Coverage by Nobuhiro Hosoki
Story : Trishna lives with her family in a village in Rajasthan, India's largest state. As the eldest daughter, she works in a nearby resort to help pay the bills. Jay (Riz Ahmed, FOUR LIONS) is the wealthy son of a property developer. When he takes up managing a resort at his father's request, he meets Trishna at a dance and their fates cross. Jay finds every opportunity to win Trishna's affection and she accepts his efforts with shy curiosity. But when the two move to Mumbai and become a couple, Jay's deep family bond threaten the young lovers' bliss.
Interview with Actress Freida Pinto
(Q) : Had you read Tess before? Were you expected to read the book in light of doing this?
(Freida Pinto) : I actually had read it before because I studied English literature in college. So, the 19th Century English novels were part of our syllabus. So, I did read it. I did not have to ever submit a paper on it, though. But I still had to read it in order to understand the whole 19th Century modernization and naturalization that happened in England. The steam engine was like the invention so we had to learn about it.
(Q) : As you read the script, did it feel like it or did it feel very different from it?
(Freida Pinto) : Well, it feels different only because it’s a different setting. It’s not England, really, it’s India. But in terms of the themes and also the feel that the film has felt very, very similar to Tess of the D'Ubervilles, especially my character more so than the Jay character. I felt Trishna was as loyal as possible to Thomas Hardy’s Tess.
(Q) : Have you also watched Tess done by Roman Polanski?
(Freida Pinto) : I did. I did. I did watch that as well. That was a very literal adaptation. Even the lines literally from the book to the film, pretty literal. This one obviously was a different language as well. We used Hindi and Marwari.
(Q) : Were you somehow inspired by this?
(Freida Pinto) : We were not trying to be inspired by Roman Polanski’s Tess. But surprisingly like some of the locations where we shot just the greenery or whether it was the field where she harvesting mustard seeds. She was harvesting mustard. It felt very similar to the kind of work that Tess did in the fields out there. The factory where I was like packing up the spices in the bag, it’s such a mundane job to do. It felt like the trashing ground that she was working on when she pretty much had lost every job and she was like just seeking something where she could just get some money and send back to her family.
So yeah, there were a lot of changes (from original book)--I think it was very deftly adapted because it cannot be a literal adaptation. We are talking about 19th Century England to 21st Century India. Yes, with the whole modernization there is a lot of similarity but culturally they’re set apart (the two eras and countries).
(Q) : You’re always very elegant. I wanted to ask, what is elegance to you? You have been a rep for Chanel, for example. So, what is elegance for you?
(Freida Pinto) : Well, it’s very hard to describe because everyone’s idea of elegance is what they make of it. When I watch this film and when I knew I was playing this character and I knew she was this de-glammed character whatever character you want to call it in the Hollywood world. She had no makeup or anything. But I felt like that doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t be elegant. She had certain sophistication to her politeness and a polish that was different to the other girls. It was completely different. So, I guess it’s really up to you to define what elegance really is. I just try to keep it simple.
(Q) : You’ve been doing so many movies that have moved you away from India. Has this been a return for you or where does this fit into your larger experience in terms of coming back to doing something in India?
(Freida Pinto) : It wasn’t a return but it took me to a different place in India because I grew up in Bombay. So, in that sense, Slumdog was closer to not really my upbringing but really closer to what I saw while I was growing up--the train station and the street kids and all the brutality. It’s kind of closer to what I’ve seen. Rajasthan is completely different. It’s almost like a whole new world--so, even though I went back to India, in some strange ways it felt like I was in a foreign land. It just felt like a culture that I had unfortunately not been privy to as a child.
You know, I had traveled a lot because my grandfather and my uncle were in the army--so, we kept traveling all over India. But Rajasthan is a whole new, different ballgame. And I’m sure many other places in India are. So, it was interesting because it was new learning for me. Just because I was Indian I couldn’t confidently say, “Oh, I can play Trishna" like it’s easy-peasy. I couldn’t do that. I had to do a lot more research than I did on Slumdog.
(Q) : Did you find it ironic that Dev has a movie out now in the same state (in India)? Have you guys shared a lot about commenting on the area and things you've seen there?
(Freida Pinto) : I think he saw a very different Rajasthan and I saw a completely different Rajasthan. I actually saw the Rajasthan that he saw and I was like, "You guys have trailers; you’re staying in five star hotels. I’m staying in a tent in the desert and it’s really hot and I’m milking cows." So they were very, very different Rajasthans. (Laughs.)
(Q) : But did you get to meet some of his cast?
(Freida Pinto) : I did. I met, I met the dames. Fantastic people. I mean, those are the actors that you look up to and you want to be half of them if you can. Dev was telling me how they were preparing on set. I saw them chilling out the day before their big scene, just going to this bar, and just taking it easy. I’m like they’re so confident in their craft that they don’t have to go all "method" on everyone. You know, they kind of can just channel their energies into the right area and at the same time deliver the most amazing performances. There were moments when I thought Maggie Smith was probably really racist in real life. That’s what I thought in my head because if you see the character (in action)--she’s not. She’s not (racist) at all. It’s just fantastic how they do it.
(Q) : Do you have any projects with Dev?
(Freida Pinto) : No. It would be so hard to do another film with him now; everyone would expect the fairytale. And it’s really, really hard. So, maybe it would have to be where I play the antagonist or something. You know, just kind of go try to kill him or something. (Laughs.) I don’t know. It has to be something completely different; completely different.
(Q) : How challenging were those sex scenes? They’re pretty graphic.
(Freida Pinto) : I don’t think the clothing and the sex scene dressing was the issue. I think the emotional impact of what was the brutality of those scenes was actually more difficult to deal with--knowing that you’re enacting a rape scene or, you know, the fact that you’re being taken advantage of. In this movie, the first time Trisha makes love to Jay she has no idea because she’s never known what that physical touch from a male really feels like.
So I guess that…to understand that, for someone who’s never really thought like here, was more difficult than just the dressing. Because I’ve said it before, you’ve seen naked people all around. You don’t care about that. You care about the emotion that goes into it. It’s not like those sex scenes that are just meant to titillate. They’re sex scenes that make you feel uncomfortable--so (the emotion of the sex scenes in Trishna) made me feel uncomfortable.
(Q) : How was the collaboration working with the "real people actors"? You worked with them on Slumdog Millionaire as well. But how was it this time around? Really, they are the non-actors.
(Freida Pinto) : The nonprofessional ones played members of my family in the film (but) my mother and my father are played by Aakash Dahiya and Harish Khanna; they were theatre actors, really good ones. And the rest of the family, they were all a real family. They were a real family that actually lived there and we would go in and disrupt their schedule. What was amazing about Michael putting us in that situation was that instead of them playing with us, we had to play with them--which automatically make it more real. It was challenging at times because you wanted them to say something so that you could get the information that you wanted to get out in that scene. You wanted to put it out there. So, you’d expect them to say something to you.
But it wouldn’t come out…so, it would challenge you to think of different ways of exploring that and finding a way to reach that situation. Sometimes it was a roundabout, but once we’d find it we’d repeat it in a different way so that they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. Moreover, you don’t want to tell them, “You’re not doing it right this way. Can you smile a little bit when you’re saying that?” Because as soon as you say that to non-actors, they wouldn’t do anything for the camera. So, it was literally like working backwards--like working with whatever they were doing rather than them working with us.
(Q) : Now that the time has come for you to become an international personality or star or whatever that you’ve gotten more opportunities than there might have been 10 years ago because in the past an Indian actor would be playing Indian roles. Here you’ve been able to really go beyond or even play an Indian but an Indian in America and we’re not thinking about it.
(Freida Pinto) : Right. That’s amazing. I’m really glad that Trishna speaks to not just the Indian audience but it’s like speaking to different communities, different people, and different ethnicities. I feel the timing now couldn’t be more perfect. I want to go back to 2009 and attribute a massive part of it to Slumdog, my first film. Because I feel it really opened up the West even more so to India than before--where Indians, like you said, always played the cab driver or the terrorist or the accountant or the doctor. They’re very, very smart people. I think things have been changing. I wouldn’t say it’s changed at the superfast pace that I would have loved it to change but it is gradual. I also feel it really depends on the choices that you make for yourself.
I have been pretty strong about not wanting to be tied to that at all from the very start of my career. I was like even if it takes me time I feel I want to set the momentum from the very beginning so that I don’t have to backtrack later on, which is the harder thing to do. I think I’m just really blessed that my follow-up film was where I played a Palestinian, followed by the Woody Allen film where I played a girl from God knows anywhere. She could be from anywhere. She’s of Indian descent but you don’t harp on it. Then in the Immortals, I don’t know where my character was from again.
(Q) : In Planet of the Apes, it could have been anybody, too.
(Freida Pinto) : Yeah. As long as I spoke a language that a lot of people could understand, I think that’s all that really mattered.
(Q) : One question about the clothes in the movie. Is there are particular dress you were wearing that you wanted to keep or that you loved; you were wearing western dresses and you were wearing Indian dresses. Is there a particular dress that you liked wearing in the movie?
(Freida Pinto) : Oh, I love colors. Actually, this poster you are looking at is really different than UK poster has the picture of me with the scarf on my head. I don’t know what it is about scarves and me. Danny Boyle gave me a yellow scarf and Michael (Winterbottom) gave me a red scarf for their respective movie posters. I just love colors.
(Q) : I think you need to have your own brand here. You need to start designing scarves.
(Freida Pinto) : I know. (Laughs).
(Q) : This is what you’re going to be designing.
(Q) : Yesterday you wore a red Gucci suit on the red carpet for the premiere of Trishna at the Tribeca Film Festival-- is there any particular connection (the red scarf on the movie poster).
(Freida Pinto) : No. Honestly, I envy male actors who can wear a frickin' suit when it is so cold. I was like, "I’m going to do the same" so I wore a suit because I knew it was going to be windy and cold. I was like, "I just want something warm." I’m so glad that was my choice.
(Q) : So what are you working on next? I mean are there things that are going to push you in other directions and different directions?
(Freida Pinto) : I’m actually looking at these two independent films that I’m really excited about doing--unfortunately, they’re still in their financing stage. You know, it’s really hard to do independent films. They can’t just have the money and say, ‘Oh, we’re ready. Let’s do the film.’ It takes so much time, so I’ve been prepping on these two films. I don’t want to make the official announcement myself. I’ll let them do it because I know they’re holding on to it (the official announcements). But they’re really interesting parts and they’re not Indian. I can say that.
(Q) : Do you see yourself producing and directing?
(Freida Pinto) : I do. I see myself producing. I just feel it would be great for me to also help other independent stories, just like I’m trying to hope other people will help mine. So when I get to a position where I could do it myself for other independent films that would be my dream to produce.
(Q) : This is obviously about a very intense and tragic relationship. Have you ever experienced anything this intense in your own life and do you base any of this on that?
(Freida Pinto) : No. I don’t think I have because I think from the very beginning I’ve been this almost defiant kind of a person who, if I have not liked something, I have been very open about it and I have expressed myself. My dislike has been expressed quite openly to any situation like that--so, yeah, I don’t think I would ever go through a situation like that.
(Q) : Is there any particular director or actor you’d like to work with? Or what kind of genre would you like to try in the future?
(Freida Pinto) : Well, I love the work that David Fincher does. I think directors like that are really amazing. But now I’m thinking if I’m thinking more globally I’ve always been saying this, that Wong Karway is an amazing director. He is one of my favorites, absolute favorite directors--just because the way he captures simplicity and beauty in its raw possible form is just so appealing to me. It’s something that I relate to more than anything else. It’s not too manufactured.
(Q) : And he uses lots of color.
(Freida Pinto) : Exactly. He does use a lot--exactly! Maybe that’s why as well.
(Q) : These movies are going to be American independent movies?
(Freida Pinto) : Oh, independent.
(Q) : American?
(Freida Pinto) : Well, one is.