By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
U.K.-born director Michael Winterbottom made his reputation with films covering an amazingly wide gamut, from lavish historical dramas to digital video productions with non-actors. But he’s always held a fondness for the English novelist Thomas Hardy.
Winterbottom’s first Hardy adaptation, “Jude,” starring Kate Winslet, won him wide recognition.
His second film, “The Claim,” bombed at the box office and left the director frostbitten from shooting in the wilds of northern Canada. His latest film “Trishna,” set in the Indian cities of Jaipur and Mumbai, tackles another Hardy work with a boldly transplanted setting and a stunning cast of young Indian players.
“Trishna” takes its underlying story from Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles.” Its action starts with a young girl, Trishna, played by Freida Pinto, who hails from a small village. She makes the acquaintance of the dashing Jay Singh, played by Riz Ahmed, son of a prominent businessman. Jay, like many of his peers, has an English education, an English accent, and lavish, carefree, and English-inspired ways. He soon falls for the beautiful Trishna, who is happy to have a boyfriend and happy to have a rich one.
But their quick and easy happiness masks a deep gulf between their attitudes and beliefs. Jay has grown up having everything handed to him on a silver platter and sees no reason, at first, why that should ever come to an end. He doesn’t realize that his own father (Roshan Seth) has plans for him, and that they involve hard work. Trishna, for her part, grew up taking nothing for granted. Her struggles to survive have left her with a hard resolve, but that resolve sometimes blinds her to what goes on around her.
Freida Pinto came to prominence playing Latika in the international filmed-in-India blockbuster “Slumdog Millionaire.” She is currently the highest-paid Indian actress in Hollywood, according to the Indian Broadcasting Network. However, she notes that her role in “Trishna” required her to learn Indian country ways, including lessons in milking a cow. She succeeds in embodying Trishna as a beautiful young woman with a beautiful, open soul, but she also captures the harshness of country life, the desperation that creates the cold resolve under her character’s surface.
Riz Ahmed hails from London, but his parents are native Urdu-speakers from India. His English upbringing allowed him to cover the accents and manners of his character. To make his “Trishna” come to life on the big screen, though, he had to follow a complex path of shifting emotions. Ahmed did so naturally and with great conviction, using his posture and his impressive wide eyes to convey growing uncertainty.
Director Winterbottom, in collaboration with his editor Mags Arnold, also sets up a distinct set of visual rhythms for the film. Each major shift in the tone of the story gets its own distinctive pace, moving slower and languidly, for the periods of pleasure, and ramping up anxiety with faster, shorter takes. By late in the film, the actors are almost running in place against the frantic pace of the cuts.
“Trishna” reaffirms Winterbottom’s love affair with Hardy’s work, but demonstrates that he can always find a fresh way of approaching his novels. The film uses its Indian setting, but it focuses, at its core, on the never-changing essentials of human longing and human misunderstanding. (end)
“Trishna” opens Friday, July 20th, at various theatres around Seattle. Check local listings for prices and showtimes.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.