It’s extremely hard to look directly into the eyes of Freida Pinto without blushing.
When I first entered the press room where Pinto was prepping for the premiere of Disney Junior’s latest animated series, Mira, Royal Detective, I couldn’t help but compliment her on her beauty, successful career, and her work for empowering women. Named by Vanity Fair as one of the most beautiful women in the world, Pinto humbly laughed off the compliments aimed at her and got serious when we began talking about her role as Disney royalty in the new series.
“I keep forgetting it’s a Disney Queen,” laughs Pinto. “It’s not just a Disney character.”
Pinto, who starred in the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is excited to be a part of this monumental series as the voice of Queen Shanti. After her agent sent her the log-line, Pinto knew this was going to be big and knew she had to be a part of it.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Pinto. “Yes, let’s do it! Because this should have happened 20 or 30 years ago, when I was growing up. Why did I not get Mira, Royal Detective growing up?”
Set in the India-inspired fictional land of Jalpur, Mira, Royal Detective tells the story of a commoner, Mira (Leela Ladnier), who is appointed to the role of royal detective by the Queen. With the help of her friends, Mira will stop at nothing to solve a case. The series marks the first South Asian-based animated show for Disney, which is a huge deal for the South Asian American community.
Pinto is just really happy that the series is about South Asians and the characters are voiced by South Asians. After the controversy surrounding Apu (voiced by Hank Azaria) from The Simpsons, Pinto wanted to be sure that Indian characters would be played by Indians and not fall into a stereotype.
“I was not asked to do the show in an ‘Apu’ voice,” Pinto said. “I was not asked to do Indian head-nods. The animated characters are not stereotypical the way Indians and South Asians have been portrayed in American television and film for so many years, including British television and film. I kind of feel like this is a real breakaway from that kind of typical stereotyping. Quite often, when there is an Indian character — Apu for example — they would actually bring in someone else who is not even Indian to voice it and make them speak in an Indian accent. I’m sorry, we don’t talk like that. It’s very offensive and it needed to stop. It is stopping. There is no more Apu. Now, we are going to have Mira, Royal Detective. Let’s bring in the real deal.”
Not only are the actors of South Asian descent, but also the creative team behind the camera. That was what really sold her to the series. With the writers room consisting of several of people of Indian descent and cultural consultants, Pinto was assured that the story would be told authentically.
“The thing that was a big deal for me was that they were not shying away from using the real words that were used to describe food or clothing or festivals like Holi,” Pinto shared. “[It’s] really understanding why Holi is celebrated. None of the writers in the room were shying away from telling the truth. I feel that is what is going to be truly successful about the show because it’s sincere. I feel that’s when a lot of the Desi kids living in America are going to be ‘oh yeah, every time we celebrate Holi or Diwali, our American friends don’t exactly understand what is going on and now they do’ because there is a show that kind of sets a backdrop for it.”
Pinto was also excited that the show talks about Indian food. When she first arrived in America and the UK, all she heard from people about Indian food was curry.
“That’s not the only thing we eat!” Pinto exclaimed.
The series touches on one of Pinto’s favorite desserts — Ladu. Typically made of flour, fat, and sugar, Ladu is a sweet dessert that Pinto describes as “little balls of diabetes.”
“I’m glad they did not change it to candy or something else to make Americans feel like ‘oh, we’re trying to talk about sugary stuff,’” Pinto laughed. “They actually stuck to the actual food. So I think the food part and the clothing part really was the part that made me nostalgic.”
Pinto hopes that Indians and Indian Americans will feel seen with Mira, Royal Detective, especially seeing the cast and creative team reflecting South Asian culture. She also wants it to be known that kids who aren’t South Asian could also feel seen and heard with characters like Mira and Prince Neel. The themes and lessons are universal for everyone.
“Themes of problem solving, being intelligent and empowered, being kind, celebrating together, family — I think all of these themes that are universally understood by all of us,” said Pinto.
When asked if we would hear Pinto sing a tune or so for future episodes, Pinto laughed nervously, “No. I’ll let the other experts do it. Listen, I’m happy to sing a line or two. Not sing a whole song. Leela [Ladnier] is great at it. Let her do this please.”
Mira, Royal Detective premieres on March 20 on Disney Junior.