Film Review: Trishna

Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna is an update of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, with a shifted perception. Adapting the story to fit a modeern Indian society is an interesting idea, but not entirely satisfying.

Travelling around India with his British friends, Jai meets Trishna. Finding her attractive, Jai offers Trishna a job at his father’s hotel in Jaipur when her family falls on hard times. Although Jai and Trishna’s friendship begins to develop into something more, their differences in circumstance means that there is a divide…

The drama of Trishna works well for the most part, although the title character can be frustrating to watch at times. The opening scene between Jai and his friends is poorly scripted and badly acted. Thankfully the film improves after this. Some of the interactions between Jai and Trishna are sweet, while others are effectively uncomfortable.

The chain of events in Trishna plays out unevenly. For a significant period, Jai is portrayed a certain way. Therefore when the change in his character occurs, it happens unnaturally quickly. The ending also feels quite rushed because of this. Trishna is less clear cut than its source material in attributing blame. Without being privy to what happens in the pivotal scene that takes place on the night of the wedding, it is difficult to appraise Jai’s persona. His character remains much more ambiguous than the one he is based on.

Music is used in the film effectively, although subtitling some of the lyrics did not seem necessary. The Bollywood segue felt out of place in the film. These scenes served no greater purpose to the narrative and felt surplus to requirements. Freida Pinto is suitably docile as Trishna, while Riz Ahmed has given better performances previously.

Trishna is interesting in that it depicts a middle ground in India, and not just the two extremes of opulence and poverty. However, the film is not one of the better examples of a contemporary adaptation of a classic.

Trishna is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.