Michael Winterbottom, the director of 24 Hour Party People, has taken his cameras to India to shoot Trishna, a modern adaption of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’. The film stars Slumdog Millionaire actress Frieda Pinto, as Trishna, and Four Lions actor, Riz Ahmed, as Jay, her rich lover.
Pinto plays a meek girl from Rajasthan who is easily influenced and manipulated. She is convinced by Mr. Charming, Jay, to escape from rural life despite her family’s reliance on her income. The romantic life that leads at first seems sweet, but behind closed doors, it manifests into rampant sex. We come to see Trishna at her most passive, as Jay begins to delve into erotica, which leaves tears rolling down the young actress’ face.
Jay can teach Trishna how to whistle and he does save her from two men in a back-alley, but we can never interpret him. Neither can Trishna. After Trishna confesses the abortion of Jay’s baby, we see the fear in her eyes, and the rustling of popcorn in the cinema stops. Jay tries to remain calm but the tone of his voice reveals a deep agitation from within. The rent for Trishna soon terminates, which leads us to question if Jay is behind it. Jay’s character is the strongest in the film as his portrayal constantly shifts from hero to villain.
The cinematography of the settings are stunning. Some provide lots of colour, whereas others focus on building rooftops. We even catch glimpses of busy streets with monkeys carrying their babies across washing lines. Trishna takes us to many different places and each place gives the protagonist a different way of life. In rural settings we see her labour in a sandy dessert, whereas in towns she’s treated like a famous dancer. The variety of the film gives the overall piece a lot of substance for replay value.
What lets down the picture are the sub-plots that don’t progress. We see one shady antagonist offer Trishna a huge sum of money to become a dancer. She naively agrees but before any conflict can arise, Trishna immigrates once again. The same can be said about other well-rounded characters. A character referred to as a ‘diva’ boasts charisma and has the potential for conflict, but is soon left behind. We feel a loss because we know these characters could have been used for so much more.
However, regardless of these plot flaws, the film progresses smoothly because of the directorial decision to take in the settings and use slow dialogue to capture the subtleties. The slow pace works well because we have time to question the ambiguous dialogue of the antagonists, as well as time to ask ourselves what twist could occur next. This tension escalates into a deadly finale that makes the film great. Bollywood romance has never looked so different.