Trishna – Review

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Trishna is a modern take on Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Ubervilles from Director Michael Winterbottom set in modern day India. Luckily (or not) I have read (the majority) of the novel and I have to say I found it a bit tiresome – it couldn’t hold my attention, primarily I think because I found I had almost no sympathy with the character of Tess (renamed Trishna and played by Freida Pinto in this movie) despite the myriad of adversity set against her.

Moving the film’s setting from 19th century rural England to modern day Rajasthan (and for a brief period Mumbai) has merit; there still exists a fairly obvious class system, changing industrial landscape, and growing education system so the story fits. I almost want to simplify this review by saying what we watch is a perfectly lovely, innocent girl’s descent into becoming the live in prostitute for the son of a wealthy Hotel businessman. For the most part that’s a fairly accurate statement, this is a tragedy, but it’s a mixed deal.

I felt like I was watching two movies, the first half is an almost sweet story of a young girl, Trishna, and a young man, Jay, meeting each other and falling in love. She’s naive and innocent and he whisks her away, gives her a job, and ultimately moves her into the modern world of Mumbai where he’s trying to become a movie producer. It’s not all hearts and candy, it’s a little gritty and real – helped in part by the style – which I’ll go into shortly – and perhaps there’s a sense of foreboding, but this first part is relatively enjoyable. But then things get decidedly more ‘rapey’, culminating in what is probably the most disturbing lap dance sequence set to a Portishead song that’s ever been committed to film. Swiftly followed by murder and finally suicide.

The style of the movie probably doesn’t help; it’s shot in a very flat documentary style. It’s un-romanticised and simple – it doesn’t show any stereotypical dazzling lights and colours of a ‘celluloid’ version of modern India instead it is (I imagine) an accurate picture of modern living. This realism isn’t a bad thing on it’s own, but combined with a slow pace and even slower story progression the viewer isn’t exactly glued to the screen.

At several points large sections of time move forward quite fast in quick cut montages and when this is happening in the first act it serves to portray a story of young love. In the second half of the movie it shows the rapidity with which the character of Jay changes into a pattern of abuse against Trishna. There are moments where Frieda Pinto’s acting nails the subservient naive young woman, but largely she’s just a little too stiff and Riz Ahmed’s Jay delivers more than a few lines with a kind of stilted awkwardness as if he’s reading them from behind the camera.

When I try to work out if I enjoyed Trishna I can’t come up with a clear answer – which probably means I didn’t really. There are moments where it dragged me in and held my attention, after a slow start the burgeoning love story of the two leads is compelling, but then there are moments where I just wanted to pick up the characters and shake them. We sit and watch as they spiral and refuse to help themselves out of a mess of their own creation. Perhaps it’s just the slow pace of the movie or the flat documentary style but I just don’t feel for either of them – but this is the problem I had with the novel. Even though this is a very freely adapted take on that novel (and I do mean VERY), I just didn’t really care for Trishna by the time she was sitting on the verge of suicide.

As a separate mark against the film, it ends with a fade to white at that point of suicide and I’m really not a fan of slow fade out’s.

If you’re the kind of person who goes to the cinema for a light comedy or perhaps an action adventure sex-plosion avoid this. If you like a slow paced, considered movie, exploring aspects of human tension then this is probably your thing, but even then it disappoints.

5 out of 10 – It gets some points for the first part of the movie where the characters hadn’t become deplorable shells of human beings.

Trishna opens March 9 in select theatres.

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