her portrayal of an exploited model in a 2008 drama about the Indian fashion industry called, simply, Fashion, she won a National Film Award—India’s equivalent of an Oscar.
But movie star doesn’t begin to convey Chopra’s place in Indian culture. Having become famous at the age of seventeen, in 2000, when she was one of three women crowned Miss India, and then doubly famous later the same year when she was crowned Miss World, Chopra is something closer to a head of state, albeit one with a remarkably diverse portfolio.
Her production company, Purple Pebble Pictures, develops movies across India’s regional film industries and in its various languages: Sikkimese, Punjabi, Hindi, English. She has a YouTube series in the works and has become something of a tech investor as well, with a stake in the dating–and–social media app Bumble, which she is helping to bring to India this fall. (“It’s the idea of it that I love for India,” she tells me. “It’s empowering girls to take control of their futures. You want a career? Go online; pursue the person you want to meet. Choose the kind of guy you like.”)
In recent years, Chopra has become well known in America thanks to the FBI drama Quantico—which made her the first Indian-born woman to lead a prime-time network show in the United States. Although Quantico was canceled this year after three seasons, Chopra most definitely was not. Come February she will star opposite Rebel Wilson in the rom-com send-up Isn’t It Romantic.
Chopra, in other words, has done what no Indian superstar before her has managed: cross over into Hollywood. “High-profile people in the industry in India would be like, ‘It’s never happened before. It’s not going to happen. You’re wasting your time,’ ” Acharia says. (By the way, Chopra is the only celebrity managed by Acharia, whose primary occupation is venture capitalist.)
At the news that Chopra was engaged to the youngest Jonas Brother—and when photos surfaced of the couple’s roka engagement ceremony in Mumbai, showing the onetime teen idol in a kurta-pajama—a kind of mania broke out. Partly it was the seeming abruptness. Didn’t they just start dating? Is he old enough to get married?
If anything, the attention in India was more intense. There Jonas has acquired a national nickname, a play on the Hindi word jiju, which means “brother-in-law” or, more precisely, “sister’s husband.” As of this summer, in Indian newspaper headlines and across Indian social media, Jonas is now referred to as “National Jiju.”
Chopra and Jonas own, by my count, six homes, spanning a distance from Mumbai to Mammoth, California. Two weeks before our lunch in Las Vegas, I meet Chopra at her penthouse in Lower Manhattan, with its wraparound views and its white fluffy rug, over which Diana, her tiny terrier-chihuahua, has free rein.
We’re not here long. Chopra is starving. She alerts her security that we will be walking to a café nearby. We take the elevator downstairs, where a swirl of staff appear and disappear. One security guard remains, hovering within a five-foot radius of Chopra at all times as we make our way uptown on foot. Compared with Mumbai, I remark, where she would be mobbed, New York must feel like a respite. Chopra responds by identifying paparazzi positioned in various spots along our route—“There you go,” she says, “there you go”—their telephoto lenses protruding from behind parked cars.
We get to the café and settle into a table in the back. Soon a waiter delivers what can only be described as wooden slabs of deconstructed avocado toast. As we assemble our respective toasts, Chopra tells me about her childhood.
Both of her parents were doctors in the Indian Army. Her father, Ashok, was a surgeon. (He died of cancer in 2013.) Her mother, who now co-runs Chopra’s film-production company, was a gynecologist. They met at a party in Bareilly, a city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, and were married ten days later. Madhu jokes about her daughter’s own fast engagement. “She’s like, ‘It’s in your genes,’ ” says Chopra.
When she was twelve, Chopra visited relatives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was amazed that students didn’t wear uniforms. She asked her mother to let her stay in America for high school. “That was my teenage vanity,” Chopra says, laughing. “I was like: I get to be cute? Girls are wearing makeup and their hair down. Land of the free, here I come!”
She spent part of her ninth-grade year in Cedar Rapids, and the rest with relatives in Queens, New York. Tenth grade she spent with extended family in Indianapolis, Indiana; eleventh grade in Newton, Massachusetts. Her favorite city was New York. “Because it was Queens,” she says. “So diverse, so fun.” She discovered hip-hop. “I had braids. It was a whole thing—puffer jackets, I was in love with Tupac. I wore black for 20 days when he was killed.”
She was less crazy about Newton, where she was subjected to racist taunts at school. (“Go back on the elephant you came on,” she remembers. And “Oh, my God, do you smell the curry?”) “It really marked the way I felt and my self-esteem.” Chopra decided she’d had enough of the U.S. “I wanted to go back to the uniform.”
Madhu barely recognized her daughter at the airport. “I sent her there a lanky, carefree tomboy, and what came back was a gorgeous female,” Madhu tells me later. “From a chrysalis to a butterfly.” The attention from boys would be so intense that Chopra’s father installed iron bars on the windows of the family home. “The house looked like a fortress,” Madhu remembers. (“A jail,” Chopra says.)
One day, Chopra’s brother Siddharth was paging through one of his mother’s magazines when he happened upon an advertisement for the Miss India contest. “This little fellow, my son, all of nine years old, came into my room,” Madhu remembers. “He said, ‘Is Didi beautiful?’ I said, ‘I think so.’ He said, ‘Is she five-eight? I said yes. ‘Is she seventeen?’ I said yes. ‘OK, then why don’t you fill this out?’ ” (Later, when I reach Siddharth, who is now a chef in Mumbai, he tells me that Chopra had taken over his bedroom. The Miss India idea was his plot to reclaim it. “I thought, I’ll get my room back.”)
Chopra was studying to become an engineer—but she begged to go to the preliminary Miss India competition in Delhi. “I remember the doors of this hotel opening, and these tall, lissome, gorgeous women walking out—in my head, in slow motion—and big tears started rolling down my face,” Chopra says. “My mom said, ‘Don’t worry about how you look. Speak so that they listen to you. Have something to say.’ ” She won.
She won the Miss World competition in London, too—at which point the film offers started pouring in. Chopra learned acting on set, by doing. “Life prepared me for it,” she says. “All the moving around. I knew what cultural differences were. I knew that differences don’t make us different. Differences make us interesting.”
Chopra was ten years into her movie career when, in 2010, she was contacted by Acharia, who was riding a wave of success of her own and had found a business partner in music executive Jimmy Iovine. The two were looking for an Indian artist who could break into the American market. By chance, Acharia had seen Chopra in a spoof hip-hop video a few years earlier. Chopra agreed to a meeting.
Her first single, “In My City,” made with will.i.am, was released as the official theme song for the NFL’s 2013 Thursday Night Football season. The reaction was hostile. Social media erupted with a flood of racist comments (“Who is this Arab terrorist?” and “She’s not American. This is an American sport”). “It took me back to being that sixteen-year-old girl again,” says Chopra. She pauses. “I remember talking to my manager and saying, ‘It will always be like this.’ ” [Read More…]