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Freida Pinto Talks: I used to beat myself up and cry for days



Recently in town for a global campaign on girls’ education, Freida Pinto tells us why women’s empowerment means so much to her.

At what point did you think about promoting social causes?

I don’t think there is a time in your career when you choose to do something like this. I grew up in a family that was all about social work. Even in college we had this social improvement programme. I am not sure if that’s a very common thing in Delhi. But as per that programme, you have to dedicate an hour or two in the week for something socially driven. Also, I feel that it came naturally to me since I come from a family of academically-driven people. My mum was a school principal and my grandmother and aunt were teachers. I think the drive to want to have people learn, was always part of my DNA. But I think it became very solid, resolute and focussed, after ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.

The one thing I feel we gain from this stardom and recognition is a voice that people actually listen to. I am not saying that volunteers and social workers, don’t have a voice. Of course they have a voice. But you can say the most random thing like, ‘The colour of the year is going to be red’ and if you have that kind of a following, then it will be red. So imagine using that opportunity and saying that girls need to be educated. I am hoping that people will grab onto that and make that their resolution as well. It isn’t what I thought I would start with, but I really wanted to have a voice that would be recognizable and my first film gave me that.

In one of your interviews, you said that you are startled by the questions paparazzi throws at you. Like when someone asked you what you were doing for the poor children in India. Did that in any way trigger the drive to do something in India?

I remember this so clearly. It was at the JFK airport (New York). I never needed the media, or my team or parents, to push me. Definitely, a few experiences in India pushed me towards it. That is when I decided that I have to do something – not just in India, but for girls universally. I believe in the global good of humanity rather than a country, state or city. They say that charity starts at home. I understand that. But for me, it is a global dream. When girls in India succeed, they have the potential to go out anywhere in the world and be who they want to be. So ultimately, it is a contribution to the global economy and that’s why I feel that the media can’t push me to take action.

Women’s empowerment means different things to different people. What does it mean to you?

First of all, for anyone to feel empowered, they need to recognize their own importance. If you do not know that your voice can and should be heard, then it defeats the whole purpose. That voice can only come through education. Realization is step one. For example, you begin by realising that your dream is to be a doctor, then you have to put all the work into it and start studying, but the realisation is the most important thing. Awareness is where it all begins and for me, that is probably the number one and the most important step.

Have you come across women who you feel have been severely discriminated against? Can you remember some instances of such situations and how have they made you feel?

In India, I have across various situations where women have been discriminated against. No matter how trained or calm you are, the feeling is always that of anger. I read about a woman who was arrested after she was raped, because it was apparently ‘against her religion, culture and dignity.’ I was enraged. I kept thinking to myself, ‘How is that even fair? How can a woman be given a death sentence because she was raped?’ I also come across people who believe that girls don’t need to be educated since they have to get married anyway. These perceptions are very disturbing, but at the same time, you realize that your anger needs to be channelled into something that is more action-oriented. You can’t let it begin and end with anger.

The Indian media and the media abroad are quite different in the way they approach things. How are you and Dev as a couple treated differently by the two?

I don’t think being a couple matters as much as an individual, because ultimately, we come with our identity. This is who I am and this is who you are. So pairing, coupling, team or group doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. If, as an individual, they can respect you for being self-made, for being the person that you are, for being the person that takes his or her own decisions and dictates their own terms life, I think that is the most important thing. I believe I present myself with dignity. I haven’t come across the Indian media much so I can’t make a judgment call on them. I am a very private person. But having said that, I will come out, guns blazing, when there is a cause like this. I have put in two years to make this day happen. But I don’t really put myself out there, so I don’t think that the media really has the opportunity to bombard me. And the stuff that they write, they write. You just learn to take it with a pinch of salt.

How do you feel you have grown as an individual in all these years? What are the main changes you have observed in your personality?

I think that my level of confidence has increased over the years. I have always come across as confident and if I wasn’t a confident person, I wouldn’t be sitting here. But there is an inner confidence that only comes with recognizing the woman in you and letting her shine and being unapologetic about it. Whether it’s about having fun, or the way you conduct your career – that confidence only comes with experiences. I am a lot gentler on myself now when I make mistakes as opposed to before when I used to beat myself up and cry for days. My team had to support me and say that it was okay. I always need outer support and am very loyal to my team and family.

Are you looking to work in Bollywood in the near future?

 I have grown up watching films like Mirch Masala and that’s the kind of film I have always aspired to be a part of. Smita Patil was always one of my biggest acting icons. The strangest thing is that people keep asking if I speak Hindi and I look at them and say, ‘Of course I speak Hindi. What is wrong with you? I grew up in India. Maybe it’s not the Hindi you Delhi people speak, but its Bombaiya Hindi.’
If you had to give a message out there to women, what would it be?
Just because since the time of Aristotle, we are called the weaker sex, doesn’t mean that we are weak. Just recognize that you are strong and powerful and things will begin to change from there.
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Mr. McGregor, how would you describe your unique style of choreography?

I see beauty in things that are dysfunctional rather than just pure line and shape. The aspiration of classical ballet has often been about a kind of grace and effortlessness and lyricism in the body, an instrument that’s in fantastic motion. I think that’s really beautiful and really interesting, but I also think there’s a whole other range of physical potential that a human body can do. So, I’m interested in that side of it. I’m interested in bodies misbehaving.

Where do you think that comes from?

I’ve always had a very long body, so I’ve been able to do things differently. I was doing body-popping and a lot of club stuff when I was around 18, when rave culture came around. That kind of permeates the way in which you see people move. I’ve not been in a classical ballet school — where you’ve seen bodies move in a particular way — since the age of eight.

“Everybody carries their own physical history, so it doesn’t matter if you’ve trained in hip-hop or body-popping or classical ballet. It’s all the same, really.”

You never had any traditional ballet training?

No! And that’s why it was so strange that I would get these really amazing jobs at places like The Royal Ballet, where I was the first resident choreographer who had never trained in a royal ballet. But I don’t think any of that matters. Being a choreographer is about the biomechanics and signature of the body. Everybody carries their own physical history, so it doesn’t matter if you’ve trained in hip-hop or body-popping or classical ballet. It’s all the same, really.

Did you go back to school to gain the technical knowledge necessary to talk to professional dancers?

Kind of. I did a degree in choreography and semiotics, as well as contemporary dance training, but I got my practice in ballet through actually doing it, right? So the first time you ever work with somebody on pointe shoes, you ask them, “What can you do?” I had no idea what you can do! But less important than knowing how the pointe shoe works is to have good dancers in the room who, when you say, “Can you do that?” they can go, “Oh no, but I can do this.”

Your approach to teaching choreography seems to rely more on collaboration than authority.

It’s a dialogue. I try to work with the best people possible and suck out their brilliance as much as possible. The job of a choreographer is to find what’s personal to them. When I worked with Thom Yorke, for example, I found out that he’s an amazing dancer. Full stop. He doesn’t really need a choreographer.

So you based the choreography around his natural movement?

Right and I think it should be like that for everyone! The “Lotus Flower” video is choreographed but it comes from him, so he feels he owns it already. He’s giving it to me, and I’m just helping him form it in a different way. When you’ve got somebody so extraordinary, it’s exciting for a choreographer; it’s effortless. Sometimes technique gets in the way of letting dancers be curious and open and try new things. Their idea of physical beauty gets in the way of them exploring. For me, there’s no point in being an artist now and just repeating things that happened in the past.

Source: The Talk

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Mr. Scheeren, what experiences would you say changed your understanding of the world?

I think when you grow up in Europe, almost no matter where, you have a very sheltered idea of how things are. So going backpacking through China 25 years ago really confronted me with a reality that was unimaginable. Simply the amount of people around you, a completely different definition of personal space, of how things would work, of how people live… The main reason to go was that I knew nothing about the world, and China seemed the most impenetrable. Somehow that trip was a discovery of a reality that I had no idea about before. It was quite a transformative moment for me because it liberated me.

Liberated you from what?

It showed me that things could be dramatically different but maybe equally valid or equally interesting. For instance, I think that the power in China was not in holding on to its past in the way that other developed nations do, it was in the complete focus on the future. There was very little sentimental baggage. It was simply a search for how to progress. That experience was very raw, you could feel this incredible energy somehow in that country. People were hungry for things to happen, people were interested in what the future could be.

“That strong sense of courageousness was a very exciting context for an architect to engage with.”

Ma Yansong says architects should involve the public more when envisioning the future of urban planning.

Well, that strong sense of courageousness, that strong sense of demand, or exploration, was a very exciting context for an architect to engage with. It wasn’t just about how could we stick to what we already know but how can we rethink things for which there are no particular models. For example, in China, someone came to us and said, “We want to build a bookshop that is 100,000 square-meters large.” And you go, “What do you mean? Not even a public library is that size!” But then you visit an existing bookstore in Seoul that is half that size and it’s completely full of people. You see that energy and that density and you think, “Of course you can double it!” But at first it sounds like a completely implausible idea.

But bigger doesn’t always mean better…

True. What is important is to not simply succumb to the generic production of quantity and built mass, but to really ask how could we develop models out of this inevitable density, that are much more valuable towards us as human beings — towards a question of how we want to live, what is the quality of our life, and how do we want to exist in a city that grows extensively. I think we’ve been quite successful in finding clients that were ultimately willing to engage in these dialogues to see how we can break the mold, how we can, in a very literal way, open the skyscraper up to the life of people.

Like with your Interlace apartment complex in Singapore?

Exactly, the Interlace was a redefinition of a building as something that was no longer just an object, but a connective tissue that would form a huge community. The way the building blocks are stacked up forms huge gardens and courtyards, so it was about defining the space to live in that would allow you an incredible degree of freedom to decide for yourself. I think that’s what ultimately makes for an incredible quality of life in that place. Another example is the Sky Forest project in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. For that, we imagined the nature that you could soak up in the middle of a very dense, emerging part of the city.

Have you ever been surprised by how people inhabited your buildings?

In a way, that’s the best thing that can happen, when people are inspired enough to make their own story out of it. It’s not that they have to live your story — I think that would be a rather oppressive scenario. Architecture should never be too prescriptive in terms of telling you what to do. I think it’s actually brilliant when people find ways to reinterpret the spaces we create. For example, by complete coincidence, I found on the Internet a girl living at the Interlace who had posted a series of “My Life at the Interlace” videos, where she rollerblades throughout the complex — that was really a great moment. We couldn’t have scripted anything as good as that.

Source: The Talk

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Mr. Oyelowo, how do you approach playing a historical character?

It’s a very tricky thing because of course you have to be evocative of who they were, how they moved, how they spoke. You have to make people relax and say, “Okay, he feels like him enough that I can just go on this journey with this character.” But if it becomes an imitation, if it’s about mimicry, if all people were saying is, “Oh, yeah, he really got the voice,” you’re dead! That’s the worst compliment you can pay.

Really, why?

Because when you go to see a movie, there is a spiritual exchange between the audience and what you’re watching. There is something metaphysical going on, where through the eyes, through what that person is exuding, you go, “I understand who they are. I have a sense of what they’re feeling when they’re not even talking.” There is an embodiment that is total so that you forget all of that. People shouldn’t be looking at the mechanics of what you did.

What should they be looking at?

How you did it emotionally. I believe that we go to the movies to see ourselves. “How would I react?” If all you’re seeing is a superhuman human being who had answers for everything, then you’re just watching in awe and it’s just like, “Okay, wow, he’s him and I’m me.” So I think it’s important that we can see ourselves on screen and I think that also means that we’re looking for the greatness in ourselves.

Is it important for your work to inspire people to be better?

It is important to me! I want to do films that hopefully inspire people to be the best version of themselves. If you look at the films I do, all of them, in some way… the remit I set myself is, “How does this enrich people’s lives?” You know, what’s meaningful? I want films that, when my kids see them, they understand why daddy did those films. They understand how it correlates with the way I’m trying to raise them.

Did you gain that perspective when you became a father?

Being a father teaches you very quickly that you are not the center of your own universe. That’s one of the gifts of having to wipe poop! (Laughs) Other people’s poop… Four times, with four children! I’ll be on a plane tomorrow back to my kids, lock my door, and it’ll all be about poop again! (Laughs) That’s the life I lead.

I’m sure that makes it easier to focus on the important things in life.

The fact of the matter is that every actor’s career has highs and lows. When success as an actor comes early, it’s very easy to believe the hype. But to me, it’s about how consistently you do the work – whether it’s celebrated or it’s not. I’ve been in movies with huge movie stars who have been crucified when there are failures and who have been adulated when there are successes.

In the last few years you’ve been in The HelpLincolnThe Butler, and most recently you portrayed Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. Why is it so important for you to make films about African-American history?

We need those films. Up until recently, films that deal with civil rights and racial unrest have mostly been told through white characters, through white protagonists. Malcolm X is probably the only film I can think of where you have an indisputable black American leader as the focus of the film. What you’ve tended to have is Mississippi Burning or you have Glory or you have these films that are all through white protagonists. Great films – but a different point of view. You can’t have a film about Dr. King and it be all about Lyndon Johnson in my opinion.

Why do you think there are so many films about African Americans coming out of Hollywood lately?

I think it’s synonymous with Barack Obama’s presidency. I think having a black president means that for a lot of white people there is an opportunity to not just focus on what’s negative about the past, but we have clear indications of progress, so it becomes easier to go: “How did we get here, historically? How have we got to the point where we have a black president?” All these films, they were just not getting made before his presidency. I actually saw President Obama about two weeks ago when we took Selma to the White House, and I thanked him for my career.

What was his reaction?

He went, “Ah, I don’t know about that.” But I told him, “Trust me. I can track when these films came my way!” I can chart it because it’s synonymous with when I moved to L.A. I’ve been in five of those movies! So I think that’s what it is.

And last year 12 Years a Slave even won the Oscar for Best Picture.

But a film about a slave is different than a film about a leader. Black people have been celebrated as slaves and butlers… The very first black person to win an Oscar was for playing a maid in Gone With The Wind, Hattie McDaniel. So, you know, that’s not an issue. We’ve been celebrated as subservient people forever. Great! Fabulous! As leaders? No, not so much. Barely ever.

To quote Dr. King, do you believe that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice in the end?

I think it does – if love is where you’re operating from. I think if you have anger and bitterness in your heart, and you just decide to lash out against it, all you do is you feed prejudice because prejudice exists on the basis that you are lesser than. If you prove that you are lesser than, you are only going to perpetuate that myth. I think there is a reason why the phrase is moral because to be moral is to absolutely embrace the fact that there is a right and there is a wrong. So the only way it bends towards justice is to be part of the solution as opposed to being part of the problem.

Source: The Talk

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