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Freida Pinto gets good reviews for Miral

By Arthur J Pais
March 22, 2011 12:47 IST
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Freida Pinto in MiralWith her riveting performance in her new film Miral getting good reviews, Freida Pinto's Hollywood career may get a push.

In the film, Freida plays an orphaned Palestinian teacher growing up in a war-torn Jerusalem camp. 

Her name appears above the controversial film's title in its print advertisements, a fine gesture for an actress who is just about three films old. It is not often that the name of an artist rises above the film's title.

The movie, which some Jewish groups said was anti-Israel, opens in two theatres in New York on March 25 through Weinstein Brothers, the North American distributor of the Oscar winning hit The King's Speech.

The advertisement for the film boldly declares: The movie they tried to stop is coming to New York. The protestors did not want the film to have a premiere at the United Nations last week. It will be rolling out to other cities in the next few weeks. The controversy erupted on the eve of the film's premiere at the United Nations last week.

"I saw the film as a cry for peace," Freida said at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. "It will have a special appeal to the younger generation. Peace is the way, Gandhi said, and Rula Jabreal (who looked into her own life for writing the novel) reiterates that idea."

The film -- a French, Italian and Israeli production -- also has an Indian producer Tabrez Noorani, who has served as a line producer for many English language films made in India including Eat Pray Love and Slumdog Millionaire.

Miral, which Freida signed soon after Slumdog Millionaire opened, was directed by Julian Schnabel (Oscar nominated for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) based on Jebreal's semi-autobiographical novel about the lives of three generations of women in Jerusalem. The American filmmaker is Jewish like the film's distributors Harvey and Bob Weinstein.

Though the film, shown at festivals in Venice, London and Toronto, has done small business in Europe and is not expected, despite the controversy, to be a big success in America, it is raising Freda's profile. This is her third film after the smashhit Slumdog Millionaire ($360 million worldwide) and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Man ($40 million).

'Miral... played by the distractingly attractive young Indian actress Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire,' a review in The Hollywood Reporter commented.

A scene from MiralIn London, The Independent wrote: 'Miral herself is played very engagingly by Freida Pinto as a mischievous and idealistic teenager with an acute sense of natural justice.'

But British newspaper The Guardian said she 'looks uneasy and miscast as Miral herself.'

'The people who don't want you to see the movie for political reasons are crazy or wrong,' Weinstein told The Hollywood Reporter on the eve of the film screening at the United Nations. 'I think the idea is, let there be peace.'

When THR asked if people were 'over-reacting' to a perceived anti-Israeli bias in the movie, Weinstein said yes. 'If they see the movie,' he continued, 'they'll see something that's a pathway to peace and a beautiful coming-of-age story.'

Schnabel told Variety: 'If (Israel and Palestine) don't solve this problem, Israel won't exist anymore, and I don't want that to happen. The people who scream the loudest are not necessarily the most sane.'

Freida has been saying from the time the film was shown in Venice and then in Toronto that she did not look at it as a political film. For her, it was a story of survival and keeping one's dignity intact under the most depressing, humiliating and violent circumstances.

She said when she got the script, her agent urged her to read it the soonest. Though Freida doesn't like the idea of reading on flight, she thought she would glance through the dense script. Before she could realise she had read it in about two and a half hours.

"Both Schnabel and writer Rula unanimously decided that I should do the film," Freida had said in Toronto. Rula guided her to know Palestinian families and arranged for her to spend a couple of days with a family.

Having the writer on the sets and at locations, Freida said, spurred her determination to give her best to the film. "I felt I had to do justice to this amazing woman," she said. 

She told British newspaper The Independent -- after Miral was shown at the London International Film Festival -- that she knew of the Palestine-Israeli conflict from the newspapers but visiting the occupied areas gave her rare insights. 'One of my friends is a lawyer and she knew a lot about the conflict, so I took note of what she said, but until you go there, nobody understands the human side,' Freida said. 'That's when I realised, 'I'm going to leave the politics of this alone and am going to work on the human story'. So whatever I had learnt or knew, I had to unlearn to play this part.'

A scene from MiralShe also revealed Slumdog director Danny Boyle helped her make an audition tape, and within two days of sending it to  Julian Schnabel she'd got the part.

Freida plays a character in her late teens, many years younger than her real age. Her character is located in an orphanage for the Arab survivors in an Israeli attack. When Miral becomes a teacher, she is caught between the rebellion and the Israeli reaction to it.

She has said that even though Slumdog's gritty scenes had prepared her for a tough new film, she still found the scenes of interrogation of Arab suspects by the Israeli military unnerving. She asked Jabreal if the script reflected the reality and if the beatings were really horrendous. She remembered the novelist saying it happened 'but a lot worse.'

'After we finished everybody came up and said, "Oh my God, that was brilliant and I had Rula sitting right next to me," She recalled in London for The Independent. 'I said, "I don't want to know that was a brilliant scene because that was her life story."'

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