Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Stars: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Roshan Seth.
As a filmmaker, Michael Winterbottom is certainly prolific and eclectic, and he rarely repeats himself. His films include the sexually provocative and confronting 9 Songs, the clever Tristram Shandy A Cock And Bull Story, the beguiling sci-fi thriller Code 46, The Trip, 24 Hour Party People and the brutal noir-like thriller The Killer Inside Me. However, his films are often interesting, but offer something of a mixed bag in terms of consistency.
With his latest film Trishna, Winterbottom has reworked Thomas Hardy’s Tess of The D’Urbervilles, and transplanted the classic tale of love and lust and tragedy from its rustic Victorian England setting to the teeming subcontinent today. Winterbottom turns an outsider’s eye on India and its culture, traditions, gender politics and outdated attitudes, especially its caste system, which plays a big part in the tragedy. The India that Winterbottom shows us is a marked contrast to that on display in the recent The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This is Winterbottom’s third adaptation of a Hardy novel, following Jude and The Claim, which reworked The Mayor Of Casterbridge in a western setting. He remains reasonably faithful to Hardy’s story of one woman whose life is destroyed by a combination of love, class and circumstances.
Transplanting Hardy’s classic tale to India may have seemed an inspired touch, as its themes of class, love, betrayal and lust are universal and timeless. Winterbottom draws a parallel between Tess’s plight in the novel and the double standard concerning the behaviour of men and women in modern day India.
The film stars Freida Pinto (from Slumdog Millionaire, etc) as the eponymous tragic heroine, the beautiful eldest daughter of a poor rickshaw driver from a small village in Rajasthan. It follows her torrid relationship with Jay (Riz Ahmed, from Four Lions, The Road To Guantanamo, etc), the spoiled, well-educated, rich but cruel son of a hotel magnate. He first sees her dancing for tourists in a luxury hotel and is instantly attracted to her. After an accident destroys her father’s Jeep, Trishna goes to work for Jay. An aspiring film producer, he uses his position of power to seduce her and a torrid sexual relationship develops.
Jay goes to Mumbai, where he hopes to pursue his film career. However, after she makes an intimate confession, their relationship hits a rough patch. Jay becomes increasingly distant and cruel, and the film ventures into some darker territory. Frustrated and ultimately hurt by his actions Trishna is forced into a desperate situation.
In one of the more mature roles of her career to date Pinto brings a hint of vulnerability to her performance. Unfortunately, her performance is a little too bland and wooden to make us really care about her character. Ahmed brings some charm to his performance, but his character is actually a composite of both the smug Angel Clare and the suave, rich Alex d’Urberville from the novel, and is ultimately too unsympathetic.
As is often the case in Winterbottom’s films, much of the dialogue is improvised and occasionally seems a little clunky. Winterbottom uses India’s stunning locations to good effect, and regular cinematographer Marcel Zyskind’s hand held camerawork is vivid and rich. The sweeping and evocative score from Amit Trevedi and Shigeru Umebayashi adds to the film, and even brings a hint of Bollywood to the material.
Ultimately though Winterbottom’s direction is a little too heavy handed, and there is a coldness to the film. There is something vaguely disappointing about Trishna that will keep audiences at a distance from its emotional core.