9 December,2014:Â 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.
Source:The Times of India