Philanthropists of the Year: PRIYANKA CHOPRA


Priyanka Chopra is the most sought-after Bollywood actress of our time. With 56 films under her belt, the former Miss World recently launched her music career with will i am and Pitbull.

One of most gorgeous women on the planet, Priyanka Chopra, for the longest time, aspired to become either a criminal psychologist, or a software engineer.

The other day, I sat down with her, and talked to her about Lady Gaga, UNICEF, Solar Power, and Rape.

Out of the millions of NGOs out there, why did you choose to become a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF?

UNICEF: because of the UN. You know whatever proceeds you donate are going to the right place. They have been an organization that's been around forever, and they do incredible work.

What got you interested in charity?

Both my parents were doctors. When I was really young, we would go into these villages, and set up these free medical clinics for people who couldn't afford treatments.

As a kid, philanthropy was a really big part of my family, and what we did. So, I just knew it was really an important part for me.

Two of your career's most popular films have been gay-centered Fashion and Dostana. What are your thoughts on Gay Rights?

I'm very Pro-Gay People, and Gay Rights. I always have been.

People need to stop being judgmental, and let people be: Whatever they want to be. Focus on your own life. Rather than everyone else's.

Maybe it happens because of social media -- maybe because people have the ability to stick behind the wall of anonymity, and go out there and be judgmental . . .

Just let people be.

Lady Gaga once said: "If you have revolutionary potential, then you have a moral imperative to make the world a better place." What do you think?

Everyone can have revolutionary potential, as long as you put yourself out there, and say you can do it.

A lot of us get stuck within the confines of what we are supposed to be.

It is important to push the envelop a little bit, and try and go beyond that. What's the worse that can happen? You fail. Just pick yourself up, and try something else.

When people lift that weight off their shoulders: Everybody has the potential to change the world for the better.

Why should we disconnect from Facebook/Twitter every so often?

Because a lot of people are judgmental, and it starts affecting you. (It affects me.)

And I'm someone out there to get affected. It's my fault. I do different things, and if you always try to break norm, there will be that many more people judging you.

That's why we need to take time off from those judgmental people. We need to sit back and say: "Is this important to me?" "If it is, I don't care about what they're saying."

The mindset needs to change.

Poverty does not have to do just with poverty. It has to do with lack of opportunities. It has to do with mindsets: like parents saying, "My girl child doesn't have to go to school. I'll send my boys instead." Or, "I don't want a girl child because I need to have a boy child."

The government tries. They give so many apartments and houses to slum-dwellers. But, they just sell it, and come back to the slums. It's just a mindset. It's a slow process.

It starts with organizations like UNICEF, and Girl Up. People who go out there, and talk to people about how the girl child is just as important as the boy.

Or, the fact that if you educate your girl child, she'll be able to stand on her own feet, and take care of her family that much better: Because she'll know what hygiene is, or what medications to give her kids when they're sick.

It will all come with education. It's the lack of education and formal knowledge that limits your mindset. That has to change.

For The Times of India, you wrote the article "No woman in Mumbai feels safe any longer," foreshadowing the 2012 Delhi Gang Rape. What are your thoughts on these now daily occurrences?

A woman is not raped because she's wearing a provocative outfit. She's not raped because she's drinking among friends. She not raped because she's driving back home alone, and she's asking for it.

She's raped because someone raped her.

People need to keep it in their pants. It's a mindset thing. Nothing can change that except the way you look at a woman.

We need to focus on why is there so much fearlessness. Why are the laws not being taken seriously? Why aren't the laws so strong? Why isn't there any implementation of these laws?

It's the corruption thing. Again: It's about lawlessness. Again: It's about instilling this fear -- if you break the law, you will be jailed. And people will just stop doing it.

Like the UN, like UNICEF, like Girl Up: Choose organizations that are credible. Which will get the money to where it deserves to go.

Did you hear about that controversial Abused Goddesses campaign? The one that says: 68 percent of women in India are victims of domestic violence?

The campaign's a great concept. I understand where the uproar is coming from -- it is your religion; it is your belief. I also understand why the campaign.

The way I see it: It is the truth. It's an expression, and it's freedom of speech. And I'm very much for that.

Culturally girls are inferior to boys in India. Should we even try to educate them?

There is a belief that when a girl is born, at a certain age, she will get married, and go away into someone else's family. But, a boy is what will get your lineage to go forward. That's one of the beliefs.

Like every religion, most religions are a way of life. To be a way of discipline. To be a way of life: Contorted by radicals, and people for their convenience.

With UNICEF, I had to go show people perspective -- "You are right: Your daughter is going to go away. She is going to get married to another family. But, she is your daughter.

If you educate her until 10th grade, she will stand on her own feet, and take care of herself, become a little independent, not get abused, and give her own family a holistic upbringing."

Only we can change it. The government can't come and tell you: "Educate your girl!" Or, "Take care of her, and don't hit her!" It should intrinsically come from us.

What's more important for us is to educate our boys. To not hit girls. To treat girls with respect. To educate our boys to look at a woman with respect -- like they would their sister.

A man is not macho if four of his friends sit, and leer, and leer at a girl walking pass. He's macho if he can protect her.

Should we, at least, teach girls the practicality of sanitation and birth control?

With UNICEF, I went into this village, where I visited this amazing community center, where girls themselves would come when they had free time at home.

And these workers would teach them about sanitation, taking care of their children, birthing, medication, sanitation. All these things.

A lot more of these communities are coming up. But, there needs to be more.

But, a lot of the families also won't let these girls go to the community centers because they have this fear that their girls will become too modern, or too independent.

This fear needs to be taken out. We're not telling these girls to run away with a boy, and become independent. Nor are we telling these girls to have these free-thinking, liberating, modern thoughts. It's not about that.

It's about educating them.

Water pollution is a huge problem. Priyanka, as once an engineer hopeful, what are your thoughts on the eliodomestico solar water distiller?

I did read about this -- it's amazing. It's a great invention, especially for a country like India. It's simple. It's easy. It just needs a little bit of openess of the mind.

Because of Global Warming, the World Bank is convinced more floods--like that which happened in Uttarakhand--will happen again: even in Bombay. The solution? Renewable energy. As the NDTV Green Ambassador, how can companies like Tata Power make solar panels more sexy to the public?

Solar panels don't have to be remodeled to be interesting.

What is important is energy companies need to invest in more field-work of explaining to people what solar power can do to make your life better. It's not as expensive. It will give you clean water. It will give you clean food. It will give you a better lifestyle.

There is not much understanding of what solar power can do.

There are so many villages in India that don't have electricity. So, after 5 o'clock, you can't cook. Kids can't study. They can't do anything.

With solar lanterns, villagers can come back home after 5 o'clock, and still have light (because the lanterns charge all day). And, at night, they can have light.

Kids' grades went up by 40 percent -- ridiculous! -- because they could study at night. And when people ate their food, they didn't have to sit by those kerosene lamps, inhaling those fumes.

You just have to explain to people. You have to invest that kinda of time to explain.

You're the fresh face of all-American GUESS. You've just wrapped up a voice-over with Disney's Planes (now on DVD!!). You've sung with Will i am and Pitbull. And you've performed for the NFL. How empowered do you feel as the cultural ambassador between India and the United States?

Because I stayed in America, and I went to high school here; and stayed in India, and went to school there, I'm an amalgamation of both cultures.

I'm embracing who I am. I'm embracing where I'm from. I'm embracing my culture. It's something I'm doing completely different.

Embrace who you are.

It's hard -- super hard -- when you know you're in school, and you want to fit in, and people don't understand your name; people don't understand where you're from -- your culture. But, it's fine. You have to own it.

"Take it. Or leave it." What's the worst that will happen? They'll leave it. But, you still have it.

I hope to be able to pave the way for people who are way more talented than me -- people who have way more potential than me, but don't have the opportunity.

I want people to say: "If she can do it, why can't I?"

This interview would not have been possible without the help and support of Fran Silverberg, Geetanjali Master, Omesh Matta, Gabriele Diamanti, Reeshik Bahl, Raman Dhawan, Anil Khandelwal, Vineet Arya, Darrell Borquez, Nicole Neves, Tim Saunders, Natasha Pal, and, of course, the beautiful and brillant Priyanka Chopra.