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Freida Pinto On Feminism, Bollywood, And Her Grueling Training For "Desert Dancer"

The incredibly talented and beautiful star answers all of your burning questions.

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Freida Pinto first stole our hearts in her breakout role in the iconic film Slumdog Millionaire, and now she's back — dancing once again — in her latest film Desert Dancer. The film, based on real-life events, revolves around a group of dancers who risk their lives by illegally starting a secret dance company, fighting for self-expression.

The talented and stunning actress stopped by BuzzFeed NY to chat about her experience shooting the film, and answered some burning questions from the BuzzFeed Community. Here's what went down.

How long did it take you to learn the dances in Desert Dancer, and did the dancing in Slumdog Millionaire help prepare you for this role?

Freida Pinto: No! It is the opposite of getting someone prepared for Desert Dancer. (laughs) It took about a year to learn, to get trained and to pick up the choreography. The Desert Dancer dances were learned about three, three and half months before filming, but up until that time was all prep and training. Slumdog Millionaire was a night of learning and three nights of dancing. And it was, uh, crazy to say the least. We were really bad. (laughs)

FP: Physically it was really, really stressful because none of us were professional dancers. Reece Ritchie, who's a lead actor in the film, he's a really good dancer, he's a natural. But none of us were trained in formal dancing. So I guess just putting in the hours was very, very important. I started at four hours at first, then six hours, and then eight hours a day for six days a week. It's really frustrating — the fact that you have a certain move that you've been asked to learn, and that takes three or four days to just perfect or even to get just right. The frustration of it can be very, very daunting and difficult. But it's fun! It's a fun thing — once you get it and once you feel like it's in your body, it's so liberating.

Is there a specific dancer or style of dance you studied as inspiration for this role?

FP: For my character I chose to use a lot of Martha Graham inspiration. And the director loved the idea. At first he was like, "Yeah, I'm doing Nureyev ballet," and I go, "Uh-uh, no!" I'm not doing those pirouettes! Nureyev's pirouettes are impossible. I guess the only other person — not exactly like Nureyev — but Baryshnikov does the most amazing pirouettes. But no, I didn't want to base it in ballet, I wanted to do it more modern, more contemporary. So it was Martha Graham who really inspired me, and Akram Khan, who's the choreographer of the film, used some of that and put some of his own inspiration into it as well. So it's kind of like a mishmash of many beautiful things.

So you had the choice to pick what kind of style you wanted to do?

FP: Well, I think I kind of forced it on them. (laughs) I was like, "No, I wanna do Martha Graham!" No, um, it was just an idea. I just said, I watched all these various dancers and teachers and I feel like my dance language and Martha's dance language merge the best, and now it's just a matter of doing it right.

What was it like shooting out in the middle of the desert and having to dance out there?

David J. Bertozzi / BuzzFeed

FP: Oh, it was glamorous. So glamorous! Sandstorms, the heat, sweat, head bumps, injuries. What else happened? It was very glamorous! And it was also very beautiful. Because I think, you know, just dancing in the open, it's such an exhilarating but liberating experience as well. And we were not prepared for how tough it was gonna be shooting on sand, you know — we practiced on hard floors in studios. Sand is a whole new different ball game! But I think it was what the dance was meant to be all about as well, you know? What Afshin goes through, and the danger that he goes through, and at the same time this feeling of being safe, far away from the regime. We did this in Morocco, not in Iran, so we were very safe — except for the flies — but, yeah, it was really good.

What's your opinion on Bollywood — how similar or different it is from Hollywood? (via Ritika Jani)

FP: Well, they're both movie industries and they both entertain, they both make a lot of money. Well, they both pay women less. But it's different — culturally they're very different settings, you know. India produces its own films, and they have the money to pump into their own films. Whereas in Hollywood they need external funding as well. With a film like Desert Dancer, if there was, say, a Bollywood producer who believed in it, they would just pop in the money and the film would get made. Whereas in Hollywood I feel like independent films take a lot longer for belief to even happen. But I think, yeah, they're both movie-making industries with different cultural settings.

Who is your favorite Bollywood actor and actress, and what is your favorite film and song from Bollywood? (via sabiamushtaq2000)

FP: I think all the actors I like are from the '70s and '80s because my father forced me to watch those films, and I'm so glad he did. From contemporary cinema, Alia Bhatt. She's amazing, she's really funny. She has a great sense of humor. I think there was a thing that happened where she fudged the name of the prime minister of India or something like that on a big talk show, and they said, "Oh, the girl's dumb." So she went out and did a skit on it, about being super dumb (laughs) and I just thought it was great. And she did this film called Highway, and all the songs on that film are just phenomenal.

Which actor or actress was the most fun to work with on set? (via sarahq46312c5fa)

David J. Bertozzi / BuzzFeed

FP: Well, I did enjoy working a lot with the girls and boys in this film. But I think Dev. Dev's been my favorite co-star and will always be my favorite co-star. And also because it was my first film, and we were both clueless. It kind of helps that the other person's not going, "What the hell are you doing?" (laughs)

Do you have a favorite memory from filming Slumdog Millionaire?

David J. Bertozzi / BuzzFeed

FP: Oh god, there are so many. I think the dancing at the train station was definitely a fun experience, and also one of those moments where you feel so silly. Like, why the hell am I dancing in a Danny Boyle film? This does not make any sense! (laughs) And who knew the world was gonna love it. Sometimes the silliest things that you think are silly, other people go, "This is the most magical thing ever!"

What do you think is the secret to your success, and how has that helped you when dealing with failure in life? (via isram)

David J. Bertozzi / BuzzFeed

FP: It's really funny because I don't think of it as success, I always think of myself as a learner for life, constantly learning new things. I think rejection helps. It's part of this whole path of success — the path of success is filled with the good, and the rejections, and the failures. And failure helps deal with failure. Because you learn with every step of the way that it's all about picking yourself up, and that was probably just not meant for me, so that is OK. But there are so many other opportunities, and I am the creator of my destiny, so let me go out there and find another one. So I think all the negativity, you can take it and transform it into something positive.

What are your thoughts on feminism? (via Alejandra Isabel)

David J. Bertozzi / BuzzFeed

FP: Feminism — "do not misunderstand the word 'feminism'" would be the first thing I would say. Because I feel as soon as you say "feminism" you think, oh, it means letting men know that they now need to take a backseat, and that we're gonna run the world and they just have to watch while we do it. And that's not true. I think feminism is about equal opportunity, about equal rights, about standing side by side. And if women also understand that this is not a movement to crush those men, then I feel like we can actually have a really sensible and sane conversation about the subject matter. And of course it's about education as well. It's about educating young boys to be OK with the word "feminism." And I feel girls can play a very important part, because they end up becoming mothers one day, and they can teach the boys the true meaning of the word "feminism."

If there's one song that best describes your life, what song would that be? (via ericah40)

David J. Bertozzi / BuzzFeed

FP: One song? This is a very difficult question. I love Alt-J. I think they're amazing. "Pusher," that's my favorite song. 🎶 Are you a pusher or are you a puller? 🎶 The line says, "If you think the right one is gonna come your way, then get in line." It does not happen that easily.

Desert Dancer is now playing in select theaters!

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