Very loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, Michael Winterbottom’s TRISHNA transposes the tragic romance to the vibrant, racy setting of India. Throw in some haphazard editing and a snatch of Bollywood, and the result is an attractive but baffling take on an English classic.
You don’t just have to be a fan of Hardy’s classic to be bemused by this film. Beginning in rural India, we are introduced to some raucous, excitable Brits, rolling around in their jeep and futilely trying their charms on the poor locals. Riz Ahmed’s Jay, son of a rich hotelier, is captivated by Frieda Pinto’s Trishna, a poor local, some awkward exchanges ensuing in which he makes forced chitchat and she responds with mechanical bashfulness. As the story unravels, their fling results in an abortion, which she keeps from him in shame. Thus shunned by her father, Jay offers to take her to Mumbai where they will no longer have to conceal their relationship. She obliges, and off they go, the heavy burden of her secret still weighing down upon her conscience.
… she is completely passive, merely moping at the floor as Jay’s rising demands give ‘room service’ a whole new meaning.
The film is beautifully shot. With a place as visually rich as India, it seems difficult to make the film bland. Yet somehow, there is something missing. For a start, Jay’s character is fatally inconsistent. One minute the devoted lover, next minute the repugnant sleaze, Riz Ahmed does not play the role with enough charisma or instinct to make a nonsensically written character convincing. What begins as a nice guy ends as a bad guy, with no logical progression from one to the other, and so he remains superficial. But it is Frieda Pinto’s Trishna that is most disappointing. Although derived from Tess, she has none of the resilience and wilfulness which makes the heroine so likeable. Instead she is completely passive, merely moping at the floor as Jay’s rising demands give ‘room service’ a whole new meaning.
The writing is inconsistent, the initially promising transposition losing momentum as the leads struggle to create chemistry. There are some lovely moments, such as Jay teaching Trishna how to whistle for the birds in the enclosure, peering tenderly at one another through the net prison that surrounds Trishna. However, the story is all over the place and the characters are unresolved, making TRISHNA a flawed and nonsensical mess.
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