By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra has a higher mission than just making it in Hollywood: she wants to break down stereotypes of Indians in Tinseltown's eyes and maybe make things easier for her compatriots who live in the United States.
Here's her first lesson: "We don't travel on elephants, there aren't any snake charmers on the side of the road, everybody doesn't talk like Apu from 'The Simpsons,'" the actress says, with a bit of a laugh.
Chopra, 31, is one of the biggest stars to emerge in Indian film in recent years, alongside Bollywood heavyweights Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan, with big budget franchises such as "Krrish" and "Don." She has also won plaudits for taking on unconventional roles, most recently playing an autistic woman in 2012's "Barfi!"
But in her latest role as an eye-catching animated racing airplane in Disney's global adventure "Planes," Chopra said she is hoping to cross the boundaries of Bollywood to Hollywood.
"This is a very global movie. You have characters from all across the world, and I think for kids, it's great to understand that there's so many different kinds of culture and people out there," the actress told Reuters on Thursday.
Chopra first rose to fame in 2000, winning the Miss World beauty pageant and transitioning into Bollywood film. But the journey has not come easily for the actress, who said she had to learn the ropes of acting.
"I was 17 years old, I didn't know anything. I just went with my gut and I wanted to take a chance," she said, adding "I've made so many mistakes along the way."
Chopra is currently in production on a biopic about Indian Olympic boxing champion Mary Kom, and learning to box herself, Chopra said the role was "the most difficult film I've ever done."
"Mary is a national icon. She's a five-time world champion, a mother of three kids, an Olympic medalist and she has an incredible story," the actress said.
"The challenge was that I have to learn a completely new sport and play a living, breathing person," she added.
Chopra, who was born and raised in India and also spent a few years living in the United States in her teens, has conquered the ranks of Bollywood, but cracking into Hollywood has presented its own challenges.
"There is a very big stereotype with Indian actors, and you get only Indian parts. There is a stereotype that there's a certain accent and there's a certain vibe and how is that cool. I felt a lot of that and I really want to be able to change that, for people to be proud of their roots," the actress said.
POP ALBUM, TOP PRODUCER
Chopra's step into Hollywood coincides with her foray into pop music, releasing her first single, "Exotic", featuring rapper Pitbull from her upcoming yet-to-be-titled album.
The album is being overseen by renowned pop music producer RedOne, who has worked with Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez, and is expected in early 2014. It will feature more collaborations with other artists, although Chopra said it was too early to reveal any names.
"My album is like me - eclectic in my taste." said Chopra. "I like a little bit of everything, so my album has ballad, mid tempos, pop, a little rap, EDM...a little bit of everything."
With her music and film career expanding outside of Bollywood, Chopra said she was now in a position to change common misconceptions that people may have about India.
"It was really hard for me when I went to school in America, and I don't want that to happen to any more kids or people who come from my part of the world. So if I can do something to change that perception, I'd be happy," she said.
(Editing by Mary Milliken)