Freida Pinto is everything that Indian cinema is not. Yet she is rated highly in the West having worked with well-known directors, including Woody Allen and now Michael Winterbottom in Trishna. She is on the cover of magazines like Esquire striking sexed up poses. She is dark (a sin in Bollywood) has daring cheekbones, not enough cleavage for an item number, and the girl-next door look is simply not acceptable here. Western directors call her a classic beauty.
After her nude photo shoot in Esquire magazine Pinto was matter of fact when talking about her daring scenes in Trishna: “If you are just doing a nude scene in order for everyone to like wank off or something then that’s not my thing at all,” she told Daily Mail. By doing the movie and the nude shoots she was also clearly scoffing at the Bollywood heroines who survive in fake igloos of morality and espouse notions of a pure sinless Indian female fit for the gods. She was also courageously distancing herself from the fake construct of the Indian film heroine.
It is this continental rift of tastes and perception that Pinto rides with consummate ease and daring. Her very presence in the red carpets in tony festivals and the fact that she is the feminine face of India for Hollywood and the West, makes her the subject of much scoffing and envy here. So her rise in Hollywood is a question thrown at our very idea of feminine sexuality, our carefully maintained hypocrisy and beauty and the way we have constructed mainstream cinema.
The quick rise of Pinto in Hollywood and in British cinema in the last one year is parallel to the rise of the voluptuous Sunny Leone in Bollywood. Leone has been imported from the seedy lanes of triple X Americana and planted here as if she can fill a big void in Bollywood and by extension in the Indian male mind. What is that big gap? Is it moral? Or is it based on the Indian male perception of what a real lady as different from a cinematic heroine should be? Or has it got to do with our concept of what an Indian actress, a moral being, should or can do in movies and what an imported actress who is totally amoral can do.
Just as Pinto thrives in what I have called the continental rift in gender and role perceptions, Sunny Leone exists in that twilight zone of the Great Indian Hypocrisy: Inside the house you need a moral being while in the weekend you love watching an amoral and sexy lady who has done it all. All the better if she has acted and directed some adult flicks because it props your fantasizing.
Though it is not known if Jism2 is a hit, it is very clear that the much trampled studio floors of Mumbai have provided a moral redemption for a sex movie actress and being a ‘lapsed’ Indian and child of Punjabi parents we also take pride in the fact that we have after all rescued her from the corrupting shores of big bad America. Here Bollywood plays the moral role (of the Ganges that purifies sins) that we in India expect it to play. By appropriating her, saving her from the fires of hell for copulating in cinemas, we have also shown that we possess the keys to purgatory as well.
Mind you, the moral brigade among the police, the civil society and fringe groups which have the Sena appendage have not made any noise or blackened the posters of Sonny Leone . The Mumbai police is after all busy rescuing young Indian from rave parties (Western import) and thus adding to the moralising and purifying role that we so naturally have appropriated to ourselves.
Now Trishna is Pinto’s way of scoffing at all this sham that we play out. She has to be admired for that. Till today she has not appeared in Page 3 pictures here. Consider the attention given to that one-scene wonder called Nargis Fakhri!
We don’t want to admire Frieda Pinto. Apart from being a courageous girl who looks so nondescript that she will not even get an audition for a Karan Johar banner, Pinto has also rubbished the put-on morality of the virtuous Bollywood queens like say, Kareena Kapoor, who on seeing a picture of Sonny Leone is reported to have screamed “Chee!” , that typically Indian way of brushing aside ‘immoral’ women and emphasising your moral pure position. So despite all the vulgar and obscene dancing that Kareena does, and her off –screen dalliances which are ‘unIndian’ in many ways, Kareena like other Bollywood queens love to hug the image of Indian incorruptible woman. Hence that dismissive remark, which will be applauded in middle class homes. We love Kareena because the fairness of her skin reflects her inner purity while Pinto is dark and thus abominable.
To top it all, Pinto is a great actor and Trishna sets her up for at least an Oscar nomination. Utterly restrained, a village girl who carries with her the tragic persona and sense of doom that all Indian village girls are meant to have, Pinto dominates the movie though she speaks only about five sentences in all. Also by agreeing to do roles to which Kareena would say ‘Chee’ , Pinto has risen above the abominable Indian hypocrisies of our time.
Vidya Balan who tried to cross the moral border a little bit in Dirty Picture was admonished bitterly by the Establishment which wanted about 27 cuts when the movie was telecast. While we love to see the depth of Balan’s cleavage in a theatre we do not advise seeing it at home, where grandmothers and various mullahs may wail at the decline of Indian womanhood.
But a Vidya Balan would never have played Frieda Pinto’s role in Trishna for the scenes of copulation would have made her fall from the moral pedestal which she as an Indian actress is expected to occupy (cleavage show allowed). There is a gripping (pun?) scene in Trishna where Pinto is forced into “unnatural” sex (according to IPC) her face in the foreground touching the camera with tears of pain and utter shame careening down her face, as she undergoes the trauma. That is the moment she decides to kill her slightly psychotic lover played brilliantly by Riz Ahmed. It is a moment of denouement when a village girl crosses over to the world which she may not have known existed: of revenge, of killing, of blood. Not a word escapes her lips throughout the stunningly picturised killing scene and then her steady walk towards her own gory end with a knife stuck by her up her abdomen on a Rajasthan wayside.
So effortlessly Pinto straddles all those worlds. So powerfully she questions the notion of the Bollywood heroine made fully of degradable plaster!