OPINION

Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ engagement is a taboo-busting inspiration

Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas at the 2017 Met Gala (Photo: Getty Images)

The newly engaged couple have received a barrage of racist abuse but, despite that, Priyanka Chopra is a positive role model for a generation of young Indian girls, says Radhika Sanghani

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By Radhika Sanghani on

“Priyanka Chopra, you should be ashamed of yourself. You look like Nick Jonas’ mother.”

Normally, when a famous couple announce their engagement, the congratulations roll on in. But for Priyanka Chopra, the 36-year-old Bollywood actress, and Nick Jonas, the 25-year-old American singer, the response to their engagement has been completely different. While their diehard fans are supportive of their relationship, a large number of people – both in the West and the East – are appalled.

How can a 36-year-old woman date a 25-year-old man? How can an Indian woman find happiness with a white man? How can Nick Jonas choose a Bollywood actress when he has his pick of Hollywood’s finest? Does he even understand a word of her Hindi movies – does he even care?

The questions are endless. On social media, people just can’t seem to get their heads around this relationship and the many taboos it is breaking. First of all, there’s the 11-year age gap in Priyanka’s favour. It’s not so much the age gap that’s the problem – no one bats an eyelid at Ryan Reynolds, who is 11 years older than Blake Lively, or Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor, 35, dating actress Alia Bhatt, 25 – so much as the fact that the older person in the relationship is, shock horror, a woman.

And then there’s the difference in their races. “She’s plain poppadum ugly,” wrote one man on Twitter, blatantly referencing Priyanka’s Indian heritage. “He needs someone hot,” wrote another, implying that her race stops her being “hot”. While another just went for it: “Priyanka Chopra is an Islamist terrorist agent and a traitor and the biggest gold digger on earth.”

Yet again, it is Priyanka who is bearing the brunt of the racism and sexism. Most of the negative comments aren’t directed so much towards the couple, and their relationship as a whole, but to Priyanka. It’s reminiscent of the backlash that Meghan Markle faced when she – a divorced, then-36-year-old woman with a black mother, married Prince Harry, 33. The comments and negativity towards her were so intense that the prince broke with tradition and released a statement condemning the racism and sexism she had experienced.

“His girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment,” read the statement. “The smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces' and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments…. Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle's safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her. This is not a game – it is her life and his.”

To many, this won’t seem like a big deal, but for young Indian girls who so rarely have role models like Priyanka, this is huge. She’s doing exactly what many of their parents and relatives have expressly forbidden them from doing

It is a stark reminder that, in this era of “wokeness” and increased awareness, interracial couples still face racism and harassment on a daily basis. We've seen it here with Priyanka Chopra and Meghan Markle, who are doubtless now accustomed to the harassment and abuse they receive from people who don't even know them, but we must also remember that it is just as big a problem with normal, non-celebs across the entire world.

While a lot of the racist comments directed towards Priyanka come from people in the West, there are also a huge number of Indians who are disgusted by the many traditional taboos she is breaking – from the age gap to marrying a white man to the mere fact that she is getting married for the first time at the “ripe old age” of 36.

“Priyanka Chopra is dating a kid boy half her age shamelessly,” wrote a man on Twitter who calls himself a “proud Indian”. “She is such a joker. She thinks that she looks smart with that kid. If she were married at 20, her own son would be of that kid guy's age.” While another Indian man wrote: “Of late, Hindu girls seem to develop penchant for love for outsiders. What a fashion or what?” Others compared the situation to Drake and Athiya Shetty (the singer recently wrote flirty jokes on the Bollywood actress’ Instagram profile), asking: “First Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra and now Drake and Athiya Shetty, what kind of crossover is this?”

It’s plain sad that people are still making these sorts of comments in this day and age, but, at the same time, it’s hugely inspiring that Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas are living their lives without letting any of this bother them. To many, this won’t seem like a big deal, but for young Indian girls who so rarely have role models like Priyanka, this is huge. She’s doing exactly what many of their parents and relatives have expressly forbidden them from doing and, judging from her loved-up Insta-stories, she doesn’t care who knows it.

For the next generation of Indian girls and boys, both in India and here in the UK, Priyanka and Nick's relationship is a sign that they don’t need to follow in the traditional footsteps of their society and community – they can make their own choices and break as many taboos as they want. As one young Indian girl wrote on Twitter: “Thank you Priyanka for being so strong and independent. Being true to who you are in this world is the most difficult thing to do. Keep being yourself queen, because who you are an inspiration to all of us.” Amen.

@radhikasanghani

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Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas at the 2017 Met Gala (Photo: Getty Images)
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