The Biggest Bombshells From Priyanka Chopra's New Book, Unfinished

In her new memoir, Priyanka Chopra gets candid about her pageant days, being bullied, a traumatic surgical procedure, making the jump to American films and TV, and becoming Mrs. Nick Jonas.

By Natalie Finn Feb 09, 2021 11:00 AMTags
Priyanka Chopra book, Unfinished, MemoirBallantine Books

As the very title of Priyanka Chopra's new book, Unfinished, implies, there's so much more that she's hoping to do with her life.

But the multitalented 38-year-old, who after being crowned Miss World in 2000 became a huge star in her native India before making the leap to American film and TV, has quite the story to tell about how she made it this far—and the various obstacles that threatened to derail her ambitions along the way. 

Yet why release a book now, when, as she herself assures, her story is by no means complete?

"It's probably the first time as an adult that I've felt the desire to look back and reflect on how I've gotten to this moment," Chopra shares in her book's preface, noting that starting a new figurative chapter after marrying Nick Jonas in 2018 definitely inspired her to become more introspective.

Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra's Romance Rewind

From four schools in four years to her pageant days that opened up a whole new world of opportunity but also introduced her to the more demoralizing side of the entertainment industry, her rise to the mountaintop as a Bollywood star to her struggles getting a foothold in Western showbiz, her desire to lead a full, independent life to falling head over heels for a Jonas Brother, Chopra dives deep in Unfinished, available wherever books are sold Feb. 9.

And here are some of the most compelling parts to watch out for:

New Traditions

Priyanka's parents, army surgeon Ashok Chopra and hospital physician Madhu Akhouri, met at a party in 1981 and her dad was instantly smitten—enough to fake a stomach ache so he could pretend to need Madhu's services. When Ashok finally got Madhu's mother's permission to take her daughter out on a date, assuring her they'd be at a small house party (as opposed to alone), he proposed during their third dance of the night.

Madhu said she wasn't ready, but after a couple more dates, she realized they were on the same page about all the important things and she said yes. Ashok had to secure her father's permission, of course, but then that was that.

"What would become an amazing thirty-two-year marriage of equal partners began without the accepted traditions of an arranged marriage and a long engagement, as they married ten days later," Priyanka wrote. "Clearly Nick and I were slow starters."

One Minor Detail

Even as she was taking tests and applying for admission at the exclusive La Martiniere Girls' College in Lucknow, Priyanka had no idea it was a boarding school. When she and her parents took the four-hour train ride south, the 7-year-old didn't know until their tour of the campus brought them to a dormitory that she would be living there. And even then, Madhu only said the room was where the girls went to rest when they were tired.

"She didn't tell me that I was staying that day," Priyanka recalls. "She didn't have the heart to."

Her parents left and, she writes, "What I do remember vividly is the feeling of being abandoned, a feeling that lasted for a long, long time." Her mom came back a week later to explain what the heck was actually going on, and in the beginning visited every weekend, bringing treats like her favorite chips and ramen noodles, until the principal told her not to come at all for six months to give Priyanka time to really get settled.

Coming to America

Priyanka's first trip to the United States was in 1995 with her mom, to visit Madhu's younger sister, Kiran Mathur, and her husband and two children in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Priyanka refers to her aunt throughout as Kiran Masi, which translates to "like mother.") Kiran took her to visit the local high school, and the not-quite-13-year-old liked it so much ("Seriously? No uniforms?... Girls can wear makeup and their hair down?"), she asked her mother if she could stay in America to go to school.

After a "rational, logical Chopra Family Conversation," her parents agreed and she moved in with her aunt's family.

But then Priyanka reveals that only later was she apprised of the reality: That she had already been asking her mother if she could please, please go to school in America like some of her cousins, so Madhu had asked her sister about the possibility of Priyanka living with them before they even visited. (Though asking Priyanka's dad what he thought of the plan did happen later, as she remembered.)

Standing Out

Her classmates at John F. Kennedy High School in Iowa were very welcoming, Priyanka recalls, and she adjusted quickly to American ways (Hot Pockets and an unrequited crush on a green-haired boy named Seth were highlights) but that didn't stop her from feeling distinctly "Other."

Certain norms took some getting used to, like navigating the cafeteria lunch line. One day she mistook mashed potatoes for vanilla ice cream that just refused to melt, so she gagged at first when she tried a spoonful. However, she adds, once she realized they were a hot, savory dish, they became one of her favorite foods. ("Imagine my bewilderment when it came time to try buffalo wings," she quips.)

After a year, Kiran Masi got a new job in Indianapolis, but first Priyanka joined her mother's brother and his family in Queens, N.Y., a multicultural haven where she "felt a sense of ease, of belonging, that I hadn't realized I'd been missing so much." That's where she explored her love of fashion, learned all about hip-hop music and found a best friend, Vanessa Smarth, she's still in touch with to this day.

What About Bob?

In March of her freshman year of high school, it was time to move to Indianapolis. It was a world away from Queens, but she didn't care because that's where she met her first boyfriend, a 10th-grader she calls Bob (not his real name to protect his privacy). Unfortunately, one of the rules of her aunt's household was no dating, so Bob would have his sister call the house, then get on the phone himself.

Kiran found her out, but she okayed Priyanka's request to take summer school/ploy to see more of Bob. Sex Ed, ironically. But they hadn't even had a first kiss yet when Kiran came home unexpectedly from work on a day when Priyanka had snuck Bob into the house to watch MTV—and found him hiding in her closet.

Though her mother wasn't particularly scandalized ("Why did you have to get caught?" she wondered), Priyanka was shipped back to her uncle, who had moved from Queens to the Boston suburb of Newton. She and Bob wrote letters and emailed, but her uncle found the messages, so she had to start using the computer at school—until she found out her long-distance boyfriend was dating her best friend in Indianapolis, so bye-bye, Bob.

To get around her uncle and auntie's strictness about her clothes and hair and makeup, she also started keeping a closet's worth of supplies in her locker.

Mean Girls

It was at school in Newton where she first experienced bullying, a group of girls who would harass her, calling her "Brownie" and asking each other if they smelled curry as Priyanka walked by.

"When the taunts first started, I tried to ignore them. I put my head down and made my way through that section of the hallway as quickly as I could," she writes. She also clung closely to the small group of really good friends she had, finding it safer to just stick with them. But eventually she had to tell her guidance counselor what was going on.

"I was tired of being called names, having vile things written about me in the bathroom stalls, and getting shoved against lockers and buses," she recalls. But Priyanka didn't know what the counselor ever told the lead bully, because nothing changed. Basically she just had to wait until the school year ended and hope the other girls would grow up over the summer.

They didn't, and eventually Priyanka—really confused over why she had no problems in her far more homogenous schools in Iowa and Indiana, and why this was happening in a much more diverse setting (and at the hands of both white and Black girls)—started to lose sleep and her grades fell. When she finally told her parents, her mom and brother flew out to pack her up and bring her home. It was the middle of her junior year.

The Turning Point

In 12th grade (her classmates back in India assumed she'd been off having the 90210 experience so the rest of high school was a breeze, socially), she planned to apply to university in Australia to study aeronautical engineering, and needed a photo to go with her application. She went to a small portrait studio at the mall and when the photographer asked if he could take some modeling shots, she said, "Sure!" and left to get some more clothes from home. Immediately her mother warned Priyanka that this guy could be shady, but said she would go back to the studio with her at a later date if she still wanted to pose for him.

They ended up being the photos that got her accepted into the Miss India pageant (applying was originally her 10-year-old brother Siddharth's idea, because he wanted his room back), and they're still hanging in that small studio.

Sticky Situations

Competing for Miss India, aside from the fact that she found the concept of pairing a swimsuit with high heels to be rather ridiculous, she was self-conscious of what she considered the flaws on her legs, the scars from falling off her bike and climbing trees, stretchmarks and even just all-too-human dry skin.

"I was so nervous during this round that instead of sticking my butt out and sucking my stomach in the way I would now, my butt was clenched tight, like a dog with its tail tucked in," she recalls. But she faked it till she made it, even her feigned enthusiasm winning the judges over.

After winning the Miss India World title, it was onto the 2000 Miss World pageant, where the contestants came up with questions that were picked at random for each other to answer. Priyanka got Miss Turkey's question: "Who do you thinks is the most successful woman living today and why?"

Priyanka answered, "Mother Teresa," because "I admire her from the bottom of my heart for being so considerate, compassionate, and kind, giving up her life for people in India."

Alas, Mother Teresa had been dead since 1997.

But the gaffe was overlooked and Priyanka was crowned the winner, her victory walk across the stage only marred by the perspiration that was causing the tape holding her dress in place to lose its stick. "I pressed my hands together in a namaste and kept them close to my body as much of the time as I could in an effort to hold my gown up," she recalls, "and I hoped for the best. I now do a namaste at almost every red carpet—and you know the origin story."

Who's That Girl

After a year of actually traveling the world as part of her queenly duties, Priyanka returned home with a really bad cold that turned into what she thought was a sinus infection, but was actually a polyp in her nasal cavity. She needed surgery.

The polypectomy sounded routine, but while the surgeon was shaving away the polyp, he accidentally started shaving away the bridge of her nose, which then collapsed.

When the bandages came off, she writes, "My original nose was gone. My face looked completely different. I wasn't me anymore."

She continued, "I felt devastated and hopeless. Every time I looked in the mirror, a stranger looked back at me, and I didn't think my sense of self or my self-esteem would ever recover from the blow. The experience was very emotional for my whole family—my parents were doctors, after all; how could this have happened?—and to make matters worse, the experience was a public affair."

One that resulted in the demoralizing nickname "Plastic Chopra." She was dropped from two of the four films she had signed on for within six months of winning Miss World, one producer "arranging a screen test, or a 'look' test, to see what my face would look like blown up on 70mm film to movie-screen size." Another director moved her from the lead into a supporting role, but assured her she'd still be on the poster.

Instead of explaining exactly what happened, she didn't dignify any rumors with answers and tried to go about her life, several surgeries ultimately restoring her nose to a more normal-looking state. The face in the mirror, though, is still "a slightly different me," albeit one she's made peace with.

A Problem That Transcends Borders

Priyanka moved to Mumbai to pursue acting, and her unconditionally supportive parents joined her, assuring her they could practice medicine anywhere and that they had built their careers—now it was her time.

But they could only protect her so much. Wanting to be independent, she hired a manager and started meeting with producers and directors—one of whom, on a visit to his office one day with her manager in tow—asked her to "stand up and twirl for him."

"I did," she writes. "He stared at me long and hard, assessing me, and then suggested that I get a boob job, fix my jaw, and add a little more cushioning to my butt. If I wanted to be an actress, he said, I'd need to have my proportions 'fixed,' and he knew a great doctor in L.A. he could send me to. My then-manager voiced his agreement with the assessment."

She felt "stunned and small," but knew enough about her self to drop that manager soon after.

Desi Girl

Priyanka did go on to become a wildly successful Bollywood star, acting (and often singing and dancing) in dozens of films. But early on, when her Hindi-speaking Bollywood projects fell through because of the nose issue, the one movie that went on as planned, Thamizhan, was in Tamil, the language spoken in India's southernmost state, Tamil Nadu, which also has a huge film industry.

She didn't even know the language, but a Tamil coach helped her learn her lines phonetically and she had a wonderful experience that still ended up being her big break.

The toast of India, she started making one blockbuster after another, her most memorable perhaps being the musical Dostana. It featured the hit song "Desi Girl," which soon became her national nickname—and Nick Jonas sang the song at their wedding 10 years after the film came out.

Not Her Finest Hour

With A-list celebrity comes endorsement deals, and Priyanka had her share—including, controversially, a campaign for a skin-lightening cream (which remains a popular beauty product in Asian and South-Asian countries, and it's pretty much embraced everywhere under the euphemism of "brightening").

Priyanka wanted to focus on caring for and feeling beautiful in one's own skin, but the ads still conveyed the message that lighter was somehow pretty and more desirable.

"All I could think of was how I'd felt as a teenage girl using store-bought and homemade fairness concoctions because I believed my skin color made me unattractive," she writes of her regrets. "I thought about how pained I'd felt when I was called kaali as a child. I was now promoting the destructive messages that had so eaten away at my sense of self-worth when I
was growing up, and I knew the only person I could blame was myself."

She calls it "one of the biggest missteps of my career" and, while she can't go back and change anything, she apologizes, "To all the people who saw the harmful messaging that I contributed to, to all the people who still have to see commercials like these in every medium."

America the Beautiful

In 2009, Anjula Acharia, who'd successfully popularized American acts like Lady Gaga in India, wanted to do it the other way, take an Indian star and make her big in America. Interscope Records co-founder Jimmy Iovine was an investor in Acharia's platform, Desi Hits, and when Acharia showed Iovine a clip of Priyanka performing in one of her movies, Iovine said, "No brainer."

So when Priyanka moved to the U.S. in 2011, it was to record her first album for the recently formed Desi Hits/Interscope label. Producer RedOne brought in collaborators like, The Chainsmokers and Pitbull.

In September 2012, a special version of her upcoming debut single "In My City" premiered in a pregame promo for Thursday Night Football, and Priyanka couldn't think of a better way for her to introduce herself to American audiences.

Cue the "storm of explicitly racist hate mail and tweets," she recalls, "including—among many, many examples to choose from—'What's a brown terrorist doing promoting an all-American game?' and 'Go back to the Middle East and put your burka on' and—years later it's still hard to write this—'Go back to your country and get gang-raped.'"

Not bowing to online trolls, the NFL used the song again to kick off the 2013 season.

The Lost Years

Priyanka's father, Ashok, died of cancer in 2013, a devastating loss, made more so because he didn't get to see his daughter become the first Indian female star of an American primetime network drama when she landed the lead in ABC's Quantico, which premiered in 2015.

In the spring of 2016, she moved from Canada to New York to shoot Quantico's second season and, lonely and still harboring so much grief, she fell into a depression (though she doesn't think she was clinically depressed). A year later, still sad and now in mourning for both her dad and the end of a romantic relationship, she stopped going out except to work on her show's final season. She stayed up into the wee hours every night, barely slept, and gained almost 20 pounds (which online haters made sure to point out).

"When I wasn't feeling numb, I felt lonely, sad, and isolated. No one understood what was going on inside me, because I didn't tell anyone," she writes, not even her mom.

Darkest Before the Dawn

Without really describing how she did it (maybe she doesn't really know), Priyanka just writes that, "All I wanted was to spend time alone, until finally, finally, I was tired of being sad."

So, she tried to focus on all the blessings in her life and the fact that she still had a thriving career, and it was just time to snap out of it.

"I decided I had to choose myself, and I had to do it immediately," she writes. "I knew it's what my father would have wanted, and I realized with a jolt that I wanted it, too."

On New Year's Day in 2018, the actress made "a conscious decision to start doing small things to help me reengage with the world," whether it was making a point to see friends more often or just choosing to look out the window of her New York apartment instead of sitting on the couch watching TV.

Across a Crowded City Street

Thanks to the ABC marketing blitz, Quantico billboards were everywhere in the fall of 2015—and Nick Jonas noticed. Kevin Jonas had watched the show, and told his little brother he should totally try to meet the gorgeous actress who played FBI trainee Alex Parrish. Nick also happened to know actor Graham Rogers, who played Caleb Haas on the drama, and texted him "Priyanka. Is. Wow."

"That was fun to read," she admits.

And he did DM her that fall, the pair striking up a fun, flirty, online-only relationship for the next 15 months.

Ships in the Night

Meanwhile, she had sworn off dating following her painful 2016 breakup, but she was getting to know Nick from afar. In fact, their first date could have been a farewell party for President Barack Obama at the White House in January 2017, which Nick invited her to—but she had to work. Palm-to-face. "Huge disappointment" is seemingly a huge understatement.

But Priyanka and Nick finally met face to face the next month at the Vanity Fair Oscar party ("You're real. Where have you been all my life?" he famously told her), but she only had time for one drink before she had to go straight to the airport to catch a flight to India. Which she did with a big smile on her face.

They reunited as co-wearers of Ralph Lauren couture at the Met Gala that May, having drinks at the Carlyle five nights before the ball. They talked till closing, after which she invited him back to her place—where her mom was staying with her, and was up watching Law & Order: SVU when her daughter brought her date in.

So they talked on the patio till 1:30 a.m. and then he left, giving her "a nice little platonic hug and a pat on the back" that had her wondering, huh?

She had a great evening talking to him at the Met Gala though, after which she again had to leave the country, on a UNICEF trip to Zimbabwe. Still no kiss goodbye, but this time the hug was "lingering," she writes.

Perfect Timing... Finally

JoBro flirtation aside (plus, the 10-year age difference between them made her a little nervous), she didn't really start to emerge from her consuming sadness until the end of 2017, and it was on New Year's Eve when, spending the evening with friends, she wrote down the five nonnegotiable qualities she was looking for in a partner: Honest, appreciates family, takes his profession seriously, creative and ambitious.

Five months later, she saw Nick again at the 2018 Met Gala, and she... played it cool? "We walked the carpet separately, did our own photos, and hardly saw each other once we
entered the museum," she writes.

But upon her return to L.A. weeks later after another UNICEF trip, this one to Bangladesh, he invited her to Beauty and the Beast at the Hollywood Bowl with him, Kevin and a couple other friends, and told her she could bring a friend. They all met for drinks first at Chateau Marmont, and Nick told her later "that the minute I walked into the bar...he'd said to himself, That's my wife. And that the following morning he'd called his mother and told her he was going to marry me. And that shortly thereafter he'd flown to Australia to meet up with his brothers and
told them, too, that he was going to propose."

Nick also wrote "I Believe" after they had finally spent several consecutive days together—and less than two months later, he popped the question just after midnight on July 19 (waiting until the day after her birthday so as not to steal her thunder) on the Greek isle of Crete.

I Do...and I Do... and I Do...Ouch!...and I Do...

And then they got married a bunch of times! Tying the knot in India that December was Nick's idea, and it involved multiple ceremonies (starting with the pre-wedding roka, which marks both families' approval of the union), endless parties, countless outfit changes and all of their loved ones.

Never mind that on the morning of Nov. 30, the day of the mehendi ceremony (for the traditional henna body painting) and the musical sangeet celebration, Priyanka impaled her foot on a jagged shard of wood sticking up from the otherwise gorgeous antique floor in the bathroom where she was staying. Her assistant, Nick in a towel and a member of their security team ran in when they heard her screams.

Crediting years of foot abuse from all the dancing she did in her career, she handled herself okay during the bloody scene, which required a doctor using tweezers to pull the wood out of her heel. But though Priyanka limped through the mehendi, she danced in heels at her sangeet.

The Chopra-Jonas Household

The home Priyanka shares with Nick is the first place she's owned since moving out of her place in Mumbai, where she became a star, and she hopes to share it with more people. She writes of how she envisions space for the "large extended family that Nick's and my union has already created, and the more intimate one that we hope to create in the future. Having gotten a sense of the importance that both Nick and I place on family, you won't be surprised to learn that this, too, needs to be a spacious room, though perhaps it will have alcoves and nooks throughout, so that individual members can slip off for some occasional solitude while still being part of the larger whole."

But she saves a smaller "inner room" where she and Nick can be alone, their life together being part of the 10 percent of her story that—while she's shared the other 90 percent with the world—is "just for me."

Yet while alone time is precious, the work continues!

Watch: Nick Jonas & Priyanka Chopra Celebrate 2nd Wedding Anniversary

In addition to celebrating her new book, Chopra's latest film, White Tiger, a darkly comedic look at the class divide in India, is currently streaming on Netflix.

Asked about what she envisions for the future, now that the story of Unfinished has been told, she told the Los Angeles Times in a new interview, "I want to take on roles that make me nervous and uncomfortable. I want to check in with my artistic self and lean in as a producer and tell the stories I want to see—female stories, South Asian stories. I want to be an entrepreneur. Probably have a family. There's so much.

"I feel like it's been 20 years that I've been doing this, but there's so much that, God willing, given the opportunity I still want to do."

—With reporting by Beth Sobol