Priyanka Chopra on her legacy role as Sati in ‘The Matrix Resurrections’, working with Lana Wachowski and Keanu Reeves

Actor-producer Priyanka Chopra talks about taking on the legacy role of Sati in ‘The Matrix Resurrections’, and her duty of focussing a global spotlight on Indian cinema

When The Matrix released in theatres in 1999, it proved to be a precursor for chatter on the responsibility of the individual person in regards to mixed reality and the hegemonic power of technology. The next 22 years would raise philosophical questions, referencing the movie; ‘are we in a simulation?’, ‘what makes a person?’ and, of course, ‘would you choose the red pill or the blue pill?’ The latter even has its own Wikipedia page and official Reddit forums.

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It makes total sense that actor-producer Priyanka Chopra calls herself “a red pill girl”, as she takes on a “nurtured and well-positioned” legacy role in the franchise, playing Sati whose younger version (Tanveer K Atwal) appears in The Matrix Revolutions (2002).

Into Sati’s world

On the surface, Sati is the picture of sweetness with her endearing smile, lemon-coloured frock and schoolgirl braids. The little girl – program, really – was born without a purpose, and in a world of utilitarian machines, it made her an exile: a malfunctional program that should not exist. She is then pursued by the monstrous squid-like Machines and the Smiths (Hugo Weaving), putting her in danger of deletion, and is ultimately left in the protection of the Oracle.

Priyanka Chopra in a Roberto Cavalli reptilian-print dress, for a virtual press day for ‘The Matrix Resurrections’, styled by Law Roach; photographed by Hunter Abrams | Photo Credit: Priyanka Chopra Jonas / Instagram

Finally, she is saved by Neo AKA Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) and is revealed to be the saviour of both the artificial world of Thomas and the dystopian rabbit-hole world of Neo. When Sati and the Oracle watch Neo walk off into the sunset the former created, the little girl asks if they will ever see him again. And Oracle affirms they will. So it fits that in Chopra’s entry into The Matrix world, she stands in a sun-basked forest and tells Neo, “I tried to keep my eye on you.”

In an interview with The Hindu Weekend, Chopra reveals she was “excited that the responsibility of playing the grown-up Sati was placed on my shoulders; [director Lana Wachowski] had trusted me to play this typically-placed character, and no one knows this world better than her.”

While most of her co-stars like Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (essaying the new Morpheus) dressed in minimalist and edgy ensembles for the virtual press tours, Chopra chose to go all-out teaming up with stylist Law Roach for a Roberto Cavalli reptilian-print dress and matching trench-coat that ushers in “a ‘glitchy’ vibe,” as she puts it.

Collaborating with Reeves and Wachowski

But first, we need to hit rewind. Like most movie-lovers, she can remember the first time they watched The Matrix. She was 16 and she recalls how it “shifted pop culture in terms of consciousness and reality.”

A still from Warner Bros Pictures feature film ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ with Keanu Reeves as Neo / Thomas Anderson and Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity | Photo Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

A few years ago, Chopra had already been a blip on the Wachowski’s radar having already auditioned for the film. When she was shooting for a film in India, she was called to meet with the filmmakers in San Francisco the next day. Much later, in a meeting with producer James McTeigue and Wachowski, Chopra was handed a freshly-printed script with her name on it, kicking off her The Matrix Resurrections journey.

Save for her involvement in the film, not much was revealed about her role for a long time until November this year when she revealed her character poster and a recent trailer confirmed her as Sati. Indian fans were elated that she would not be the too-often tokenised diversity role in a Hollywood film, but rather an integral part of The Matrix-verse.

A still from Warner Bros Pictures feature film ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ with Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Sati | Photo Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

Working Wachowski on all aspects of Sati was monumental in continuing the character’s narrative, and Chopra also worked with the costume department to bring some Indian essence to the ensemble. “I depended on Lana a lot to make sure that I create, in my own way, the best form of Sati that was expected by fans who love the movies. Her jacket was made from the borders of saris and the pants were deliberately made to look like a dhoti. It’s subtle but it hits the nail on the head,” she says.

Chopra — who affirms that Reeves is “the nicest guy in Hollywood” — shares her co-star applauded her on her performance after shooting a particularly heavy scene during the first few days of returning to production after lockdowns. “He came up to me and said, ‘That was a difficult day and a lot to do, you did such a great job and you should know that.’” Over the course of production, she noted how “astute” he is, often reading the room and making sure everyone felt included and upbeat — a common observation made by many of Reeves’ co-stars over the years, including Winona Ryder for Destination Wedding, Sandra Bullock for the Speed movies and Randall Park for Always Be My Maybe.

Also read | Actor Randall Park on working comedic scenes with Keanu Reeves in ‘Always Be My Maybe’

A still from Warner Bros Pictures feature film ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ with Keanu Reeves as Neo / Thomas Anderson | Photo Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

While Chopra is known to be a consummate professional in the industry, she — like any of us would in this situation — allowed herself a little fan moment when she walked on set and saw the resurrection pods in which Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) were to lie. She shares that she was so ecstatic, she sneaked a secret selfie with the pods.

That said, working on the film has cemented her belief that the matrix is real. “Everyone has their personal version of whether it is real or not. I believe in it… haven’t you ever noticed glitches in your real life where you do wonder ‘how did that happen?’” she ponders, and then says with a laugh, “Now, having been in The Matrix, I am taking those formerly-dismissed ‘glitches’ very seriously.”

Being an ambassador

The responsibility of playing Sati is huge, but so is her unofficial ambassadorship of Indian cinema on a global stage. The Sky is Pink actor takes neither of these roles lightly, explaining, “I’ve always thought that films should not be divided by the countries they’re made in. For me, it has been a very conscientious effort to bring not just Indian talent but also Indian stories and showcase the country.”

A still from Warner Bros Pictures feature film ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ with Keanu Reeves as Neo / Thomas Anderson | Photo Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

She reflects, “Getting to where I am today required educating the people in Hollywood — from whom I am seeking work — that I deserve a seat at the table. South Asian talent deserves that and very few people get the opportunity to represent the Indian diaspora and very very few that are in India. It’s predominantly people settled outside of India but I would like to see a cross-pollination of storytelling and cultures. I work hard on that as a producer and an actor to make sure there’s a nod to my heritage.”

The pandemic did not slow Chopra down; 2021 saw the launch of her memoir Unfinished in book and audiobook formats; the launch of her vegan and cruelty-free haircare brand Anomaly sold exclusively at US retailer Target; opening Indian-fusion restaurant SONA in Manhattan, New York City; a leading role in the critically-acclaimed The White Tiger with Rajkummar Rao and Adarsh Gourav; and hurling cheeky punchlines her husband Nick Jonas’ way in Netflix’s Jonas Brothers Family Roast.

So, 2022 will see her working on miniseries Citadel, alongside Eternals and Game of Thrones actor Richard Madden, and Farhan Akhtar’s Jee Le Zaraa with Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt.

And of course, as Festival Chairperson of Jio MAMI, she looks forward to shining a spotlight on regional projects including Malayalam-language Netflix original film Minnal Murali. She says firmly, “Through MAMI, I’ve always been a champion of Indian cinema and not just Hindi films. We need to blur those lines to promote regional cinema.”

The Matrix Resurrections releases in theatres in India on December 22.

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