Still a Desi girl 

Freida Pinto on why she chose to do Love Sonia and how Indian films are going places

By Shama Bhagat
  • Published 15.09.18
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Freida Pinto

Freida Pinto, currently promoting her film Love Sonia, says she is very much an Indian in spite of having done Hollywood films. “Why would I be in a film like Love Sonia if I couldn’t speak Hindi?” she said. It’s been almost a decade and Freida has a full-fledged career in the west, but the actress said she would love to do films in India. Excerpts from a chat The Woods had with her… 

The Woods: How much research did you go through for Love Sonia?

Freida: Tabrez Noorani, our director, wanted it to be as authentic as it can be. He had already done a lot of research. Mrunal (Thakur, the lead of Love Sonia) did a lot of research for the role and spent time in Calcutta with sex workers from the brothels so she could get stories first hand. My research has been for 10 years. Tabrez gave me the script after Slumdog Millionaire and said it had all the research he had done for five years. I immediately connected to it as it was such a moving script with a lot of disturbing facts. Now it’s 2018 and I had read the script in 2007. A lot of things have still not changed — the issues young girls face are still exactly the same. Sex trafficking and human trafficking are still the same. It was important for me to spend time with Tabrez to understand his research as he had rescued the girls. The costume designers were instructed that what I wear had to be as authentic and he told them to shop where these girls buy from. A lot of films have been made on sex trafficking but this is the most authentic one.

Freida Pinto in Love Sonia

You worked with Richa Chadha and Anupam Kher, who are from Bollywood. Was there any difference in their approach to work and yours?

We connected with each other as artistes. There is a huge difference in becoming the actor and acting the character. These actors — Manoj Bajpayee and Richa Chadha — are phenomenal. If I worked in India I would like to have a career like Richa. She is candid and not afraid. I was aware of their hard work. I had a scene with Richa but not with Mrunal. Mrunal is a fantastic actress and the kind of confidence she had I wish I had during Slumdog Millionaire

Does the film offer any solutions?

Solutions will be given by people,  we will inspire you. There are statistics and facts at the end of the film. We are not preachers. We are not standing up there, saying “You should be saying this”. We are not taking your intelligence for granted. Hopefully, the rest of India will watch this film and decide for themselves.

How different is your role from Slumdog Millionaire as your character there too was in the dark zone?

They are not the same characters, just because I did Slumdog and the character faced sexual abuse. I wouldn’t be interested in doing dark characters. I have a problem with the word dark. There are dark sides to a lot of things in the world. I don’t want the audience to be afraid of not wanting to know what happens. I want them to enjoy and this film is a message of hope. Why go home and be depressed for five days? Just as Slumdog Millionaire when Jamal (Dev Patel) wins the money, he finds the love of his life. They have not shown what he did with the money. We want to focus on the bright side.

How was it being an Indian in Hollywood, you said you felt lost after Slumdog Millionaire?

I didn’t feel lost because there was nothing coming but there was too much coming. In a span of three years I did 11 films which is unheard of for an actress who breaks out in the West. It was difficult for me to understand “is this my voice”. Am I just doing everything that is coming my way or are people going to recognise my voice. I should have been the happiest person but I was not enjoying what I was doing. That was the feeling of lost. I took a break of two-and-a-half years. The break afforded me a sense of what my voice and I wanted to do. I will be 34 next month and I am the happiest creature on earth.

Freida Pinto and Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire

Changing times with Netflix, do you feel that Indian films are changing?

It’s the perception towards content and Indian filmmakers can tell stories from any part of the world. Tabrez is Indian and it’s the story of India. I hope with Netflix and Amazon it gives filmmakers a chance to tell stories around the world

What films have you watched recently?

I watched Hichki at the Melbourne Film Festival and Rani Mukerji was there and it was being discussed. I watched Badlapur on my flight but before the film got over my flight landed. I enjoyed Hichki as it was about Tourette’s Syndrome and I know a few people who suffer from it.

How is Bollywood being represented in international festivals?

Devdas was on everyone’s mind as it went to film festivals. But sensibilities are changing now, and a film like Masaan is going across the world. It will take time for Hollywood to accept that we don’t always make masala films. I have been telling them please do watch films that Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil did. Seeing these films they will realise we are not just doing songs and dances, and we don’t screw lightbulbs (referring to dance moves) that’s not what we do.

Now that Sacred Games has released, have you watched and what is the opinion there?

My American white friends watched it and they loved it. It’s huge and they know Mumbai. My character Rashmi says far more colourful words in Love Sonia than Sacred Games. They tell me that they had no idea that Indians abuse so much. They feel that we don’t show sex and intimacy, we are conservative. I tell them then how come there’s so much population. It has not happened just like that.