Movie Review - Trishna

Riz Ahmed and Freida Pinto in "Trishna"
This is writer-director Michael Winterbottom's third adaptation of a Thomas Hardy novel. Winterbottom adapts Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), but instead of setting the story in the 19th century, the filmmaker has it take place in present-day India, which given societal mores in present-day India, it's not that much of a stretch to transfer the gender and cultural issues from the book. It's not much of a stretch, but it is a stretch and because Winterbottom chooses to leave out certain events from the book, I don't buy the ending.

I probably would have bought the ending if Winterbottom hadn't been ambiguous about a moment right before it. Maybe he's not ambiguous, but because he cuts away without showing us the rest of a scene, I felt that the moment was ambiguous about what happens. It might be a spoiler, but the moment that's ambiguous is most likely a rape.

Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire and Miral) stars as Trishna, a young woman, probably only 18, living with her family in rural India. She works at a Temple where she meets Jay Singh, played by Riz Ahmed (Four Lions and Road to Guantanamo). Jay is the son of a hotel magnate in India. Jay becomes immediately smitten with Trishna and pursues her, eventually offering her a job at his father's hotel in Jaipur, the tenth largest city in India with a population of that of Chicago.

Because of unfortunate circumstances that render Trishna's father unable to work, Trishna takes the job. The way things go, I assumed that this movie would end up being what I wished The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel should have been, which is a better exploration of Indian culture as clashing with more western or European culture. Jay seems like he has Indian heritage, but unlike Trishna he doesn't speak Hindi and feels like he might have been raised in England perhaps.

Jay is treated like a prince when he's at the hotel, obviously because he's the boss' son. Jay seems very privileged, entitled and possibly born with a silver spoon in his mouth. This is in contrast to Trishna who comes from a dirt poor background. This contrast is used to great effect as you watch Trishna and Jay's relationship play out initially. It works for a time but then it hits a wall.

Trishna is shown a world and is given opportunities that she never would have had if she'd never met Jay, so a kind of dependency is formed. Early on, she is turned off or at least runs away from him because she becomes almost scared of him. Yet, she goes back to him and it's an easy guess as to why, but as the movie goes on, his behavior toward her becomes more controlling, more domineering, more aggressive and rougher. As his behavior escalates, it becomes a harder guess as to why Trishna stays and why she doesn't leave him again.

Her character reminded me of Waris Dirie, the real-life Somalian girl who is the center of the British film Desert Flower (2011). Except, what happens to Waris is arguably worse than what happens to Trishna, but Waris breaks away stronger, whereas Trishna is the opposite. She's weaker in a sense and I don't think Winterbottom or Pinto's performance properly conveys the arc of that that is believable. It might be more believable if the story remained in the 19th century but in the 21st century, it rings untrue.

The film is beautiful. Not only are Pinto and Ahmed two very beautiful human beings but India and its two cities that this movie inhabits, Jaipur and Bombay, are absolutely beautiful. Winterbottom's camera absolutely captures his two actors and their environments in all their glories. It then builds to an absolutely ugly moment. I'm not sure that despite its ugliness if it's meant to be an empowering moment for the character or simply a psychotic break.

The reason I'm not sure is because the audience or at least I didn't know if the scene that precedes it depicts a rape or not. I suppose it could be interpreted as a rape. There is a rape in the book, but it's not clear here. Knowing it definitively helps to understand Trishna's motivation. Without it, it's like Winterbottom leaves us alone and out in the desert.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexuality, some violence, drug use and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 53 mins.


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