Mowgli: Freida Pinto on how the Netflix film connects with MeToo, is important for India
As the only Indian member of the film’s primary cast, Freida Pinto had additional duties on Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, besides playing the role of Messua, Mowgli’s adoptive human mother. She didn’t necessarily have advice for director Andy Serkis. “Everyone knew what they were doing, and they’d read the book,” she said, but Freida did have certain tips.
The actor, along with Serkis and cast mates Christian Bale and Rohan Chand, was in Mumbai to attend the film’s world premiere - the first of its kind held for a Hollywood movie in India. “For the Hindi parts, he (Serkis) did give me a lot of freedom to improvise and do what I wanted,” she said. Since the film wasn’t shot in India, the production hired NRIs from Durban to play the village folk who take Mowgli in after he is banished from the jungle. Hindi isn’t their first language, so Freida - born and brought up in Mumbai - felt compelled to correct their pronunciation. “Instead of saying ‘chalo chalo’ they’d keep saying ‘charo charo’,” Freida laughed.
Watch our interview with Freida Pinto here:
Since making her film debut with Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning smash hit, Slumdog Millionaire, Freida has gone on to work with renowned filmmakers such as Woody Allen (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), Julian Schabel (Miral), Michael Winterbottom (Trishna), Jean-Jacques Annaud (Day of the Falcon), Tarsem Singh (Immortals) and Terence Malick (Knight of Cups). For someone who has been declared to be a ‘non-factor’ in her own country, Freida has certainly developed quite the resume abroad. In Mowgli, she reunites with star Christian Bale, with whom she shared a couple of scenes in Malick’s Knight of Cups, and Serkis, who memorably played Caesar in the Planet of the Apes reboot series.
To watch Serkis grow as a ‘pioneer’ of the motion capture technology - he has played iconic characters such as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series, King Kong, Captain Haddock in the Adventures of Tintin and General Snoke in the new Star Wars movies - and to watch him emerge as a filmmaker in his own right has been ‘truly special’, she said.
“When we did Rise of the Planet of the Apes, he and his team clearly were the ones who knew what they were doing,” she said about Serkis’ expertise in motion capture technology. “In many ways, I feel this is a very natural progression for him.”
Mowgli has been a passion project for Serkis, who has said that this version is more in line with what author Rudyard Kipling originally wrote. It’s a darker telling of The Jungle Book, without the whimsy and the music that have become so synonymous with the story, thanks to several popular adaptations - from the 1967 Disney cartoon, to the Japanese anime that is so popular in India, to more recently, director Jon Favreau’s live-action remake.
Freida said that she couldn’t be happier for Serkis, whom she described as ‘the kindest, most patient human I’ve ever come across’. Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle has had a long and troubled production, plagued by numerous delays and a last-minute switch in distribution. Originally slated for an October release in theatres, Warner Bros abruptly announced weeks after debuting its first trailer that they’d sold distribution rights of the film to Netflix.
Serkis’ relief and joy was evident after the film’s premiere, when he emotionally hugged his family and shook hands with people lining up to congratulate him. “I know it’s been a while for us to finally bring this film out there, but the wait has been worth it, and to bring it back to India feels truly special,” Freida said.
Serkis’ film is layered with subtext, and Freida said that the film’s message of acceptance and belonging is especially vital in the context of modern India. “Everybody wants to feel like they are accepted, like they belong to a community, that their identity means something; they want to be identified as someone, as opposed to being left on the wayside and ignored,” she said. “I feel there is a theme that is running in the world where women are coming out and telling their story for the first time, they’re all claiming ownership of their own narrative.”
Freida was making a reference to the #MeToo movement, which arrived in India a year after it first gained momentum in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Hundreds of women from the film industry and the world of business and sports came forward with stories of sexual harassment and misconduct they’d faced over the years. The movement’s arrival in India is largely credited to actor Tanushree Dutta, whose allegations against actor Nana Patekar opened the floodgates for more such stories. Freida has publicly voiced her support for Tanushree and the movement in the past.
“You don’t need to do something to please somebody, you just need to be yourself and if people can just accept (you) and be open, then there can be a lot of healing that can take place, especially in our country,” she said.
Freida, along with stars Rohan Chand (Mowgli), Christian Bale (Mowgli’s mentor, Bagheera), Naomie Harris (his adoptive wolf mother, Nisha), Benedict Cumberbatch (the villainous Shere Khan), Cate Blanchett (the hypnotic Kaa), and Serkis (Baloo), will be seen in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, on December 7, when it will be made available on Netflix. The film has been given a limited theatrical release in the UK and the US.