In her debut role in Danny Boyle’s Academy Award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Freida Pinto played Latika, who is born in a slum in Mumbai. Pinto returned to the city in 2011 to film Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna, a contemporary adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1892 novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. The 2011 production hasn’t been released yet in India. Pinto’s third Mumbai-set film will be, on September 14.
Pinto plays Rashmi, a sharp-tongued sex worker, in Tabrez Noorani’s Love Sonia. The movie explores a global trafficking ring through the experiences of two sisters. The cast includes Mrunal Thakur, Richa Chadha, Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Adil Hussain, Mark Duplass and Demi Moore.
Does Love Sonia mean that 33-year-old Pinto, who was born and raised in Mumbai, is returning to Indian films? Slumdog Millionaire created a direct route to Hollywood for Pinto. Her credits include Miral (2010), You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010), Immortals (2011), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2013), Knight of Cups (2015) and the television Guerrilla (2017) and The Path (2018). Pinto is one of the most successful Indian crossover actors to work in a highly competitive industry, but she told Scroll.in that she is only just beginning to find her feet, and that she is “100 per cent” open to more opportunities in Indian films.
You are back in Mumbai with ‘Love Sonia’. What can you tell us about Rashmi?
Rashmi in Love Sonia is very different from Latika from Slumdog Millionaire. It was fun in so many ways. I was reminded of this constant Bambaiya Hindi that I would always hear around me. With Rashmi, I had to go ten steps further and keep it really crass, because that is how they communicate, and not just for the sake of being crass.
The transformation into Rashmi was absolutely phenomenal. Vibha Chibber, the amazing actor, was my dialect coach. I would definitely like to give her a shout-out. I am happy I got a teacher in a fellow Mumbaikar to build this character.
What drew you to Rashmi?
The fact that she is not one-dimensional. There is a level of strength, a complexity to her. She is a survivor, and her way of surviving is making sure that no one else rises. The pressures of being young and beautiful play a big number among commercial sex workers. The older you are, the less accepted you get.
The film features a large cast, including Mrunal Thakur, Richa Chadha, Manoj Bajpayee and Mark Duplass.
Richa is a phenomenal actor and an absolutely beautiful human being as well. Mrunal’s instincts are bang-on and yet, she is so innocent. It is a delight to watch her.
The men are amazing as well. I don’t think any Bollywood film has been able to pull off this kind of a casting. Hats off to Tabrez.
Has the way in which you choose roles changed over the years?
As you grow, your instincts get much better. Even if it’s a small part or a supporting role like Rashmi, it should have enough complexity in the character arc. If that is missing and it is a flat character with one thing to do, it does not interest me anymore.
What has it meant to be an Indian in Hollywood?
At this stage, I am super proud. I have always been very proud of being an Indian, but now I am even more proud because with all the work that has been put in, it is making people realise that there are stories from this part of the subcontinent that will be told, and you will like them. Because we are going to tell them in the most beautiful way possible.
It is now down to us. Can we pull this off? Can we write stories that translate for a global audience? Can we get filmmakers to translate that on film and make it an experience? I think we are headed there. Sacred Games is a start, and we are going to get better and better.
You have been vocal about the need for diversity in films. Has the situation improved?
There is more to choose from right now. I feel like Slumdog Millionaire was the first movie to come out from India that received such global acceptance. It has been 11 years, and there hasn’t been another one on that scale. Of course, there have been amazing films like Lion. Hopefully a film like that will be made by Indian filmmakers.
I had this misconception in the early stages of my career that we might not be accepted for who we are, so it is better to go for roles that are white. But that is absolutely not true. And the people who have proven this are actors like Riz Ahmed and Dev Patel. You embrace who you are and make The Night Of and Lion.
In a 2017 interview, you said that you weren’t being given enough opportunities. Is that still the case?
Right now, I do not think so. The first four or five years after Slumdog were amazing. I have learnt this wonderful thing from this experienced producer in Hollywood, Lorenzo di Bonaventura. He said that actors who have had a sudden rise to fame or sudden exposure have a two-year span, within which they can hit it, make it and then inevitably, no matter who they are, start a steady decline. And in those two years, if they have established credibility, through the steady decline, they will see a comeback.
The steady decline happened for me when I was frustrated with the roles I was getting. I don’t want to be a primatologist in a movie who runs in high heels [referring to Rise of the Planet of The Apes). I am sorry, no. Don’t hyper-sexualise the character because she is a woman. Primatologists work with animals. Put her in boots and give her clothes that she can walk around in.
At that age, I did not know when it was good for me to say something and when it wasn’t. I was starting from scratch, and did not know anyone. But today, I have found my voice, and I find it a lot easier to be absolutely satisfied with the roles that come my way. I find that whenever I suggest something, it is actually taken into consideration. I am accepting now that I have a voice, and people will listen to me.
What can you tell us about your upcoming films?
I have just finished shooting two films this year. One is called Only, which has a post-apocalyptic set-up. The world is coming to an end, and it is about how these two lovers survive. The other film is Needle in a Timestack with Leslie Odom Jr, directed by John Ridely of Guerrilla. It is a love story set against the backdrop of time travel.
As for Indian films, if there are opportunities, I would do them 100 per cent. But for now, you get Love Sonia.