Freida's Slum kind of wonderful
Slumdog Millionaire stunner Freida Pinto is more harem charmer than pristine princess in her latest film, Black Gold
Freida Pinto: An actress who has the whole world at her feet. From Mumbai orphan to Greek priestess and Arabian princess, her career has been truly global.
"There were times when the director would ask me to tone it down," reveals Freida Pinto, talking about her new film, Black Gold.
At the film's high-profile world premiere at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, Pinto's performance was met with some unmistakable tut-tutting beneath the burkas.
The reason? Her Princess Leyla owed more to Princess Leia in her sexy belly-button baring boudoir attire -- more harem charmer than pristine princess.
Based on Hans Ruesch's sweeping historical novel The Great Thirst, set in 1930s Arabia at the dawn of the oil boom, the film focuses on a young Arab prince torn between allegiances to a conservative father and his modern, liberal father-in-law.
The film marks the Doha Film Institute's first foray into major international film-making, a feat made possible by populating a quintessentially Arab tale with an ethnic mish-mash -- French director Jean Jacques-Annaud and a cast featuring Spaniard Antonio Banderas and Briton Mark Strong as warring emirs, the rising French-Algerian star Tahar Rahim as an Arab prince and the Ethiopian actress and Estee Lauder model Liya Kebede as a rebel tribeswoman.
Yet it is left to Pinto to take the heat. Blessed and cursed with an all-purpose beauty that passes for every ethnicity, from her native India to far-flung corners of Palestine, Greece and Arabia, Pinto has grown weary of being a pretty punch-bag for critics who argue that she shouldn't portray cultures that don't belong to her.
Today she picks her words carefully: "For me, it was very difficult because, as a 21st century woman, I would want to turn around and say to Antonio's character, 'I will not divorce him.
How dare you tell me what to do!' But Leyla has been brought up differently, so she's slowly but surely trying to get there."
It's hard not to feel sorry for the 27-year-old Indian beauty with the perfect English accent who, having won fame four years ago in Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, has been criticised at every turn for her artistic choices.
She has played an Arab girl and a Greek priestess as well as apparently "selling out" to Hollywood with roles for Woody Allen and Rupert Wyatt.
Despite working with the Indian director Singh and playing Indian girls in both Slumdog and Michael Winterbottom's Trishna, she apparently still doesn't qualify for Bollywood status. Anxious to correct that perception, in November she hosted a private dinner for Bollywood directors in Mumbai at which guests included the influential film-makers Vishal Bhardwaj, Abbas Tyrewala and Anubhav Sinha.
Born in Mumbai to Mangalorean parents -- her mother was a high school principal and her father a senior banking official -- she earned a degree in English literature from Mumbai's St Xavier's College before signing to Elite Models, where she became used to living out of a suitcase.
"My heart will always be in Mumbai, but I've kind of moved to London. That's my second home," she says.
"I still haven't splurged on anything since Slumdog," she says almost apologetically.
"I used my first big pay-cheque to put a deposit on a flat in Mumbai, but that fell through -- so I'm still looking for that one place to put my feet up."
She has been dating her Slumdog co-star Dev Patel for three years.
"We have shared so much together, and he is always the person I go to first. When you've shared something like that, you have no one else to go to but that person who completely understands.
"So, if I have a complete downer, he knows exactly how to uplift my moods and I can do the same for him." It actually helps a lot having gone through the same experience, when that experience is so unique." The Slumdog sweethearts captured the media's imagination and adoration as they trod the world's red carpets together.
Today, they're less vocal about their love. Patel, currently in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and six years younger than Pinto, has recently declared that he is too young for marriage. Pinto agrees.
"Some people don't actually know that he's six years younger than I am!" she says.
Is he too young for her?
"Actually, no. He's too mature. I keep telling him, 'stop being an old man!' He's just an old soul. The way he speaks and thinks -- he's so philosophical and deep. I'm like, 'you don't sound like a 21-year-old to me!' That was not how I was when I was 21."
Not that she dismisses the idea of marriage and motherhood. "Oh, I want all of that one day. I feel being an actress is probably not half as difficult as being a mother, and I do not know when I will be ready for that.
"I've seen my own mother do it, and I look at her and how she dabbled in school and how she managed raising her children, and I don't think I'm ready for it. But it is more commendable than being an actress."
Black Gold is released on 24 February.