The art of shooting sex scenes on television
LOS ANGELES - Bollywood superstar and former beauty queen Priyanka Chopra is breaking new ground in Hollywood with the hit television drama Quantico. Her role as federal agent Alex Parrish makes her the first Bollywood performer to lead the cast of an American television drama.
Although she has several racy scenes in the show - such as her character having sex in a car in the pilot episode - Chopra says its creators are sensitive to her Indian heritage and take care not to cross the line when it comes to saucy storylines involving her character, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recruit accused of planning a terror attack.
At a press event in Los Angeles, the 33-year-old stunner is quick to point out to Life that titillation is not an alien concept to Indian moviegoers.
"You know, there's a lot of raciness in our movies too, but it's always aesthetic," says the star of Bollywood hits such as the drama Fashion (2008) and the Don action franchise (2006-2011).
And she believes Quantico - which is currently the most watched Sunday TV show among adults in the United States - "will also be aesthetic" in its depiction of sex.
Nevertheless, she pauses to clarify that it was all smoke and mirrors in the car sex scene.
"The illusion of what happened in that racy scene was more than what really happened. Technically, we didn't do anything - we just made sounds. You had a shot of my knee, you had a shot of the outside of the car and you had me going 'Aahhh'," she says with a smile.
"The show is very careful about that too because I think they're also aware of where I come from."
Sitting beside her, Quantico executive producers Mark Gordon and Joshua Safran nod vigorously. "We're a tasteful show is what she's trying to say," Gordon says.
The series, which airs in Singapore on AXN (StarHub Channel 511), follows a group of recruits as they are trained at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Chopra's character is later accused of masterminding a New York bombing reminiscent of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks and has to clear her name.
The show has been compared to another one of Gordon's hits, medical drama Grey's Anatomy, and will explore various romantic entanglements between the characters just as that earlier series does.
So "you will have relationships and sexiness and allusion to that the rest of the season", Chopra says. "But it will never be in your face."
The actress - one of India's highest paid and most acclaimed film actresses as well as a successful singer and model - says her foray into Hollywood is not about making a big splash or raising her profile.
"I go wherever my work takes me. To me, it's not about coming to America wanting to be famous - it's just pushing the envelope on what I can do as an artist. And if that takes me to Czechoslovakia or South Africa, it doesn't matter, as long as it's content I really want to do."
The fact that she is now the star of an American TV series shows that her career possibilities are endless, she says.
"If I, coming from a small town in India and being the daughter of two army officers, can today be talking to all this press from across the world, anything can happen," says Chopra, who was born to two military doctors in the east Indian state of Jharkhand.
It is all the more remarkable because she suffered from low self-esteem when she was young, even when she first started competing in beauty pageants at age 17.
"I never really thought I was beautiful," says Chopra, who won the Miss World title for India in 2000.
"I had major self-esteem issues when I was a kid,'' reveals the star, who moved to the US to study at age 13 and says she encountered racism that "affected me tremendously" for the few years she lived there.
"But I think beauty is something you have to hone yourself. I just taught myself to be the best that I could be. I learnt how to dress right, speak right and become confident. And if all of us focus on being the best we can be, we can really turn heads."
Chopra is certainly turning heads now, winning a whole new fan base with Quantico, which is doing well in the ratings and was this week picked up by ABC network for a full season of 19 episodes.
Whatever happens to her career in the US, she swears that she will not forget her Bollywood roots.
"Because I love my Indian movies, I'll continue to do them," she says, praising Indian cinema as "a celebration of life" that is also a powerful source of escapism for its audience.
Still, the significance of her landing the lead role on Quantico is not lost on Chopra.
"Not just for Indians, but for people globally, it's a great step forward. And kudos to ABC for giving Quantico such a diverse cast. Alex could have been from any part of the world. I'm just really happy it's me."
This article was first published on Oct 21, 2015.
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