The “Desert Dancer” Interview
with Kam Williams
Born in Mumbai on October 18, 1984, Freida Pinto exhibited an interest in acting from an early age. She had participated in community theater as well as school productions by the time she graduated with a degree in English Literature from St. Xavier’s College, rated the top college in India for the Arts.
Freida was signed as a model by the Elite Agency and was hired to anchor a TV travel show prior to making her highly-acclaimed screen debut co-starring opposite Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire, which swept the 2009 Academy Awards. She’s since appeared in Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, portrayed the title characters in Trishna and Miral, and played James Franco’s love interest in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Here, she talks about her latest outing in Desert Dancer, a biopic about Afshin Ghaffarian, the Iranian dissident who founded an underground, modern dance company in a country where dancing is strictly forbidden.
Kam Williams: Hi Freida. Thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Freida Pinto: Of course, Kam. Thank you so much for doing this for my little, tiny film.
KW: A small, but powerful art film. It had everybody at my screening crying.
FP: Oh my God! Thank you for telling me. We love hearing that there wasn’t a single dry eye in the room. That’s what we aimed for.
KW: Yes, it was very moving, as well as uplifting. In this picture, you reminded me of Halle Berry in Jungle Fever, where she also played a drug addict. Have you seen it?
FP: No, I haven’t. But I love Halle Berry, so thanks for the compliment. I’m going to watch it.
KW: How did you prepare to play a heroin addict?
FP: I didn’t want to watch any film about heroin addicts, because I didn’t want to imitate or exactly copy someone else’s take on what the individual symptoms were, although I did watch Candy, with Abbie Cornish and Heath Ledger, which was amazing. Instead, what I did was spend a lot of time with my director [Richard Raymond] at A.A. meetings in London, and just listened to people speak.
KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you. So I’m mixing in some of their questions with mine. Sangeetha Subramanian says: Hi Freida, the movie looks great! What was the process like learning the dances for the film?
FP: It involved a physically-demanding regimen, because in a movie like this about dance, the actors are expected to look the part. So, first, we had choreographers and trainers come and break us down. If we arrived thinking movement was a certain thing, they were teaching us something brand new. We were being twisted and turned and bent backwards, and under the most challenging of circumstances, as well. We were working really, really long hours, so we had to push ourselves. It was amazing to test your endurance and find yourself motivated to go one step beyond what you thought were your limits. Another aspect was the mental and emotional training, especially with my character, Elaheh. It was very important that I let myself go, and experience things I was afraid of experiencing.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Did your training in classical Indian dance help prepare you for the 8 hours of daily practice for this role?
FP: [Laughs] I wish I really had any training in classical Indian dance. That’s Wikipedia just lying. That is not true. I came with zero experience from the dance world. The only dancing I’d ever done was in clubs. [Laughs some more]
KW: Bernadette also admires that you are so involved in causes respecting girls and education. She asks: Is there any particular subject or course of study you would recommend to young girls considering a career in film?
FP: In film? I have not been formally trained at an acting school or even a film school. But when I majored in English Literature in college, part of the syllabus covered film in literature, adaptations, and reading poetry and prose from the early 19th Century to the present, all of which was beautiful and opened your mind to so much more. But I also studied Psychology which helped me immeasurably, and continues to help me in terms of the science of accessing emotions and how the human brain functions. I find all of that very intriguing. I’m not saying that’s the answer for other actors, just that I’m a very cerebral and scientific kind of person. More than anything else, if you can spend a great deal of dedicated time observing people without judgment, that can be a great way of learning.
KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: You are such a talented performer, and yet I have been thrilled at the work you have done to support underprivileged women and children around the world. This film, too, shows the power of art in a corrupt society. What do you think are the most pressing political and social issues we should be addressing today? And what do you think we, as citizens of the world, should be doing to make it a better place?
FP: I’m not going to comment on political issues. America and India both have their issues. One thing I can say is that awareness is very, very important because we’re living in a world which is literally shrinking by the day. We are global citizens. So, for us not to be aware of what’s happening to our neighbor is almost sad. Once you’re aware, then you can decide what cause you want to dedicate your time to. I feel that all of us can contribute something, and it doesn’t have to be money. It can just be service or talent.
KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden asks: Have you ever felt culture shock in moving between the Indian and American cultures? If so, what have you found to be the biggest differences between the two cultures?
FP: No, not at all. Perhaps growing up in Bombay made me immune to culture shock, in a way. So, culture shock is not part of my DNA.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Would you be interested in dubbing your dialogue into Hindi?
FP: I’d love to, if that means opening up the film to another audience. In fact, I did that for Slumdog Millionaire and in Trishna, which was part Hindi, part English. The subject-matter of Desert Dancer is not just limited to Iran. Freedom of expression can be a topic of discussion in India as much as it is in America or Iran.
KW: Patricia also asks: Is there an Indian figure you would like to portray in a biopic, such as Indira Gandhi?
FP:Yes! Quite a few. Indira Gandhi and Jhansi Rani, to name a couple. Jhansi Rani was actually a soldier. You should Google her. She’s phenomenal! There’s also a Pakistani character I’d love to play. But I’d never mention her name right now, because I’d get into so much trouble.
KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
FP: Oh, I’ve never been asked that… I’m a great admirer of Audrey Hepburn, so I’d love to be a part of a different take on any of her films, like a re-versioning of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
FP: Gosh, there are so many. My association and affiliation with a lot of fashion brands goes way beyond the fashion itself, almost into a relationship. Right now, I have a very, very strong relationship with the Ferragamo family. So, I’d have to say Salvatore Ferragamo.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
FP: This was an exercise I had to do in an Actor’s Workshop. It was of me getting lost in a fair in Bombay. I thought I was lost for about 2 hours, but my dad said it was only about 2 minutes.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
FP: Anything that is breakfast-related. I love making eggs and avocado toast, but I have no patience for the rest of the day. The only thing I can pride myself on is making a really good breakfast.
KW: Lastly, what’s in your wallet?
FP: Money, hopefully. [Laughs] I don’t carry a wallet, per se. I just carry a tiny thing that can hold a credit card, an I.D. and a little bit of cash.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Freida, and best of luck with the film.
FP: Thank you, Kam.
To see a trailer for Desert Dancer, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZC3er0RuVw
Film Review by Kam Williams
The late Paul Walker (1973-2013) was best known for playing Brian O’Conner, a charismatic lead character of the Fast and Furious franchise. During a break in the filming of this seventh installment, he perished in a fiery crash away from the set while being driven in a Porsche by his friend and financial advisor, Roger Rodas.
Putting the production on hiatus, director James Wan (The Conjuring) consulted with Walker’s family before deciding to complete the project. After revising the script, he resumed shooting, using Paul’s younger brothers, Caleb and Cody, as body doubles.
Between the delays and complications flowing from the overhaul, the picture’s budget ballooned to over a quarter-billion dollars. Nevertheless, the rewrite was undeniably well-worth all the effort, since Furious 7 is easily the best offering from the series by far, for it’s the first to convincingly combine sincere sentiment with its trademark swagger and spectacular action sequences.
Yes, it’s remains mostly a muscle car demolition derby featuring an array of sensational stunts, destroying 230 automobiles along the way. But it’s also a touching tribute to the much-beloved Paul Walker, poignant homage carefully crafted to ensure there won’t be a dry eye in the house when the closing credits roll.
At the point of departure, we’re reintroduced to Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a trained assassin hell-bent on avenging the death of his brother, the diabolical villain who met his demise during the climax of the previous episode. Deckard’s already killed Han (Sung Kang), so gang leader Dom (Vin Diesel) encourages his wife (Michelle Rodriguez) and the rest of his ragtag crew of mercenaries to regroup in order to avoid the risk of getting picked off one-by-one, since there’s strength in numbers.
However, coaxing brother-in-law Brian out of retirement isn’t easy, now that he’s settled down in suburbia and has already started a family with Mia (Jordana Brewster). By contrast, unencumbered playboys Roman (Tyrese) and Tej (Ludacris) are game for another round of bombastic vehicular warfare, especially given the addition to the team of a cute computer hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) whose affections they can compete for.
After a bit of obligatory flirting and jive talk by the brothers, it’s not long before the plot plunges the mercenaries headlong into a familiar concatenation of fisticuffs and gravity-defying car chases punctuated by macho exclamations like “I’m back bitches!” and “Time to unleash the beast!” Yet, such simplistic non-sequiturs are effectively counterbalanced by tender exchanges with Brian (“You’ll always be my brother!”) during a denoument where he makes it clear that this dangerous adventure will definitely be his last.
A captivating combination of camaraderie and cartoon physics tempered by just enough nostalgia to tug at your heartstrings.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for pervasive violence and mayhem, suggestive content and brief profanity
Running time: 137 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
To see a trailer for Furious 7, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yISKeT6sDOg
The Sisterhood of Night
Film Review by Kam Williams
Mary Warren (Georgie Henley) was once a popular straight-C student voted most likely to become famous by the student body at Kingston High in upstate New York. But everything changed the day a jealous competitor stole her phone while she was auditioning for a role in a school play.
For, that classmate, Emily Parris (Kara Hayward), proceeded to humiliate Mary by posting some of her very intimate text messages online. Although the cruel ploy did draw a lot of traffic to a blog which nobody had been reading, the victim responded in a way no one could have predicted.
Instead of retaliating in kind, Mary resorted to calling Emily a whore in chalk on the schoolyard wall. Sick of the internet entirely, she also came up with the idea of forming The Sisterhood, a secret society which meets in the woods in the middle of the night. The idea was that instead of behaving like bitchy backstabbers, the members would promise to respect each other’s privacy while providing a shoulder to cry on as they share their personal problems.
The first two recruits are social zeroes, homely Catherine Huang (Willa Cuthrell) and Lavinia Hall (Olivia DeJonge), the troubled daughter of the school librarian (Laura Fraser). Their swearing-in involves taking a vow of silence about what transpires during their confessional sessions around the campfire.
The group’s numbers gradually swell as word spreads about the safe space they’ve created for females. This one admits to having had an abortion; that one says she’s afraid she’ll never be kissed. Another wants to be in love with the boy she surrenders her virginity to; while the next wants her chronically-ill mother to either recover or die. And so forth.
Unfortunately, vicious rumors circulating around campus suggesting that The Sisterhood might be a coven of witches or a sex cult eventually reach the ears of the guidance counselor (Kal Penn), the principal (Gary Wilmes) and even a reporter (Brian Berrebbi) interested in writing sensational stories for the local tabloid. Will the girls stick together when it seems like everyone in town comes down on it like a ton of bricks?
Directed by Caryn Waechter, The Sisterhood of Night is a compelling cautionary tale inspired by Steven Millhauser’s short story of the same name. A daunting test of teen loyalty by an Electronic Age equivalent of a Salem witch hunt.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, suicide, sexuality and prescription drug abuse
Running time: 103 minutes
Distributor: Freestyle Digital Media
To see a trailer for The Sisterhood of Night, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeR8NLIamcE
The Girl Is in Trouble
Film Review by Kam Williams
August (Columbus Short) would have been better off rolling over and going back to sleep the fateful night he got a call at 2:30 in the morning from Signe (Alicja Bachjleda), an attractive woman he met at the nightclub where he DJs over a month ago. For, although the damsel in distress was in desperate need of a place to rest her head, she had only reached out to him after being turned down by everybody in her phone book.
Nevertheless, the Nigerian immigrant lets her crash at his crib without asking any questions when she shows up naked under her trench coat. Sparks fly, and a few compromising positions later, August is ready to bid adieu to the Swedish temptress he so easily succumbed to as a booty call.
But then he catches her trying to leave the apartment with all the cash from his wallet. And in the ensuing struggle he discovers that she has recorded what appears to be a murder on her cell phone camera.
The apparent perpetrator is Nicholas (Jesse Spencer), a spoiled-rotten rich kid-turned-drug dealer. He’s the son of a very well-connected Wall Street powerbroker who’s made a fortune off a Bernie Madoff-quality Ponzi scheme.
When August asks Signe whether the slaying on the video is real, she curtly responds, “None of your business!” That only serves to whet his curiosity, and before you know it, he finds himself being slowly sinking deeper and deeper into a veritable quicksand comprised of intrigue and innuendo.
Executive produced by Spike Lee, The Girl Is in Trouble marks the feature-length directorial debut of Julius Onah. The movie is narrated by its star, Columbus Short, in an attempt to emulate the tone of the hard-nose hero of your typical pulp fiction novel. Regrettably, that’s where any similarities to the film noir genre ends, as this predictable whodunit proves a tad too transparent for this critic to recommend.
This film is in trouble.
Fair (1 star)
Running time: 94 minutes
Distributor: E1 Entertainment
To see a trailer for The Girl Is in Trouble, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SG8uJsCYflY
Film Review by Kam Williams
Afshin Ghaffarian (Reece Ritchie) had the great misfortune of being born in Iran in the wake of the Islamist coup d’etat of 1979 which meant he was reared under a repressive religious regime which banned all the arts, from painting to poetry to playing music. So, when little Afshin began to exhibit an insatiable interest in dance as a youngster, he was warned by his mother (Nazanin Boniadi) that the activity was banned in accordance with the dictates of the nation’s authoritarian Ayotollah.
Nevertheless, she enrolled her son in the Saba Arts Academy, a fledgling studio secretly operating in the shadows. Under the tutelage of Mr. Mehdi (Makram Khoury), Afshin exhibited early promise while enjoying the freedom to express himself creatively, at least until the fateful day the place was trashed by morality police enforcing of Sharia law.
Fast-forward a decade or so and we find the promising prodigy now attending the University of Teheran but still holding fast to the impractical pipe dream of becoming a professional dancer. Along with a few curious classmates, he forms an underground company which proceeds to practice regularly in an abandoned factory loft.
Elaheh (Freida Pinto) is the only member of the modern dance club with any formal training, having been surreptitiously schooled in technique and choreography by a mother who’d been a prima ballerina prior to the fall of the Shah. Against the ominous backdrop of the burgeoning, student-led Green Revolution of 2009, Elaheh gradually forges the motley crew into a concert-quality troupe.
But between the tense political climate and the official state sanction against public performances, it looks like the idea staging a concert for an audience is out of the question. Thus unfolds Desert Dancer, an uplifting, overcoming-the-odds drama, recounting the real-life dilemma of defiant Afshin Ghaffarian and his equally-rebellious comrades.
The movie marks the absolutely splendid directorial debut of Richard Raymond who has crafted a visually-engaging spectacular with a compelling plotline leading to satisfying resolution. The story seamlessly interweaves inspired dance sequences, organized resistance and a little old-fashioned romance while touching on a litany of themes like love, loyalty, friendship and betrayal.
A must-see biopic poignantly illustrating the indomitability of the human spirit, even in the most oppressive of circumstances.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence and drug use
Running time: 98 minutes
Distributor: Relativity Media
To see a trailer for Desert Dancer, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZC3er0RuVw