Why do you call it Bombay and not Mumbai like everybody else? God, I get that all the time. I know everything has changed. My agent thought Bombay and Mumbai were two different places. What attracted me to the script for Black Gold was that I play a very forward-looking, independent Muslim woman. Miral was definitely a very big Muslim role, for obvious reasons. And intensely political—which was brought home by the murder of your co-star Juliano Mer-Khamis a few months ago.
How did the volatility of the situation affect you while you were making the movie? The way I started learning about Juliano was through his mother, Arna, who taught at the theater school that Juliano continued to run, where a lot of Palestinian children were called in to vent their frustration and their anger through arts or dance or plays. The best way to describe it is that there are people who are trying to make a difference in a very civil manner, not just by picking up a gun.
I knew the film was not going to be accepted too well, but I did it hoping that somewhere in the future it would be referred to as one of those films that started the conversation.
Could you take that consciousness away with you and apply it, for example, to India? I was upset initially. I guess everybody in India has tried really hard to do what they do and then move into the West.
I can see how it would be a bit hurtful by now. What more do you want? I guess it happens in every country. I just had to escape all of that and start by doing something that was international. It was so big for India. I saw the whole country celebrating and it felt so good. I was like, I would love to do something like that one day. Did you have to audition a lot before Slumdog came along? And I was rejected at almost every one of them.
Did you get a lot of that when you were modeling? I got it from my own agents, actually. I guess it has, actually. I like the roles that I have played to date. But Goa used to be Portuguese, so there would have been a little cultural exchange going on.
Well, you have a Portuguese name and you were raised Catholic. I also come from Bangalore, which is in the southern part of India, where you have a big Catholic population. Some of them were forced conversions by the British and Portuguese. So I may not necessarily have that kind of lineage. I could pretty much just be a Hindu from India.
I get the feeling you grew up in quite an enlightened household, probably quite bookish. Not so much, actually. My mum was academically inclined because she was the headmistress of a school, but if there was anything that really was common in the family, it was music.
My parents love Willie Nelson. And I think almost all my family members have been band members at some point in time. My sister and I were probably the only two people who did not form or join a band, though we performed at home. So would you say that you were a ham from an early age?
I was more interested in dramatics. I loved performing and putting on plays for the family—pretty much a drama queen. It was part of a joint production we did with the Ionesco play The Chairs. Did you feel that acting was your destiny at that point? But through my film I could talk about it. I cannot pick up another book or write another thesis. No, I need to do something practical and be on the run! And then I pretty much knew. I had to find a way. I had to do something like that, something completely transformational.
So modeling was one step toward that for you? Elite [modeling agency] was one step toward making pocket money so that I could be more independent. I did not particularly enjoy modeling. I felt I was only utilizing 10 or 20 percent of my abilities.
Luckily, Full Circle, the travel show happened, and I did that for nine months. Then Slumdog Millionaire happened. Where do I go from here? What if no one approaches me? The film became what it became, offers kept coming in. I imagine the actual experience of filming Slumdog must have been quite emotional. It was in my own city, in my own backyard, and I had to draw from the natural surroundings, and it made me learn and appreciate my city more.
Were you protected from it? A celebration of love! I just think it was both of us sitting in the same boat. For both Dev and me, Slumdog was our first film, and it became so massive that you had to preserve and pro- tect what you had before, that innocence, without getting sucked in.
Nothing we did was planned. As beautiful as it is, there are parts of it that just become a bit tiring to deal with.
The paparazzi, for example, and not having privacy. How could he have said that? What does that mean? We were just at Katsuya [a Japanese restaurant] in L. But in real life, as well, you two were in Cannes recently.
I would imagine it must feel lovely. I hope it feels lovely. It is definitely very lovely. But that does raise the issue about you being so busy and Dev not being so busy.
What happens in that situation? We have to deal with it. I literally did four films in eleven months and I hardly got to see him. Yes, this makes them feel much more relaxed that they know who I am with. Six films, six very distinct directors. Tell me about your education at the hands of all those directors. Julian is very nurturing as a director. He was almost like my father figure in the film, guiding me through it. Danny [Boyle], on the other hand, is intense, caring, but also very passionate.
Woody Allen will just leave you to it. I probably learned the most from him, because he was the first director who made me leave the script alone and do my own thing.
With Danny, we strictly stuck to the script. With Julian, we wrote our lines, but we had a script. Very daunting, by the way, to do a Woody Allen film as the third film in your entire career. And I guess I made the little mistake of being very nervous for the first couple of days on the set. Did you read Thomas Hardy in school? I always meant to watch the Polanski film [Tess, ], but I never got down to it.
I just have to find the time, pick up the film, and watch it. There was something very ever-green about the film in a way. And the lines were literally out of the book, so watching the film was like watching Thomas Hardy in a direct translation by Roman Polanski.
Trishna was not going to be like that, for obvious reasons. Rajasthan is hardly the same background as Tess. And Trishna is contemporary, so we had to change a lot of things around.