Film review: Trishna

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Jen Perry is presently completing her Honours year in German at the University of Western Australia, and was on the student-editing committee for Trove; a multimedia creative arts journal from 2010 to 2011.

The opinions expressed in Trove are those of individual contributors and not those of the editoral committee or the steering committee (as editorial advisers) or UWA.

Still from the film Trishna

Reviewed by Jen Perry

Edited by Carol Ryles

Film: Trishna
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Running time: 108 minutes
Year of release: 2011
Language: English and Hindi

Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna, a spin on the classic Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, is about a rural Indian woman, Trishna, and her transformation into lover and eventual courtesan by the hands of wealthy hotel owner Jay. This adaptation is shrewdly staged in present-day India, whose social caste system closely resembles Hardy’s Victorian England.

The materially poor but emotionally wealthy Trishna stands in stark contrast to the Oxford-educated Jay, whose professions of admiration and offers of employment represent the opportunity for more than either Trishna or her family had ever dreamed of.

(Warning: spoilers in following paragraph)

Unfortunately, Winterbottom’s screenplay suffers from a sluggish pace and an acute lack of character development. In Tess, Hardy created a strong and independent protagonist, whose intellect and beauty placed her in between social times. Trishna fails to capture this spirit.

Freida Pinto breathes little life into her character, exaggerating the subservient Indian maiden archetype until the confusing dénouement, when she violently rejects her victimhood, causing me to wonder where this interesting character had been for the previous hundred minutes.

Jay, portrayed by Riz Ahmed, is a paradox because of Winterbottom’s decision to amalgamate him from two very separate characters. Although he clearly harbours feelings for Trishna, his characterisation from lovesick puppy to abject monster is so underdeveloped that the story becomes somewhat absurd. This is coupled by the fact that very little is known about Jay except his family’s wealth and his preferential vocation as music producer.

The tagline for Trishna’s poster asks us how far we would go for love, but Winterbottom’s film has less to do with this and more to do with obsession and possession. Trishna’s fascination with Jay blossoms due to her dreams of providing for her family rather than a deep and abiding yearning. Jay’s continual pursuit of Trishna is a reflection of his spoiled upbringing and the desire to have his cake and eat it too. And while interesting in theory, the film fails to sufficiently explore these thematic implications.

I recommend seeing Trishna only if you’re a fan of Hardy’s work as Winterbottom’s successful choice of landscape provides ample food for thought. For those of you who aren’t, save the cost of a movie ticket and read the book instead. Trishna begins Thursday May 10th at Luna Leederville and Luna on SX.

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