Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - Text by Priya Pathiyan Pho­to­graphs shot ex­cul­sively for HT Brunch by Prab­hat Shetty Styling by Tanya Ghavri

T HE BAR is black and white and dra­mat­i­cally lit. In daz­zling red, she blos­soms like a blood rose un­der a spotlight. She wears drama like a sheath, but can shed it at will. Freida Pinto. Once a model from Malad in Mum­bai, she is now an a com­plished ac­tor with a home in Los An­ge­les, sev­eral movies un­der her belt and more ex­cit­ing projects un­der­way. First find­ing fame play­ing Latika in Danny Boyle’s Slum­dog-Mil­lion­aire in 2008, Pinto has since worked with film­mak­ers Ter­rence Mal­ick and Woody Allen, and ac­tors Cate Blanchett, An­to­nio Ban­deras and Chris­tian Bale. In 2018, we’ll see her in the lat­est ver­sion of The Jungle

Book, play­ing Mes­sua, the woman who adopts Mowgli when he en­ters the Man Vil­lage, along with a high­cal­i­bre cast that in­cludes Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch as Shere Khan and Chris­tian Bale as Bagheera.

But there was never any par­tic­u­lar mo­ment when Freida Pinto felt that she’d ar­rived.


“You see, I came from this re­ally small film that un­ex­pect­edly blew up. How it was go­ing to go straight to DVD is a story that the whole world knows,” says Pinto. “But we got picked up at the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val and sud­denly things changed. For the whole of the first year af­ter Slum­dog... and the press that came af­ter that, there was no con­cept of what to ex­pect and what not to ex­pect. It was a beau­ti­ful thing to stay in the mo­ment. In that first year, I pre­sented at pretty much ev­ery award cer­e­mony, was on the cover of so many magazines. All of that can be seen as hav­ing ar­rived. But longevity is re­ally what you have to main­tain and sus­tain. Eight-anda-half years in the in­dus­try, I’m still work­ing, still do­ing qual­ity projects, have great in­dus­try friends, that’s enough for me.”

Chat­ting with Brunch at an event or­gan­ised by USL-Di­a­geo’s #LoveS­cotch, she says, “Work­ing abroad means hav­ing to be very flex­i­ble. It’s an ag­gra­vat­ing process when the only things you get are char­ac­ters that are stereo­typ­i­cal. So in­stead of let­ting anger rule, it’s about go­ing, ‘Okay, I need to take this calmly and find an­other way around it’. It’s one thing to go there and say, ‘Hey, I’m In­dian… give me the roles that the white peo­ple play’. It’s an­other thing to say, ‘Hey lis­ten, I know what you see is an In­dian per­son in front of you, but if you give me the chance, I can show you what else I can do’. You can’t go in there with at­ti­tude and ar­ro­gance. You have to have hu­mil­ity and help them change the way they look at things.”

It’s a long way from the days when her body im­age as a model was con­stantly chal­lenged. But was it hard for her to feel ac­cepted in the US and UK when she faced such at­ti­tudes in her own coun­try? “It’s a very in­ter­est­ing con­cept about be­ing ac­cepted by oth­ers as op­posed to your own self-con­fi­dence let­ting you feel this is who you are,” says Pinto. “I am cer­tainly much more com­fort­able with my­self now, at the age of 32. I re­ally don’t crave ex­ter­nal val­i­da­tion as much as I did when I was younger and more naive. Now I’m in­ter­nally con­tent. I’m proud of what I’m putting out there, be it my brand as­so­ci­a­tions, films or tele­vi­sion roles.”


She sips and savours her Scotch, stylish and self-as­sured. The men in the room are drawn to her like moths to a flame. They know she’s not dat­ing her for­mer co-star Dev Pa­tel now and hope that the in­vest­ment banker beau is just a myth. Her poise doesn’t slip even as she po­litely smiles them away.

But she shares what works for her and what clearly doesn’t. “I can’t stand men who pre­tend to be some­one they are not. Also, smell is su­per­im­por­tant to me. Be warned, I can tell if it’s a yes or no for me from a dis­tance!”

When asked to de­scribe her­self, she says, “How do I see my­self ? The best thing I’ve learnt is that I’m ever-evolv­ing, ever-chang­ing, ever so cu­ri­ous.”

“I can’t stand men who pre­tend to be some­one they are not.... Be warned, I can tell if it’s a yes or no for me from a dis­tance..”

Like other mil­len­ni­als, Freida bal­ances fun with in­ten­sity and pas­sion­ate causes. She speaks up against is­sues that strike her as sup­port-wor­thy. Re­cently, she’s started work­ing on the for­mi­da­ble ad­vi­sory board of non-profit pro­duc­tion com­pany We Do It To­gether that was founded by Ital­ian film­maker Chiara Tilesi.

She ex­plains their goals, “We want to shift the cul­tural par­a­digm where women can only be hot sexy babes, where women can only play moth­ers once they reach the age of 40 or 42, or if you come from a land that is ex­otic in some pro­ducer’s head, then you end up play­ing only ex­otic roles. We want to break such stereo­types,” she says. “Work­ing hard on the in­ter­na­tional plat­form for quite some time gave me the ac­cess to peo­ple from my fra­ter­nity. The con­cept is about get­ting men and women to come to­gether to solve this prob­lem of fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in tele­vi­sion, in movies, pop cul­ture and me­dia.”

How do they plan to make this hap­pen? “We need to em­power not just the ac­tors in front of the cam­era but also those be­hind the cam­era. We want ac­cess to the best of the best that the male di­rec­tors, pro­duc­ers and writ­ers al­ready have ac­cess to,” she says. “We’ve launched as a non-profit fund – and it’s NOT a char­ity. We aim to tell our sto­ries of strong fe­male char­ac­ters in all walks of life, whether it’s com­edy or ac­tion or drama. We have ac­cess to funds from dif­fer­ent parts of the world, from gov­ern­ments, pri­vate in­vestors, brands and in­di­vid­u­als who want to make a dona­tion. In re­turn, they get a tax write-off and credit for do­ing some­thing good. It’s a win-win for all. Is it go­ing to take a vil­lage to do this? “Ab­so­lutely, yes. It’s not go­ing to hap­pen overnight. It’s go­ing to be a 15-year to life­long com­mit­ment.”


That’s a big com­mit­ment for some­one who calls her­self the ‘ur­ban no­mad’! With such a global out­look, where ex­actly does she feel most at home? “I feel at home ev­ery­where, but def­i­nitely in Mum­bai, be­cause this is where I grew up. When I come here with some­one who hasn’t been to the city be­fore, I feel this im­mense sense of pride no mat­ter how pol­luted, crowded or un­civilised it can be. I love the peo­ple. The kind­ness, the warmth, the hos­pi­tal­ity you get here, I don’t find that in LA. But hon­estly, when I’m at peace with my­self, I can find home any­where.”

Make-up and hair: Rosario De Monte and Gabriel Ge­or­giou Freida Pinto is wear­ing a Michelle Ma­son dress and Ru­pert San­der­son shoes

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