Wherever she is and whatever she’s doing, Freida Pinto says, she likes to “close the day” — to clean the slate and put away the emotions of the day before she falls asleep at night.
That isn’t always possible, however, as the star of “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) found during the making of her new film, “Trishna.” Set in India and based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” it involved scenes of violence, abuse and even rape. It was more than the 27-year-old actress could wipe from her slate.
“Sometimes you don’t put to rest what you opened up emotionally that day,” Pinto says. “It’s like walking around with an open wound.”
Set to open in limited release on July 13, “Trishna” is set in contemporary Rajasthan. The story revolves around the tragic relationship between a wealthy property developer’s son (Riz Ahmed), who is sent to Rajasthan to work in one of his father’s hotels, and the daughter (Pinto) of a poor rickshaw owner. They fall in love but can’t escape their different social statuses, traditions and family involvements, not to mention the changing political landscape caused by industrialization.
Filming in her native Mumbai was a moving experience, Pinto says.
“It was so beautiful and romantic where we shot in Mumbai,” she says. “I’d wake up and there would be peacocks by my door. In the evenings, wild monkeys would stop by for a visit. I loved that this location was so far away from where everything is so hectic and crazy.”
For her, Pinto says, the role of Trishna was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“When I got the role in ‘Trishna,’ I knew that this was one of those roles where I’d be challenged and unsettled as a human being doing almost every scene,” she says. “I’m challenged in every frame.”
Even so, the physical challenges were almost more than she could handle.
“Physically, it was a lot of manual labor where I was working in fields and carrying heavy trays around,” Pinto recalls.
The physical work was easy, however, compared to the most emotionally intense scenes in the script.
“There are scenes in this movie that are brutal,” Pinto says. “She is tortured, both mentally and physically, and is also raped. It was so emotionally draining.”
“You can’t really prepare for scenes where you’re raped,” she continues. “You can’t stand in front of the mirror and feel what it’s like to be raped. You can’t sit in a chair and try to conjure it up in your mind, if it has never happened to you. I would sit and cry trying to think about it.”
Director Michael Winterbottom didn’t coddle her on the set, Pinto adds, because she was still a relative newcomer.
“Just because you’ve done an emotional scene with Michael doesn’t mean that he will hug you afterward and say, ‘Let me calm you down,’ ” she says. “We would go right on to the next emotional scene. It was nonstop.”
“But it wasn’t as nonstop as what real women in the world face,” Pinto adds.
“I’m just glad that filming a movie could make me understand their plight a bit more now.”
Growing up in Mumbai, Pinto recalls, she always felt that she was destined for great things.
“Oh my gosh, my dreams have always been huge,” she says. “When I was a little girl, I was raised Catholic and used to go to Sunday school. In eighth grade, the teacher said, ‘I want all of you students to come to the front of the room and say one thing that you want to do when you grow up.’ I walked to the front of the room and said, ‘I want everyone to hear my voice.’ ”
Her dreams started to take shape when, as a teen, she began to get assignments as a model, but she really jumped into the limelight when director Danny Boyle picked her to play Latika in the surprise smash, Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire.” From there, Pinto went on to “Miral” (2010), Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” (2010), “Immortals” (2010) and another surprise hit, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011).
Despite her parents’ conservative outlook, Pinto says, they have backed her show-business dreams.
“My dad was surprisingly supportive,” she reports. “I thought, if anyone would be worried about this big, bad world and his daughter, it would be my dad. Strangely, he wasn’t afraid of it. Of course my parents don’t really understand the industry, but ignorance in this case is bliss.”
She may be one of India’s most famous actors on the world scene, but Pinto says she’s still getting used to being a star.
“I’m not going to say that it’s weird to be recognized,” she says, “because the truth is that it feels good.
“Those are my happiest moments,” Pinto adds. “There are kids who rush up because of ‘Planet of the Apes.’ They’re so happy to see me, and it makes me happy that I gave them a little bit of joy in a movie theater.”
The New York Times