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Why Freida Pinto is India's biggest star

Last updated on: March 23, 2010 11:41 IST

Image: Freida Pinto
Raja Sen in Mumbai

It's been just over a year since she dazzled us with the Oscar-conquering Slumdog Millionaire, but Mumbai girl Freida Pinto's since capped that triumph with several others.

She's completed a film with the legendary Woody Allen, one of the finest writers of female characters, and one for artist Julian Schnabel, a director greatly feted right now due to his recent masterpiece, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly.

Now, the girl frequently making it to top ten lists of Sexiest Women in US-based magazines has gone all the way. Pinto will star opposite Daniel Craig in the next James Bond movie, directed by Sam Mendes.

We're all dazzled by this meteoric rise, yet most of us are flummoxed since she didn't have much to do in her first film other than smile. Here's my brief take on trying to make sense of this unprecedented career beginning.

She's got the look

Image: Freida Pinto

Pinto's a stunner, no question about that.

Sure, you could argue that Bollywood cranks out a dozen bimbettes more gorgeous than her, but Freida's appeal is much more substantial -- or at least perceived as substantial -- than your average mango-juice model.

More importantly, though, she's got the right kind of exotic 'Indian' appeal the West has no trouble buying into. She's dusky, leggy, sensual in the earthiest sort of way, and that smile she flashes is just the cherry on top. And what a cherry.

Uncle Oscar's roving eye

Image: Dev Patel and Freida Pinto

Every few years, a small independent feature or a foreign film comes along and wins big at the Oscars, and this darling of the masses usually does very well for people who acted in it.

Slumdog's benefited the careers of Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan, while giving Dev Patel quite the slap on the back.

However, it's very rare when an actually striking woman features in one of these critically feted films. (Can't quite picture Mo'Nique as a Bondgirl, can we?)

When she does, as Marion Cotillard did in La Vie En Rose, both glamour quotient and filmography receive a massive boost, as she goes from being a striking woman to a striking woman the whole world is aware of.

The India buzz

Image: Freida Pinto

India and Bollywood have never been trendier abroad. Shah Rukh Khan is wowing audiences overseas more effectively than he is back home, and the finest film festivals around the world are looking intently at cinema we're making.

And both God and Harvey Weinstein know the Americans have been trying hard to find a Hindi-speaking A-lister.

Aishwarya Rai was the first shot, but despite much fuss kicked up over her Oprah appearance, seems to have ended up a sidekick in the unfortunate reboot of the Pink Panther franchise.

Mallika Sherawat is apparently doing well in Los Angeles and can be seen hobnobbing with the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Usher, but aside from the actresses' Twitter updates, seeing a film with her in it would be nice.

So who's the next stunner ripe for international plucking? Yup, the Slumdog girl.

Riding the wave

Image: Freida Pinto

Sometimes the whirlwind surrounding a name is so strong it just can't stay out of the headlines.

Freida wasn't the star in Slumdog at all, but she's been dating the film's lead, Dev Patel. Then came the news that Woody Allen signed her up, and that opened the floodgates.

Even as India watched with gaping mouth as she became our highest earning actress, the West was all to glad to jump onto the ever-growin' Freida bandwagon.

The high-profile movie signings legitimized her, and now that Mendes wants to reinvent Bond, that Indian girl from the new Allen movie could be just the ticket, by Golly.

It was...written

Image: Freida Pinto

It's hard to avoid that cliche, but everyone loves a fairytale.


Pinto, the daughter of a bank manager and a school principal, living way out in the far end of Mumbai's suburbs, watched Sushmita Sen winning the Miss Universe crown and the ten-year-old Freida was inspired.


She got into modeling after finishing college, and despite a few commercials and the role of a TV show anchor, really didn't hit her stride at all for awhile.


Until, that is, she auditioned for Danny Boyle. The rest is history, and perhaps we should just marvel at this girl and where she's gotten instead of trying to dissect why.


And perhaps that smile is indeed worth it all.