Freida Pinto on 'Miral' at DTFF
A one-film wonder she isn't. A one-woman force she is.
Just for your safety, sanity and general well-being heed this advice. If you ever have the opportunity to sit down in a room with Freida Pinto, don't let her soft facial features and girly exterior fool you. Touch on topics including war, humanity and her future children and prepare to be hit by a one-woman force to be reckoned with. The girl has opinions and she isn't afraid to share them.
"I was born in a free country. Free to have education," she said, perched so precariously on the edge of a sofa I was afraid she might fall off. "Sometimes you have to look at what happened in the past and know it shouldn't happen in the future. My grandparents and history books will tell me that through war a lot of people have lost their lives. Many of them so young."
The intensity growing in Pinto's eyes as she spoke, she said: "When that happens, if you have any humanity in you, you know that when a child dies you are really killing the future. I think that was enough for me to think that when I have a child I don't want my child to be born in a world where he has to think, ‘Do I have the right to an education, to say what I want?'"
Passionate she may be, but it doesn't come without true emotion. Tears welling up in her eyes, the Indian beauty stopped and tried a smile. This conversation stemmed from a discussion about her latest film, Miral, based on Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal's semi-autobiographical novel.
Flawless composure regained, she summed up. "In a way, I have done this film for the future. For my unborn child."
Screened at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival last night, Miral opens in Jerusalem in 1948 and is the true story of Hind Hussaini, who turns her family home into the Dar Al Tifl Al Arabi Institute, providing hope and education to orphans, especially girls. Pinto's character, Miral, grows up in the same orphanage.
Directed by American artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, Pinto says she was cast after Schnabel saw her in Slumdog Millionaire. She immediately quashed a question concerning the burden of being an Indian cast as an Arab.
"For a film like this you need people, from wherever they come, who can represent humanity," she said, sounding just a little rehearsed.
"You need to keep ethnicity in mind when you're thinking about the history and the politics in order to get the facts right, but one can concentrate on that and forget about the humanity — and then you don't have a film.
"I feel everyone in the film, whether it's my father, who's [played by] half-Sudanese [Alexander Siddig], [or] Hiam Abbass who plays a French Palestinian, I think all of them have one thing in common — they can connect themselves with the human story. If anything, I feel proud and very, very privileged to be representing the woman in the story rather than representing the woman of the Arab world or the woman of India."
I considered stopping her, but was concerned I could lose a limb. Instead I let her run with it, passion building with every word.
Her well-spoken, slightly British, accent came back into focus. "This story, if the Arab world only realises it, is actually very close to the story that India and Pakistan have had for a very long time. So I'm actually not representing any one particular person, I'm actually representing a whole generation of people, who are still going through problems.
"And if nobody knew where I came from, it really wouldn't matter to them. They would be like, ‘Oh, an actress played this part.' It just wouldn't matter.
"When Sir Ben Kingsley played Gandhi, I feel it was all praise for his performance because he understood what Gandhi was trying to do and he represented it so very accurately, so very brilliantly. I think it's the best performance of Gandhi we've ever seen. So I think India could have taken offence to that, but instead they were grateful that they had the most accurate representation. And as long as Julian is happy with my representation, then I am happy with that too."
The 26-year-old speaks English with a Palestinian accent in the film. ‘I'm lucky, I can do accents well. I can listen and I can repeat what people say."
Instead of hiring a voice coach, Pinto stepped into the real world and lived with a Palestinian family in preparation for the role.
"Going to this part of the world, I had to forget about the politics. I had to not sideline it, but keep it on the back-burner and concentrate on the human story. The stories I needed to feel were from the refugee camps, the orphanage.
"The woman in the refugee camp who wanted me to marry her son because he's in prison and she's worried he'll never marry — the tears in her eyes were more touching than what a politician has to say.
"This film has completely changed my life. I feel you cannot take things for granted and cannot live taking things at face value. I feel you cannot know anything about a person's life without asking them ‘how do you feel today?' or ‘what it is that makes you so sad?'.
"You can't presume things. I feel the media to a very large extent is to be blamed, because you constantly hear things like ‘Israeli soldiers' and ‘Palestinian this and that'. What does that really mean? It's a generalisation. It's wrong and it's not fair."
Having also visited the Abu Dhabi Film Festival last week to promote the film, Pinto has nothing but praise for the region.
"I've seen a little of the Middle East and one thing that really stands out in this region is the hospitality. People literally bend backwards to make you feel welcome, and that's unique. I think India does that as well, but this region does it on a whole new different level. I'd love to film in the desert.
"It's high time there was a film which had a message of peace. It's a cry for peace put out there. I think Julian does it differently. He does it using four women and through their lives you discover a country which has been war-torn for the longest time.
"It's really a story about giving the children a chance. They are our future. If you feel strongly enough then you'll support this cause. I feel to take away from the young people their youth or their childhood is such a crime.
"I had everything. I cannot imagine not being able to have a voice and sit and talk to you. If that was the first thing that was taken away from me, then I don't know what I'd do."