Freida Pinto may be pretty much as close as you can get to portraying an infatuated sex slave in Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna. But she was adamant during this conversation about the Thomas Hardy film adaptation, that take charge tough love constitutes her romantic style of choice in any relationship in the real world. Even if it may be her current flame and Slumdog Millionaire co-star, Dev Patel. Though Freida did confess that hooking up with Dev again in a movie is not high on her current to-do list, owing to potential popular expectations of fairytale stuff between the duo playing out as part of any big screen scenario. Among other topics on the table during this gab session were the tricky challenges of revisiting virginity in her head for sex on camera, a possible scarf fetish, and reflections on milking cows for a movie.
Freida, Trishna is about a really intense, unhealthy love affair. Have you ever felt anything intense like that in real life? No, I don’t think I have. Because I think from the very beginning, I’ve been this strong-minded woman. Almost to the point of this defiant kind of a person. And if I have not liked something, I have been very open about it. And I have expressed myself, my dislike has been expressed very openly to any situation like that. So yeah, I don’t think I would ever go into a situation like that. No.
How challenging were those sex scenes for you in Trishna? Because they’re pretty graphic. Yeah! Um, and I don’t think the clothing in the sex scenes was the issue. I think the emotional impact of what was the brutality of those scenes, was actually more difficult to deal with. And like, knowing that you’re enacting a rape scene. Or the fact that you’re being taken advantage of.
Which part of the simulated sexuality was most difficult for you to pull off? In this case, It was the first time she makes love to him. And she has no idea, because she’s never known what that physical touch from a male really feels like, you know? So I guess it was to understand that, and to grasp that for someone who has never really thought like her. So to grasp that, was the most difficult. Because you’ve seen naked people all around, like you don’t care about that! You care about the emotions that go into it, you know? So it’s not like those are sex scenes that are just meant to titillate. They’re sex scenes that are meant to make you feel uncomfortable! So…It made me feel uncomfortable!
Does it feel strange to you that Dev has a movie out at the same time as yours – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? I know, I know!
Have you two been sharing a lot about filming in the same place? He and I knew a completely different place. I was like, you guys have trailers. And stay in five star hotels! I’m staying in a tent. In the desert! And it’s really hard. Like I’m milking cows and everything! So we were having two very different experiences.
Did you get to meet any of his cast? I did. I met the two Dames! Yeah, I met the two of them. Fantastic people. I mean, those are the actors you look up to. And you want to be half of them if you can. Dev was telling me how they were preparing a set. And I saw them chilling out before their big scene. And just going to the spa, and just taking it easy. And I was like, they’re so confident in their craft. That you know, they don’t have to go all Method on everyone. They can kind of just channel their energies into the right area. And at the same time, deliver the most amazing performances. Like there were moments where I felt like Maggie Smith was really a racist in real life! You know, that’s what I thought in my head when I saw her character. And she’s not. She’s not at all. And it’s fantastic how they do that.
Have you been talking to Dev about doing any movies together again? No. It would be so hard to do another film with him.
How come? Everyone would expect the fairytale! So yeah, that would be really, really hard. Maybe it would have to be where I play the antagonist! You know, where I just kind of go and try to kill him or something! I don’t know. But it would just have to be something completely different.
You dress so elegantly in this movie. So what is your own idea of elegance? Hmm…It’s very hard to describe! Because everyone’s idea of elegance is what they make of it, right? I mean, when I watch this film and I knew I was playing this character, I knew she was this deglammed – or whatever you want to call it in the Hollywood world. You know, she had no makeup or anything. But I felt like that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be elegant. So had a certain sophistication to her politeness. And she had a polish that was different from the other girls, you know? It was completely different. So I guess it’s up to you to define what elegance really is. And I just try to keep it simple. Simplicity!
What’s your favorite way to dress on your own time, the Eastern or Western look? Oh, I just love colors. And I don’t know what it is about me and scarves! And Danny Boyle gave me a yellow scarf, and Michael gave me a red scarf! So, I don’t know. I just love colors!
Well, when you did the red carpet at the Tribeca Film Festival for Trishna, you were wearing that hot red suit. What was that all about? Oh no, I just, honestly! I envy male actors. Because they can wear a frickin’ suit when it is so cold! And they can keep themselves warm. And I was like, I’m gonna do the same. Because I knew it was going to be windy and cold. And I was like, I just want something warm! You know? And I’m so glad that was my choice!
What were some of the negatives of getting into the head of Trishna? Like the factory where I was like packing up spices in the bags. It was such a mundane job to do. Over and over again!
Had you ever read the book Trishna is based on, Tess Of The D’Urbervilles? I had, because I studied English literature in college. The 19th century English novels were part of our syllabus. So I did read it. But I did not have to write a paper about it. But I had to read it, in order to understand the whole 19th century modernization and industrialization that happened in England. So yeah, we had to learn about it.
How different does the movie feel to you from the novel? Well, it feels different because it’s a different setting. It’s not England. It’s India. But in terms of the themes, and also the feel that the film has, it’s very, very similar to the novel. Especially my character. I felt that Trishna was as loyal as possible to the character of Tess. But it has different languages as well. And there was improv.
How about Roman Polanski’s Tess? We were not trying to be inspired by Roman Polanski’s Tess. But surprisingly, like some of the locations where we shot – you know, just the greenery, or whether it was the field where she was harvesting mustard – it felt very similar to the kind of work Tess did in the fields out there. But you cannot have a literal adaptation. You’re talking about 19th century England, transported to 21st century India. And yes, with the whole modernization there is a lot of similarity. But culturally, they’re set apart.
Is Trishna a big return for you to India? You know, it was a return. But to a different place in India. I grew up in Bombay. And so in that sense Slumdog was closer to me, though not really in my upbringing. But really closer to what I saw when I was growing up. You know, the train stations, and the street kids. And all the brutality. Like it’s kind of closer to what I’ve seen. But where Trishna was filmed, it was completely different. 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, you know? And it just felt like a culture that I had unfortunately not been privy to as a child. And I had traveled a lot when I was young, because my grandfather and my uncle were in the army. So we kept traveling all over India. But it was interesting, because it was new learning for me. And just because I’m Indian, I couldn’t constantly say, oh I know all about this. I couldn’t. I had to do a lot more research than I did on Slumdog.
The people who play your family seem so real, were they non-actors? Most of them, yeah. And we would go in there, and disrupt their schedules! And Michael did a very interesting thing. Instead of them playing with us, we had to play with them. Which automatically made it more real. And it was challenging at times, because you’d expect them to say something to you, some information that you needed. And it wouldn’t come out. So that would challenge you to think of different ways to explore that. And find a way to reach that situation. Sometimes it was roundabout. But once we’d find it, we would repeat it in a different way. You know, so they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. Moreover you don’t want to tell them, oh you’re not doing it right. Can you do it this way. Because as soon as you say that to non-actors, they’ll be like, they wouldn’t do anything for the camera. So it was like working backwards, literally. Like working with whatever they were doing. Rather than them with us.
What do you turn on to in directors? Just the way a director captures simplicity and beauty, in its most raw possible form. That’s just so appealing to me. So that’s something that I relate to, more than anything else. You know, that’s not too manufactured. And lots of color!
How does it feel to have become such an international star, and not just typecast as an Indian? That’s amazing. And I’m really glad that Trishna speaks not just to the Indian audience. But it’s like speaking to different people, and different communities. So I do think things have been changing. I wouldn’t say it’s like at the super-fast pace that I would have loved it to change to. But it is gradual. And I also feel it really depends on the choices that you make for yourself. I have been pretty strong about not wanting to be typecast at all. From the very start of my career. And I was like, even if it takes me time. I feel like 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. And yeah, I feel I’m really blessed that my followup film [Miral] was where I played a Palestinian. And followed by the Woody Allen film. [You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger]. You know, where I played a girl from – god knows where she was from! She could be from anywhere. She’s of Indian descent, but you don’t harp on it. And then Immortals. And I don’t know here she’s from again! And then Black Gold, yeah. But as long as I spoke a language that a lot of people can understand, I think that’s all that really mattered. Yeah. But I feel the timing now, couldn’t be more perfect. And I feel Slumdog really opened up the West even more so to India than before. You know, where Indians have always been like the cab driver. Or the accountant, or the doctor. You know, very, very smart people. Or the terrorist!
What if your character in the movie was you, and not Trishna? If I were playing it as Freida, I would do it so differently. It’s a tricky situation. But I was rooting for her, I really was. I think I would go back to Bombay and find a career as a dancer. Or I would kill him right at the start of the film!