Obscure object of desire


Obscure object of desire

Destiny’s child: Freida Pinto

“As my friends and family are quick to remind me, I have always been a big drama queen,” Pinto, 26, recalls. “As a child, I would stand in front of the mirror and pretend I was this or that person from television. All I needed to do was realise it and recognise what I wanted to do.”

For Pinto, the epiphany came at 11, when India’s Sushmita Sen won the 1994 Miss Universe competition. “The country was really proud of her, and I was like, One day, I want to do the same,” Pinto says in her clipped, slightly accented English, which betrays her middle-class upbringing in the suburbs of Mumbai. “It wasn’t just the glamour of it all because I think at 11, I could hardly understand what glamour was. I really wanted to be
like her — appreciated and a source of inspiration. I think that’s what made me go into acting.”

Fortunately, Pinto’s genetic gifts meant that having a career inspired by a beauty queen was a possibility. (Before her crossover success as Latika, the female lead in the 2008 hit Slumdog Millionaire, Pinto was a model and the host of a television travel show.) And although she is an eloquent interview subject, her responses occasionally sound like the platitudes you might hear from a contestant being grilled in a beauty pageant.

But Pinto is ever the good sport. After it is pointed out to her that she has a habit of answering in evening-wear-competition oratory, she checks herself a couple of times and allows, “There I go again, sounding like a Miss Universe contestant.” It’s a candor that is also evident when she is asked about her appearance in Woody Allen’s latest London-based ensemble film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, to be released next month. In a case of art imitating life, Pinto’s character, Dia, a gorgeously exotic musicologist — is there any other kind? — leaves her fiance for another
man. (In January 2009, Pinto called off her engagement to Rohan Antao and started dating her Slumdog Millionaire co-star Dev Patel.)

“I feel what I did was right,” she says of her real-life breakup. “There were no two ways about it. But when I walked into Woody’s office and read the scene in the nursery, where Dia confesses for the first time that she has doubts about what she is getting into, I was like, has someone been reading the gossip magazines to Woody?”

The gossip magazines certainly had a field day with Pinto’s personal life, after Antao gave an interview to a British tabloid about their relationship and Indian newspapers claimed the two had in fact been secretly married. “Everyone is going to write you off for one thing or another, but you know what?” Pinto continues. “It’s my life, and if I didn’t go through it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, sitting here talking about what happened back then and being a little more knowledgeable about what happens in relationships.”

Not having appeared in any Hindi-language films, Pinto admits that she has a way to go before she convinces the doubters back home in India, who know her only as a professional beauty and for her role in Slumdog Millionaire, that she has the acting chops to match her cheekbones.

And although she holds her own in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, alongside a cast that includes Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts and Anthony Hopkins, Pinto’s character is little more than imported wallpaper. Ask Woody. “She’s the perfect obscure object of desire,” Allen said via e-mail. “She’s exactly what I wish I saw when I look out the back window of my house in Manhattan.”

Pinto’s desire not to be reduced to the subject of a gaze or to paparazzi bait may be realised with the December release of Julian Schnabel’s film Miral, based on Rula
Jebreal’s novel, which follows an orphan (played by Pinto) as she falls in love with
a Palestinian activist during the first intifada. Not that Pinto is worried about the difference of opinion the movie is likely to generate.

“I knew it was going to be one of those stories that will create a lot of controversy,” she says. “But there are stories that need to be told, and if you’re always going to live in fear of what’s going to happen, you’re really not being truthful to yourself. For me, it’s not only an excellent opportunity to prove myself as a serious actor, but also to make a difference in the world.” She smiles, knowing that Miss Universe could not have put it better.

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