Priyanka Chopra Career beginnings and breakthrough (2002–2004)
After winning Miss India World, Chopra was cast as the female lead in Abbas-Mustan’s romantic thriller Humraaz (2002), in which she was to make her film debut. However, this fell through for various reasons: she stated the production conflicted with her schedule, while the producers said they recast because Chopra took on various other commitments. Her screen debut occurred in the 2002 Tamil film Thamizhan as the love interest of the protagonist, played by Vijay. A review published in The Hindu was appreciative of the film for its wit and dialogue; however it felt that Chopra’s role was limited from an acting viewpoint.
In 2003, Chopra made her Bollywood film debut as the second female lead opposite Sunny Deol and Preity Zinta in Anil Sharma’s The Hero: Love Story of a Spy. Set against the backdrop of the Indian Army in Kashmir, the film tells the story of an agent and his fight against terrorism. The Hero was one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films that year, but it received mixed reviews from critics. Derek Elley from Variety said that “mega-looker Chopra makes a solid screen debut.” Later that year she appeared in Raj Kanwar’s box-office success Andaaz with Akshay Kumar, again sharing the female lead (this time with the debuting Lara Dutta). Chopra played a vivacious young girl who falls in love with Kumar’s character. The Hindustan Times noted the glamour that she brought to the role; Kunal Shah of Sify praised her performance and stated she had “all the qualities to be a star.” Her performance earned her the Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut (along with Dutta) and a nomination for the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Chopra’s first three releases in 2004—Plan, Kismat, and Asambhav—performed poorly at the box office. Chopra was typically cast during this earlier period as a “glamour quotient”, in roles that were considered “forgettable” by film critic Joginder Tuteja. Later that year she starred with Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar in David Dhawan’s romantic comedy Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, which became the third-highest-grossing film of the year in India and emerged as a commercial success.
In late 2004, she starred opposite Kumar and Kareena Kapoor in Abbas-Mustan’s thriller Aitraaz. Chopra considers her first role as an antagonist, portraying Soniya Roy, an ambitious woman who accuses her employee of sexual harassment, as the “biggest learning experience of her career.” The film was a critical and commercial success, and Chopra’s performance received critical acclaim. Author Rini Bhattacharya credited her with bringing back the seductress to the silver screen. The Hindustan Times cited it as the film that changed her career significantly. A reviewer writing for the BBC said, “Aitraaz is Priyanka Chopra’s film. As the deliciously wicked, gold digging, scheming seductress, she chews up every scene she is in with her magnetic screen presence.” She won a Filmfare Award for Best Performance in a Negative Role, becoming the second and final actress to win the award after Kajol (the category was discontinued in 2008). Chopra also received a nomination for the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress, and the Producers Guild Film Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.