Priyanka Chopra took to the stage in Delhi on Tuesday, December 26 to deliver the 11th edition of the prestigious Penguin Annual Lecture. The actor and singer is arguably one of the most successful Indians in Hollywood at the moment. She was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2016 and listed in the top ten highest paid television actresses by Forbes. In her lecture on “Breaking the glass ceiling – chasing a dream”, Chopra spoke about being feisty and fearless as well as about sexism and racism in the film industry to an audience of star-struck fans (video above).
Not everyone was moved by the show, however. The decision to invite the film star to speak at the event hosted by publishing giant Penguin Random House left many people scratching their heads. In the past ten years, the lecture has hosted speakers including Ruskin Bond, Ramachandra Guha, the Dalai Lama and APJ Abdul Kalam. Chopra is noticeably the first woman to be have been invited to speak at the lecture in its ten-year history. But the question being asked by many is why the organisers couldn’t find anybody other than Chopra to speak at a popular event about publishing – someone who may have actually contributed to writing, publishing and books in the country.
While sharing an article written by a Scroll.in contributor raising this issue, feminist publishing house Zubaan helpfully suggested the names of several women who would have made “hella more interesting speakers than Piggy Chops”
Publishing and literary circles were not united in this sentiment, however, with online literary community New Asian Writing jumping to the defence of Penguin Random House, sparking a fresh comeback from “feminist killjoy aunties” Zubaan Books.
Many writers jumped into the fray as well, evenly split about the controversial decision.
For others like Vir Sanghvi, Priyanka Chopra was preferable to some of the past speakers.
Several journalists sprang to Priyanka Chopra’s defence.
While others, much like Zubaan, pointed out the large number of deserving and underrepresented women in Indian publishing.
For the woman at the heart of the storm, however, the controversy seemed to matter very little.