How Priyanka Chopra took Bollywood by storm with Aitraaz on this day in 2004. Throwback Thursday
It’s been 16 years since Priyanka Chopra’s Aitraaz released. Despite having an ensemble cast, Aitraaz is a through-and-through Priyanka Chopra film. In the role of an ambitious seductress (conventionally called gold-digging man-eater), Priyanka gloriously owned the film that was supposed to have the spotlight on Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor. How did Priyanka do that? We’ll come to that in a bit.
First, let’s acknowledge the fact that this year also marks 20 years of Priyanka Chopra in the entertainment industry. Today, the actress is known as a global icon and an incredible powerhouse of talent; but Priyanka has always been a force to reckon with. She proved so with Aitraaz in 2004 – from her decision to sign the film to delivering an unforgettable performance. Priyanka has often talked about creating her own legacy and being irreplaceable. And she did exactly that as Sonia Roy in Aitraaz.
WHAT MAKES PRIYANKA CHOPRA’S AITRAAZ SPECIAL?
The romantic thriller announced Priyanka’s arrival in the world of cinema. Sure, she had featured in a couple of films before Aitraaz, but Sonia Roy was no candyfloss character. It was bold and set Priyanka off into unchartered territory – a storyline normally left untouched by the Hindi film industry. End result? Priyanka’s reign began.
The film is Abbas-Mustaan’s recreation of Barry Levinson’s 1994 film, Disclosure. Aitraaz delves into the concept of sexual harassment at the workplace. Only this time, the woman is the aggressor. And this femme fatale named Sonia is unapologetic and unabashed in her ways. She wants it all power, status, money and sexual gratification. Yes, the film addressed a woman’s carnal desires, a huge leap for Bollywood anyway. So, the antagonist viciously schemes and manipulates to achieve her goals.
WHY IS THE STORY OF AITRAAZ GROUNDBREAKING?
Akshay Kumar essays the role of Raj Malhotra, an executive working a 9-5 job for a mobile phone company. He falls in love with Priya, played by Kareena Kapoor, and the two get married. It’s all sunshine and rainbows for the couple who is expecting their first child until Priyanka Chopra’s Sonia Roy enters like a wildfire. She is Raj’s boss and demands a physical relationship with him. This twist in the tale is what set Aitraaz apart all those years ago.
In the film’s defining moment, Raj rejects Sonia’s advances and she ends up physically assaulting him. She asks, requests and commands Raj to be with her; all in vain. What happens next possibly remains etched in the memories of audiences. She says, “Show me you are an animal” while attacking Raj.
HOW PRIYANKA CHOPRA COMPELLED US TO NOTICE HER SONIA ROY
What you feel about Sonia Roy is what you feel about Priyanka herself. You can love her, you can hate her, but you can’t ignore her. Even if Aitraaz was a gamble for Priyanka, she displayed her magnetism in a character that was wicked, coming out as an empowered actress on the other end. Who can forget the scene when Sonia questions that if she, a woman, has no qualms about an extra-marital affair, then why should the man? She even tries to trade money for sexual favours. Priyanka performed her part to perfection as she tried to entice Akshay’s Raj with her sensuous voice, risqué outfits and sexy looks. All the while captivating the audience with her dynamic screen presence.
HOW DID THE PLOT THICKEN IN AITRAAZ?
Sonia accuses Raj of rape after he spurns her advances. What unfurls soon after is a gripping courtroom drama. This is when Raj’s wife, Priya (Kareena Kapoor), who was once a lawyer, returns to court to protect her husband’s dignity and honour. Her confrontations with Sonia are a treat to watch.
Subsequently, it is revealed that Sonia is actually Raj’s ex-girlfriend. Their romance came to a screeching halt when Sonia aborted their first child a few years ago. Even the abortion narrative in Aitraaz deserves attention. Sonia is firm in her decision to prioritise her career over marriage or a child. She makes it clear that her actions don’t stem from a fear of having a baby out of wedlock. Priyanka delivers one of the most powerful dialogues Hindi cinema has seen in this sequence. She says, “Having this child is not my ambition. You know how hard I have worked to get to this stage of my career. I have imagined a different life for myself.” For the time this movie released in, it was daring to address this issue, which is still a hush-hush topic, 16 years on.
WHAT DID PRIYANKA CHOPRA SAY ABOUT DOING AITRAAZ?
In an interview to a news portal, Priyanka talked about picking Aitraaz early into her career. She said, “When I did Aitraaz, I was told people will consider me a vamp, and my pure image will get tarnished. I didn’t know any better, so I ended up doing such roles. There was no one to teach me. Now, we’ve actors like Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Kangana Ranaut, Vidya Balan come out there and say, ‘These are the stories we want to tell, and we will do it so well we will compel you to come in and watch them.’ When I started doing it, very few people were doing it.”
It is to the credit of Abbas-Mustaan that the film didn’t turn out to be a sleaze-fest. Even though the film starred Amrish Puri, Paresh Rawal and Annu Kapoor as well, who did justice to their roles, the success of Aitraaz belongs to Priyanka Chopra. It worked at the box office despite being pitted against Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta-starrer Veer-Zaara.
AITRAAZ WILL ALWAYS BE A MILESTONE FOR PRIYANKA AND BOLLYWOOD
The film is and will be remembered for being ahead of its time, for raising pertinent questions none other had dared to ask. Are women the only victims of sexual harassment? Can’t a man be the victim? Why must the man be blamed for secretive workplace relationships? Why can’t a woman express her sexual desires openly? Why must a woman always want a family, a husband and a child? Can’t she put all that aside and crave a career, and do everything in her power to achieve that goal? Aitraaz paved the way for these themes to be explored in the years that followed.
Hence, Aitraaz was as much a turning point in the Hindi film industry as it was for Priyanka Chopra. While it helped Priyanka prove that she is an actress of substance, not just a way to raise the glam quotient on screen, it also was a game-changer for Bollywood.
Aitraaz isn’t just any other film that will get lost in the sea of cinema; it will endure just as Priyanka Chopra’s legacy does.
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