Relationships

Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ Engagement Feels Like a Bizarre Collision of My Indian and American Identities

I’ve been a Chopra fan since her Bollywood days, and this has all been surreal, to say the least.

Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas staring lovingly at each other.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images.

Hearts and Stars is Slate’s pop-up blog on celebrity relationships.

The engagement of Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas has been a personally disorienting affair. It happened so fast, with few prior hints, and most bizarrely, every Indian American I know has an opinion on it. The Jopra engagement feels both strange and momentous: It captures the split between our Bollywood-loving roots and the American lifestyles that were thrust upon us.

I was 6 months old when my family moved to the U.S. from India. As a young immigrant, I found that the cultural consumption in my house primarily reflected my country beyond the Atlantic, with plenty of South Asian books, magazines, and newspapers as well as access to channels like Sony Entertainment Television and Zee TV, where I would watch the Indian music videos and movies I couldn’t find in my local theaters. This way, I could keep up with what was hot at home even though I was thousands of miles away. But while it was easy to stay in touch with my cultural heritage, it was less easy to be an ambassador for it. I could get few of my (predominantly white) friends to understand what I so reflexively loved about Bollywood culture: those gaudy films, with their melodrama and ornate musical treatments and quirky humor. It didn’t click with their sensibilities, and whenever I showed them any movies or songs, they would often reflexively laugh. I couldn’t entirely blame them, but it was alienating nonetheless.

Because of this, I’ve long had an intense personal stake in the stars of the Hindi film industry— among them Priyanka Chopra, whose work I’ve been familiar with since her early years in Bollywood. There was her 2003 breakout Andaaz, and then her roles in films like the rom-com Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, the charmingly corny superhero flick Krrish, and the action-packed Don.
She was always an electrifying presence, a versatile actress who could play sensitive, villainous, or coy. But for me, the most resonant images of her from this era come from her movies’ song-and-dance sequences: snazzy affairs resplendent with color, boisterous choreography, and beautiful, beautiful people, holding each other in close embraces and near-kisses that come teasingly close and suddenly break apart. Every Indian channel had shows that took the songs from popular Bollywood films and played them on a loop, burying them even deeper in citizens’ hearts and minds. Chopra was everywhere, a natural in this flashy world, confidently dancing and lip-syncing and toying with the men who were enamored with her.

So it was no surprise that Chopra became one of the biggest stars in Bollywood. But to see her emerge years later as a global icon, with a Pitbull collaboration and leading TV roles—her role in Quantico made her the first South Asian woman to head a broadcast show—was blindsiding and dazzling all at once. It’s not as though Bollywood, still a significant part of the largest film industry in the world, has lacked in crossover stars, like Aishwarya Rai and Anupam Kher, or cringeworthy collaborations like Akshay Kumar meets Snoop Dogg, but no one seems to have commanded quite the global adoration that Chopra has.

And so, with all this power at hand, her next step is … marrying Nick Jonas? When I first read it, I couldn’t believe it. Ye kaise hua?

As representatives of the American side of my cultural consumption, the Jonas Brothers are obviously not a perfect domestic analogue to Chopra, but at their peak they were almost as towering a presence in my childhood. My friends and I watched a lot of Disney Channel, while girls I liked had Jonas Brothers posters in their rooms and CDs galore. The band was never my thing per se, but of course I had opinions about them—mostly resentment at the fact that Nick Jonas is only a couple of years older than I am and a far more beloved artist than my dorky piano-playing self. He and his brothers made what I thought to be cloying, saccharine tunes. But people here were more familiar with “Year 3000” than “Dil Na Diya,” so what was I to do but dance along?

And now, unbelievably, these two are eloping. The phenomenon that is Chonas, or Jopra, or Niyanka, or whatever, was first ignited during the 2017 Met Gala, when the two showed up together because, as Chopra told Jimmy Kimmel, they “were both wearing Ralph Lauren” (which, incidentally, is also how I decide whom to bring as my plus-one to parties). Almost exactly a year later, they were spotted on a few dates, which two months later escalated into an engagement. This is wild because there are still so many questions: Exactly how did this happen? And why?

But maybe none of that matters; Chonas is of a piece with other quick celebrity engagements of our time, and the fact that this union exists is a mystery we have no choice but to accept. It’s been met with rapt attention befitting its mysteriousness. There are now multiple Priyanka-and-Nick fan accounts whose fans range from JoBro-heads to Bollywood obsessives. The bio of one prominent Instagram fan account claims: “We used to be normal, then @priyankachopra and @nickjonas happened,” and honestly, same.

It’s strange now to have so many people know Chopra who didn’t grow up with her like I did. Perhaps this feeling of “I knew her first” ownership is a kind of selfishness on my part. But it’s also pure disbelief that the Chopra I saw dancing on screen in the great expanses of India with idols of mine like Hrithik Roshan and John Abraham ends up with a guy from Camp Rock. At the same time, I can’t help but feel warmly about Niyanka. Never mind the age gap and improbable matchmaking: It’s undeniably cool to see Jonas visiting Mumbai and engaging in the same roka engagement ceremony I have seen many cousins go through and to watch him and his family attempt the dances and bring the Jonas’ hits to young Indian children. Speaking from my own experience, when the wedding comes around, Nick Jonas may well be wearing a kurta stuffed with rupees and brandishing a sword as he arrives in a gold-decked carriage to meet his soon-to-be bride. What an image!

Is Niyanka Jopra the seismic event that will unite my two conflicting worlds for good? Will I be invited to the wedding after writing this? What’s Nick’s favorite movie of Priyanka’s? Will Nick have an in with Bollywood playback singers now? Will he collaborate with them? Will he, praise Vishnu, find himself in a Bollywood film? The possibilities seem endless. But in the meantime, I’m just excited for pictures of Nick Jonas riding an elephant.