Freida Pinto’s TRISHNA Arrives On DemandJuly 26, 2012
On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: TRISHNA (Sundance Selects).
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Tess of the d’Urbervilles as told through a contemporary Indian lens….
By Cynthia Kane
It’s not long into TRISHNA that you recognize a familiar story. Michael Winterbottom’s rift on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles is just that: a rift on a well-known, classic tale of doomed love. It doesn’t exactly follow Hardy’s acclaimed novel or any of its screen adaptations specifically, but it is what it is. And it works for the most part.
I will go to any length to see a film by Michael Winterbottom. At 51, he’s prolific as they come, directing something like 17 films in 15 years, each one as completely different in tone, style, sensibility. Recent titles include A MIGHTY HEART with Angelina Jolie as Marianne Pearl based on her memoir about her husband, journalist Daniel Pearl gone missing in Pakistan, THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, a documentary based on the Naomi Klein book of the same name, THE TRIP, a funny, fragile and delicious filmic journey with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, originally a 6 part series for British television that was released theatrically here in the U.S. and THE KILLER INSIDE ME, an controversial adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel with Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba.
My favorite Winterbottom film, however, is a lesser known work, IN THIS WORLD, a story of two Afghani cousins stowing away illegally to get to a supposed better life in the UK. A documentary-styled fiction, there are no stars but a deeply rich and moving saga that stays with you long after.
It’s as if he needs to challenge himself to not do the same thing twice.
He has adapted other Thomas Hardy novels for the screen, JUDE based on Jude the Obscure in 1996 with a young Kate Winslet and Christopher Ecclestone (an actor in my opinion we don’t see nearly enough of), then THE CLAIM in 2000 was based on Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge with Mila Jovovich, Peter Mullan and Wes Bentley. Three times adapted – in vastly varying ways - tells me Winterbottom likes the guy and his books.
Freida Pinto / TRISHNA (Sundance Selects)
But it is a loose adaptation, a deviation of sorts on the novel. Shot in Jaipur and in Mumbai early last year, this is the story of a beautiful, but impoverished, young woman, Trishna who’s been sent out into the world to work and support her parents and many brothers and sisters. Freida Pinto, who rose to international fame with SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE plays the title role. By chance she meets a rich, good -looking British-bred guy, Jay (Riz Ahmed – British actor and rapper, known for THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO, yes, another Winterbottom film) who’s come to work in India for his father’s hotel business, and not by choice. He lusts for Trishna, becomes obsessed with her. In turn she falls in love with him.
She’s a traditional girl, rural, smart, but uneducated in the ways of the world. And she’s decent. She’s a heroine caught between a hard but simple life of daily labor and modern, moneyed leisure, two spheres with disparate moral and social strictures. Winterbottom has stated, "So I thought, 'Maybe if we set it here, in some ways, we can be more faithful and more authentic to the ideas and the spirit of Hardy than to make a more literal adaptation.'"
But Jay and his urban, modern ways is not so decent. One might ask, is it even possible in real life today? He wants what he wants and goes to any lengths to get it. Because he is waelthy, privileged, and why not?
This is not the best Winterbottom you’ll ever see. The plot becomes circuitous as we follow Trishna back to her village after a night where she loses her virginity to Jay and becomes pregnant by him, then follows him to Bombay and then back eventually to the hotel in Rajasthan. Jay’s character is the most problematic element as he encompasses both Hardy characters, Angel Clare and the wealthy Alec D’Urberville thus coming off a bit schizophrenic as he’s at once deeply in love with Trishna, then found debasing her in the cruelest of ways. She represents an impoverished, uneducated India caught in the past; he, the global, fast-paced modern country of wealth, consumerism and greed.
One could only wish our heroine had the chops to embolden herself, to find some deep-seeded strength and roots of feminism. That might propel this tragic tale into the present and turn a tragic ending around. Or is that my idealistic feminist soul wanting something new and fresh? In Bombay, we see Trishna’s talents as a dancer unfold with potential to break out in her beloved Bollywood, a wild dream-some-true for any country girl. But when Jay snaps his fingers, she follows. And we never quite understand in this modern adaptation why.
Despite the dearth of melodrama and some glaring holes in the storyline, the performances are remarkable. Pinto is stunning to look at, so easy to watch and believe her on a innate emotional level. Riz Ahmed is equally strong (and equal in good-looks to Pinto) as he straddles the inexplicable, diverse sides of his character. In lesser hands, this could have been a disaster. Here amidst flaws, we still are drawn in, a perfectly watchable film in a colorful and complicated ancient land.
Cinematography is top-notch and takes in the rich, extraordinary, vivid landscape that is India.
- Cynthia Kane
Cynthia Kane reviews documentaries for On Demand Weekly. She is a writer and Sr Programming Manager for [ ITVS], overseeing the International Initiative for funding in their SF office. Prior she’s had many incarnations from actor to writer to producer. She co-created DOCday on Sundance Channel.
TRISHNA (Sundance Selects) can be found under your cable system's On Demand section.
Read Other Reviews By Cynthia Kane:
CHELY WRIGHT: WISH ME AWAY - DEMAND IT
POLISSE - DEMAND IT
CORPO CELESTE - DEMAND IT
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN - DEMAND IT
FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD - DEMAND IT
MARLEY - DEMAND IT