‘Love Sonia has stayed with me for 10 years’: Freida Pinto – One of India’s most famous exports, Freida Pinto walks in 40 minutes late for this interview. She apologises profusely because she has just landed at an unearthly hour from a foreign destination and is obviously sleep-deprived. Without wasting any further time, she delves straight into shop talk about Tabrez Noorani’s Love Sonia (an upcoming drama on human trafficking) and her other projects in the West.
Tell us about your involvement with Love Sonia.
Love Sonia has stayed with me for 10 years. Tabrez was a producer on Slumdog Millionaire (2008). While working on that film, he was writing this movie and told me that he was keen to direct it. Later, he asked me to read the script. Once I did, I was extremely disturbed by the subject. It was an important story and I wanted to be a part of it. I assured him that whether it was helping him cast actors or anything else, I would be actively involved. It took us a decade to get the right people as it’s difficult to find financiers for such films. When the project came together, he recalled how from 2008 onwards, I had read other actress’ parts and particularly enjoyed reading Rashmi’s lines. I loved the character’s complexity and craziness as well as the fact that she was unpredictable. He asked me if I’d like to portray her on screen. I told him my name was written all over it (laughs).
How did you manage to keep the interest alive in the subject for such a long time?
A lot of people think that when you make such a movie, it must be depressing. I can’t speak for Mrunal (Thakur), her role is a lot more intense. But Richa (Chadha), Manoj (Bajpayee), Raj (Rajkummar Rao) and I had a blast while shooting. Yes, there are scenes that are dark and disturbing, but as soon as we finished filming it, we knew why we were making Love Sonia. We wanted people with determined minds to be part of the movement that puts an end to this brutality. As for keeping my interest alive in this film for 10 years, Tabrez is a dear friend of mine. We live about 15 minutes apart from each other in Los Angeles. He and I would talk about this film and many other projects, we’re working on a bunch of things about which I can’t reveal anything more yet.
But Tabrez and I are partners. He’s been my mentor, a lot of people don’t know that I learnt everything from him as a producer. If I ever direct a film, I would prod him on the set to mentor me there as well. The interest is alive because the subject matter of Love Sonia is relevant, probably more now than it was 10 years ago. The fact is that people are going to listen to a story like this.
What are the other projects that you are working on right now?
I’ve shot two movies earlier this year. One of them is with American actor Leslie Odom Jr (of Hamilton, a musical on Broadway, fame). Four-five months later, we ended up doing another film with John Ridley (who won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years A Slave). Later this year, I also have Mowgli. It’s fantastic that I have these two indie films coming up, both of which are love stories. I’d like to do something like Love Sonia once in a while. I want to indulge in more of human stories. There are also a couple of passion projects that I’m producing.
Your trips and films in India have been few and far in between. Filmmakers haven’t been able to tempt you with better scripts?
They are not few. You know that I come home for more than just Christmas. Whenever I come to India, my goal is not just to reconnect with Mumbai or the industry but with my country and different parts of it. The way you grow as an actor, you keep yourself connected to human stories across the nation and the world as opposed to just keeping it secluded to one part or industry. So, for me, it’s never been just about work. I see my growth as an actor by having new experiences. It’s not about tempting me with the right script, it’s wherever and however they find me. If I feel passionate about it, I will do it. I’m not waiting for something to happen. I have this belief that the right thing gets attracted to you.
As a viewer, are you in touch with Hindi cinema?
I enjoyed watching Hichki at the Melbourne International Film festival. Rani Mukerji and I were on the same platform to talk about our respective projects. It’s so moving that such subjects find a way to reach the audience and enlighten them. Not many people knew about Tourette Syndrome before Rani did that film. Likewise, when she did Black (2005), many of us learnt for the first time what visually and hearing impaired people go through. So, I keep in touch with Hindi cinema as and when I can.
I’m asking you this because you’ve relocated to LA and left Mumbai behind.
I don’t think I have left Mumbai behind. My debut film gave me such a fantastic opportunity; name one person who wouldn’t take it on. I’ve made myself a career that no one has been able to do before. Now, it gives me an even bigger opportunity to straddle both worlds as and when I want to. Also, if there is something that I don’t want to do, I’m finally in a position to say no. Also due to digital platforms, in the near future, we won’t be talking about borders and boundaries any more, but letting content and storytelling take the lead.
Take, for instance, Sacred Games. Not just Indians, but people from across the world are watching it. Stories from the West, England and France are inspiring. There is such beautiful storytelling in America. My favourite example is The Untouchables, the foreign language film that people want to remake even in India.
Would you do a Hindi love story?
Love Sonia is in Hindi. Previously, I did Trishna which was not just in Hindi but also in Marwari. I had to learn a language that I didn’t even speak. So, I have done Hindi films (smiles).