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The New Paper
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'I'm not fair enough for Bollywood'
by Joanne Soh

IS BEAUTY really skin deep?

For Indian actress Freida Pinto, her beguiling brown eyes, warm smile, raven mane, shapely figure and flawless skin make up a ravishing package that has captivated many a film-maker.

Since her breakout role in Danny Boyle's 2009 Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, she has been propelled onto the global stage - culminating in her starring role opposite James Franco in the Hollywood action blockbuster Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, which opens here tomorrow.

So it's an irony that the Mumbai-born starlet claims she is ostracised in her native film industry for not being "Indian" enough.

"I don't think they're ready to accept a brown-skin girl yet," Pinto told The New York Times last year.

She added: "I've not done anything for the Hindi-speaking masses to really prove myself. They don't know who I am or don't take me seriously."

The 26-year-old claimed that her burnt caramel skin colour and cosmopolitan looks had been an issue since her modelling days some six years ago.

The former Elite model spoke out about how she was not "fair" enough for Bollywood.

"I was always getting rejected. (My agents) were always like, 'Don't worry, something is gonna come your way!' But I do still get it a lot," Pinto recently told Interview magazine.

She echoed similar sentiments in a separate interview with The Independent.

"It's just this thing that people (in India) are so fascinated by white skin. But the whole idea is that you have to be fair...the fairer you are, the easier it is," she said.

While Pinto may be receiving praise from Hollywood, her critics back home seem to be resenting her blossoming success.

India's film industry analyst Amod Mehra told website DNA India: "Freida should have cashed in on Slumdog's success and signed a Bollywood film at that time, but she chose to do Hollywood.

"She is not a star in Bollywood, so she will have her fair share of struggles like any other newcomer."

Several Bollywood film-makers have also bared their fangs, reported Hindustan Times.

Film-maker David Dhawan sniped: "As if she's doing any good films in Hollywood."

Pritish Nandy said: "If an actor wants to get the best scripts, he or she must make an effort to chase them down too. She can't complain if she hasn't made any sincere attempts to reach out to Bollywood producers."

He was possibly referring to Pinto's disinterest in the work coming out of her home turf.

"I think the reason why I haven't done a film in India so far is because I haven't found a script that's completely got my attention and made me passionate to get it made," she told Interview.

"I guess everybody in India has tried really hard to do what they do, then move to the West. And I suppose I just popped in from nowhere, like, 'Who the hell is she?' I can kind of understand the surprise, and that's why I'm not bitter about it."

Pinto's rise to stardom is a Cinderella story of sorts.

She had appeared in only commercials in India and was a host of a travel programme before British director Boyle plucked her from obscurity.

Slumdog Millionaire earned the newcomer a Best Supporting Actress Bafta nomination and the young actress has been working non-stop since - and with top directors no less.

Her second film was Woody Allen's 2010 ensemble comedy You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, where she played Josh Brolin's muse.

Allen told The New York Times of his choice: "I needed an exotic-looking beauty who could act, and she fit the bill perfectly. She's the perfect obscure object of desire. She's exactly what I wish I see when I look out the back window of my house in Manhattan."

Global appeal

Though Bollywood may have rejected her looks, it is precisely this which lets her get marketed internationally.

Her third film required her to play a Palestinian freedom-fighter in Julian Schnabel's award-winning politically charged film Miral (2010).

Pinto - who's dating her Slumdog Millionaire co-star Dev Patel and shuttles between Mumbai and London - has just completed Black Gold, an independent film starring Antonio Banderas and Mark Strong, where she plays an Arab princess.

Her versatile beauty also led her to a huge role in Tarsem Singh's upcoming Immortals, which opens here in November.

The sword-and-sandal fantasy starring Henry Cavill and Mickey Rourke gave Pinto the chance to play a Greek goddess.

Pinto told Interview: "I like the roles I have played to date. I'm not saying I look Arab or I look Spanish or anything, but I could if I wanted to. And I have."

Unlike fellow Indian actress Aishwarya Rai, Pinto is fortunate that she has been offered non-stereotypical roles - her latest being a primatologist in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

Her character Caroline is drawn to Franco's scientist Will and also to Caesar (portrayed by motion-capture expert Andy Serkis), a chimpanzee imbued with a drug that makes him human-like.

At US$90 million (S$108 million), it's Pinto's biggest budget movie to date - and her most prominent.

"We wanted somebody that had a certain effervescence about her," Apes director Rupert Wyatt told USA Today.

"Freida is a very bright and breezy individual by nature. The film needs that, in that it deals with quite a lot of dark themes." He added: "She's an actress who relies on her instincts and her own natural charm.

"And she was very quick to suss out which of the cast were inspirational, and she gravitated towards them."

Noting that Pinto has a "very long career ahead of her", he said: "It doesn't hurt that she's stunningly beautiful as well."

The rising talent is hoping that her experience in Hollywood will equip her with the "knowledge and understanding of how to hopefully produce my own films in India one fine day".

For now, she is content to be able to work in India with foreign film-makers such as Michael Winterbottom of A Mighty Heart fame.

The British director has cast Pinto as the lead in Trishna, a modern Indian version of Thomas Hardy's literary classic Tess Of The d'Urbervilles.

The film will be shot in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

"I loved being back home working," Pinto told The Independent.

"Slumdog revolutionised the way films were being perceived outside of India...There are so many stories, and India is so rich and vibrant and stimulating. There are stories every 100m."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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