What if a game show brought you something worth more than money? Directors Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) and Loveleen Tandan (Brick Lane, Vanity Fair and Monsoon Wedding) address the possibility of rescuing love through unconventional methods. Slumdog Millionaire is the story of how impoverished Indian teen, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) becomes a contestant on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to be A Millionaire?” A valiant attempt without prize money in mind, rather, his efforts are motivated by his love for his friend Latika (Freida Pinto), an ardent fan of the show.
Freida Pinto certainly steals more than just Jamal’s heart. Her beautiful and charismatic depiction of true love captures the hearts of audiences effortlessly.
After watching her film, I had the opportunity to sit down with this remarkable actress. I have two words for the rest of Hollywood: Watch Out!
SAPNA: From 2005, starting out as a model for Elite Model Management India, your career has sky rocketed. What is the biggest lesson about success in the industry that you have learned along the way?
Freida: You can put in all your hard work but everything has its own time. Patience is needed when you’re looking for success.
SAPNA: Was acting something you were always passionate about as a child or was it something that you fell into later in your life?
Freida: I fell in love with it as a child. Though I think it became an obsession only after I reached college. As a child, my sister would catch me standing in front of the mirror performing all kinds of roles I had seen on television, with the added Freida flavor or sometimes even dancing to Bollywood tunes. I took part in every possible dramatic event in school and college. My childhood dream has now turned into a reality even greater than what I had hoped for, and I feel just so thrilled and thankful.
SAPNA: After reading the script and acting as Latika, what are some similarities which you see between yourself and Latika’s character?
Freida: Personally, I think I am more similar to Latika’s younger version. Young Latika is stubborn and has a real zest for life. When I read the script I immediately thought ‘that’s me!’ By the time Latika grows up into the woman that I play on screen, she has matured much before her time and become very responsible. The character I play in the film was wonderfully complex and intriguing but young Latika is definitely more similar to me in real life. At 19, I was still stubborn and playful. I would say, the similarity between me and the Latika I play on screen is that we are both Mumbai girls who share a ‘never die’ spirit.
SAPNA: What was it like working with Dev Patel?
Freida: The fact that Slumdog Millionaire was our first film definitely tied us together as co stars. We could understand each other since we were both experiencing our first step into the film world together. Dev and I shared a great working relationship, he is a very unselfish actor and we both were always willing to help one another. He has a fantastic sense of humour and I think the friendship we struck off screen translated into a great on screen chemistry. I became his tour guide in Mumbai. He’s the best co-star I could have asked to work with.
SAPNA: What was it like working with directors Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan?
Freida: It was an experience unlike any other. This being my first international film, Danny and Loveleen both made me feel very comfortable. It’s their professionalism and warmth that has truly brought out the best in my performance. Danny’s passion for the subject and his new found love for Mumbai were translated in the manner in which he would explain the scenes to me. He was theatrical at times and that was exactly what gripped my attention. Loveleen was the perfect mother, teacher, and guide. She took care of us like we were her own. I remember her coaching me through difficult scenes just before I auditioned for Danny, which was very helpful. I’m not aware of too many casting directors who invest so much time and energy into people who come in just for an audition.
SAPNA: Tell us something about the filming of the movie which most people wouldn’t know.
Freida: None of the outdoor locations in the film are sets. They are real locations. People are unable to get over the fact that Danny Boyle would go to actual slums and places like VT Station to film. I think that having used the actual locations definitely adds that much needed authenticity to the Bombay we see in this film. Slumdog is a very honest and sincere portrayal of Bombay and it amazes me how it took a legendary fresh and FOREIGN perspective to capture the city in this light. Then again, maybe it required a Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufuoy, Anthony Dod Mantle and the rest of the team to do the job.
SAPNA: Did you ever think that Slumdog Millionaire would receive so much acclaim? How are the cast and crew members celebrating?
Freida: Danny brought his heart and soul into the film and I think all of us were struck by the fact that it was a very special film, but I don’t think anyone expected this much worldwide acclaim. Ever since the film festivals it has taken off, and everyday you hear more and more about the film. Slumdog Millionaire has been a magical journey for me right from the start. I feel blessed because I never expected to be in a Danny Boyle film. The cast and crew in Mumbai are super excited. Everyone is on Google alert, keeping track of the latest happenings with the film. I recently spoke to the younger boy who plays Jamal, Tanay, over the phone and he was like, “Do you know people say Slumdog Millionaire is a strong contender for the Oscars!” He’s absolutely adorable. And yes, everyone is so excited!
SAPNA: Slumdog Millionaire has been nominated for four Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score). What are your thoughts on the nominations?
Freida: I really can’t predict. If it were in my hands, Slumdog would win all four of them. All I can say is I’m keeping my fingers crossed. It’s a huge moment for A.R. Rahman, Danny, Simon and the entire Slumdog family. The one thing Danny taught us is to enjoy the moment and not spend too much time wondering about what will happen in the future. So let’s just wait and watch. Whether we win or not, just being nominated and having critics and audiences accept this film with open arms has been a huge validation. The entire cast and crew gave this film their all, and its wonderful to have others enjoy and appreciate the effort we have put in.
SAPNA: If you could work with any Hollywood actor who would it be and why? What if you were offered a role in a Bollywood movie…who would you want to play the lead male role?
Freida: Wow! This is a difficult question! Jack Nicholson has been my all time favorite. He is one actor who can make me laugh, cry, and scare the living daylights out of me. I’d love to work with him. This is really not an easy question! If a Bollywood movie came my way and I liked the script, I would definitely take it up. Again, I admire so many of our Indian actors – Aamir Khan tops my list! I’d love to be cast opposite Imran Khan, I think he is really talented.
SAPNA: We asked SAPNA readers to submit questions. Sangya from Los Angeles, California asks, “The true India is brilliantly captured in Slumdog Millionaire. I wonder why it took a non-Indian director to portray India honestly on film? What do you think about this? How do you think this could affect the Indian film industry?”
Freida: It’s definitely an eye opener for the Indian film industry. I agree with Sangya because it did take a non-desi director to make a film true to [Mumbai]. When Danny Boyle came to the city he didn’t come here with any preconceived notions. He was like a sponge absorbing every sensation of Mumbai. Whether it was the heat, the smell, the food, the crazy traffic, the crowds, Danny was lapping it all up. Some would think it’s impossible to go to VT Station and say ‘I’m going to shoot here,’ when you have 500 people staring right into the camera, but Danny didn’t. He embraced the Mumbai spirit and showed the city’s journey over the ages, whether it was the slums, riots, or portraying India as a growing economic superpower.
I think one of Mumbai’s main characteristics is that it is a city that is unafraid to show off its imperfections. Just as one might notice beautiful places like Marine Drive, Mumbai wears its slums with equal pride. The rich and poor stand right by each other. Mumbai is a city of contrasts, after all, and I think Danny has been extremely successful in translating the pulse of this magnificent city. No one has done this before and you need an insane director like Danny to do this. I mean who in the world would go into the actual slums where it smells bad and it’s dirty? You need someone daring like him to do it.
SAPNA: “Sapna,” as you know, means “dream.” What is your dream?
Freida: Slumdog has been more than a dream come true. Now I just hope to pursue this dream, to keep going ahead in life and continue working on interesting projects.
REALITY IN THE SLUMS OF INDIA
Rubina Ali, who plays the young Latika, along with Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, who plays the young Salim, were both found in the slums of Mumbai. Jamal, Salim, and Freida Pinto’s character, Latika, are representative of millions of children still without homes or a future in South Asia.
There are several NGOs working for the rehabilitation of street children, here is a short list:
Deepalaya (Delhi) www.deepalaya.org
Cini Asha (Kolkotta) www.cini-india.org
Vatsalya (Jaipur) www.vatsalya.org
Children’s Development Bank (Dhaka) www.childrensdevelopmentbank.org
Nail Zindigi (Islamabad) www.naizindagi.com
Azad Foundation (Karachi) www.azadfoundation.org
— WRITTEN BY Tirusha Dave