These are some new photos of Freida Pinto in New York City yesterday, where she’s been making the promotional rounds for The Rise of the Planet of the Apes. James Franco has been around too, but I feel like Freida has been more visible, perhaps because James is too busy being an ARTIST to promote the film, or perhaps because Freida seems happy to promote her work, unlike James. I absolutely hate that terrible pea sh-t dress, but I love the vivid purple-aubergine dress.
In a recent interview with The Independent, Frieda talked about something that is rather taboo for Indian actresses to discuss – the obsession, amongst Indian women, for lighter skin. The entire Independent interview is interesting – go here to read it – but I was fascinated by Freida’s thoughts:
At college in her mid-teens, Pinto had realised that theatre and literature were her “calling”. To earn some money, she began modelling. The well-mannered, inquisitive youngster found it easy working with photographers, but it was far from satisfying. Nor was the advertising work which followed.
“There were some very silly, stupid auditions that I had to go for. Like, there’s this girl who walks into college and nobody’s paying any attention to her because she is not using this particular cream – some kind of moisturiser or fairness cream, which I’m completely against. Then she’d put on the cream and all the boys would turn to her. And, I was like, ‘Arrgh, this is so bloody cheesy!’ If I ever got shortlisted for any of those parts I’d feel this sudden burden: ‘Oh my God, if I do this, they’ll pay me and I’ll earn my pocket money – but then it’s gonna be history.’ Some of my ads are now on YouTube and it’s just so embarrassing.”
Embarrassing, yes, but she can laugh about them. “There is a silly Wrigley chewing-gum ad you should check out. It’s so stupid. This guy pops a gum in his mouth and I fall from a tree on to his bike! Then he’s got a girl!” Pinto cracks up with laughter at the memory. “So from doing cheesy stuff like that to doing something as fulfilling as Miral – I think I’ve come a long way.”
She has, but Pinto can’t, and won’t, forget where she has come from. She despairs at the popularity of those “fairness creams” in Southeast Asia – bleaching potions to lighten the skin. “It’s completely wrong medically – and culturally, of course, because it’s giving people the wrong idea. My friend who’s a doctor told me that she’d have parents come in with kids who were three years old, saying, ‘Do something – I want my baby to be fair.’ It’s just this thing that people [in India] are so fascinated by white skin. There’s a lot of people there who are naturally really pale. But the whole idea that you have to be fair – without naming actors, but there are actors who admit it – the fairer you are, the easier it is.”
Even within Bollywood? “Oh yeah, absolutely. The amount of pancake cream on your face is ridiculous. I don’t think it is required, by the way. If a cream can give you confidence then you really have to check your whole confidence department in the first place.”
But Pinto herself is a bright beacon for Indian actors. Slumdog Millionaire showed that European and American audiences could be receptive to non-Western stories. And with her nonstop career since, this proudly Indian actress has succeeded in Hollywood without having to compromise by changing her looks or the way she speaks.
“Yeah,” she nods, “but it’s so funny. I feel like this whole idea of wanting something that you don’t really have is also very American in a way. They love tanning! Why the hell are you tanning that much? Then in my country people want a fairer skin tone! It’s just crazy. So when I was that Indian export that went to America and people were wanting that natural tan – which I don’t really have to go through tanning [to acquire] – they were excited to include something in their culture, into their film industry, that was not really there already. Or not properly or appropriately represented. So I just feel that this was a change.
“And I embrace the change and am hopeful it brings in more actors from Southeast Asia, without [them] having to do stereotypical roles. To be able to do something like Rise of the Planet of the Apes that is not concentrating on ethnicity – I’m so glad that is changing in the West.”
[From The Independent]
I remember the first time one of my Indian aunts told me that I had the “right” kind of complexion, because I’m mixed, my skin is much lighter than that of my Indian father’s. My Indian relatives always remark on it now – I have lightest-skin of anyone in my family. It’s a weird thing to remark on, but Frieda is right, there is a lot of emphasis on lighter skin amongst Indians. Personally, I prefer when I’m darker, and I’m totally not above going to a tanning bed to get some color. I can feel my aunts gasping from here.
Photos courtesy of Fame & WENN.