(August 30, 2021) Freida Pinto wouldn’t have been the Hollywood star she is today had debut first film Slumdog Millionaire been released via DVD. Because that was the initial plan. However, the stars were in Pinto’s favor and the film made its way to the big screen, and how! A model from Mumbai who had never faced the camera before was now on the global stage brushing shoulders with the who’s who of the industry. With a BAFTA nomination and two international awards to her credit, the world was welcoming this South Asian with open arms.
The 36-year-old found her footing in Hollywood but not without the initial hiccups and a sense of confusion. However, Pinto cemented her position with each film and broke the shackles of the stereotypical image of an Indian actress with her choice of diverse roles.
A childhood dream realized
Pinto’s love affair with films started at the age of 5 when she for the first time harbored the dream of being an actor. Born to Mangalorean parents, it was Aamchi Mumbai’s effect that led Pinto to believe that she could be on the big screen someday. While the ambition of making it big kept simmering for a long time, Pinto went about finishing her major in English Literature from St. Xavier’s College. It wasn’t until she watched the 2003 crime drama Monster that she decided to take some inspired action towards her long-lost dream.
However, before taking the big leap towards her filmi dreams, Pinto tried her hands at modelling. It was Elite Model Management that gave her the big break and soon Pinto was in adverts for Vodafone India, Airtel, Visa and De Beers. Though it was a means to earn some quick bucks, modelling helped her gain enough confidence to begin appearing for auditions. One such audition helped her bag Full Circle, an international travel show that took Pinto across the globe. Though the show was a hit, Pinto remained largely unsuccessful in getting any Bollywood roles.
The film that brought her to Hollywood
Disappointed with her failures, Pinto tried to keep her chin up; and destiny had other plans. It was in 2007 that her modelling agency selected her and six other models to audition for Danny Boyle‘s Slumdog Millionaire. After six months of extensive auditions, Pinto bagged the role of Latika. Little did she know then that this would be the film to open Hollywood’s doors for her. Slumdog Millionaire turned out to be a sleeper hit, and put Pinto on the global stage with her earning a nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role at BAFTA. Pinto arrived in style at Hollywood as she won the Breakthrough Performance Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a cast in a Motion Picture.
Suddenly a girl from Mumbai had become a global name. In 2009, she made it to People Magazine‘s list of Most Beautiful People and Vogue‘s list of Top Ten Stylish Women. She was also the only Indian celebrity to make it to Los Angeles Times Magazine’s list of 50 Most Beautiful Women in Film.
A Global Indian journey
Such was the effect of her performance in Slumdog Millionaire that even Woody Allen couldn’t refrain from casting her in his 2010 film You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. She made a grand entry into the world of Hollywood with Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin and Anthony Hopkins. The next year brought with itself the opportunity to work with Rupert Wyatt in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It was with Michale Winterbottoms’ Trishna that Pinto steered away from commercial cinema and essayed the role of a teenage Rajasthani peasant in the screen adaptation of Thomas Hardy‘s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Her performance earned a thumbs up from international media with the Chicago Sun Times calling her act “touchingly beautiful” and the Guardian referring to her as “captivating.”
With each passing film, Pinto cemented her position by playing diverse roles and broke the stereotypical image of an Indian woman in Hollywood. If she essayed the role of an Iranian choreographer in Desert Dancer, she worked without a script in Terrence Malik’s experimental film Knight of Cups.
Though Pinto got to work with some of the best names in the industry, the 36-year-old had to struggle her way into Hollywood, but the process also made her realize the difficulties that her predecessors faced. In a conversation with Hindustan Times, she said,
“Most people think that after Slumdog Millionaire, the red carpet is rolled out for me. But that’s not true. I honestly enjoy the struggle, and I am getting to see what my predecessors have been through – actors like Saeed Jaffery and Roshan Seth. These situations make you humble.”
Pinto, who was later seen in films like Love Sonia and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, revealed that working in Hollywood has been a long journey of self-discovery. For someone who wanted others to ignore her skin tone initially now wants people to not be blind to her ethnicity, in fact, she wants to celebrate it but without any stereotypes, of course.
“The thing is if anyone sees me, you can always see the colour of my skin. It is brown and I am obviously Indian. I don’t want someone to be blind to that. You can accept me for who I am. But when someone is writing a role, you can write it as an Indian who lives in America but does not give in to the stereotypes of writing,” she added.
Pinto is the founder of Freebird Films Entertainment, a production company, that seeks to celebrate diversity and uplift the work and lives of women. She has recently inked a deal with eOne Entertainment to tell stories about women from diverse and underrepresented groups.
Along with films, Pinto has been actively involved in humanitarian causes too. For someone who finds her inspiration in Angelina Jolie and Malala Yousafzai, Pinto joined the Agassi Foundation in 2010 and raised $75,000 for their annual fundraiser – The 15th Grand Slam for Children – which was aimed at providing education to the underprivileged. Two years later, Pinto was appointed the global ambassador of Plan International’s Because I am a Girl, a campaign that promotes gender equality.
Pinto, who is always championing women’s empowerment, joined hands with Gucci in 2013 for their Chime for Change campaign to raise awareness on women’s issues. She is among the few Indian names who have made Hollywood their home, and proudly represents Asians on the big screen. The 36-year-old is a textbook example of an outsider finding a footing in the world of Hollywood.