Mumbai core – Trishna review

TrishnaStarring Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Plotting the trajectory of writer-director Michael Winterbottom‘s career is like playing connect-the-dots with blood spatter. However, as any forensic investigator knows, you can find patterns in even the most Jackson Pollock-esque of stains. Though he veers wildly from genre to genre with every subsequent project, there are recurring themes and styles that he returns to. Winterbottom has explored the darker side of sexuality, experimented with naturalism, taken on politically incendiary subjects, flirted frequently with rock and roll, and, on three separate occasions, collaborated in a semi-improvisational nature with English comic Steve Coogan.

His latest, Trishna, is a modern-day retelling of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and marks his third adaptation of a Thomas Hardy novel. The 19th century English class struggle has been transplanted to India, where the caste system remains intact. Winterbottom uses it as a platform to deploy some of his favourite subjects; sexuality, violence, and inequality, particularly between men and women. That doesn’t exactly make for pleasant viewing, unlike his hilarious, surprisingly thoughtful, and endlessly rewatchable prior flick, The Trip. Still, it’s an interesting twist on an oft-told tale.

Freida Pinto (long deserving of an opportunity to show off her talents since Slumdog Millionaire) stars in the eponymous lead role; a lower-class young woman upon whom her entire family relies when her domineering father injures himself in a car accident. Her best chance at providing for all her younger siblings comes from a flirtatious English expat, Jay Singh (Riz Ahmed), who offers her a job in his dad’s hotel. Their relationship gradually escalates, and the two flee to the bustling city of Mumbai, where they can live as equals. But when a revelation regarding their first fling bubbles to the surface, Jay’s perception of Trishna is altered irrevocably. He devolves from a progressive thinker to a classist and misogynist, whose treatment of Trishna will have disastrous effects on both of their families.

Pinto and Ahmed’s performances are nicely calibrated, and they handle the transition from star-crossed lovers to bizarro Romeo and Juliet well. Marcel Zyskind’s cinematography is also suitably attuned to Winterbottom’s rhythm, which quick-changes from naturalistic to heightened at any moment; perfect for the extremes of India’s setting (let’s call it ‘Mumbai core’). The film as a whole is nicely understated – if perhaps a little underwhelming – and will surely be kibble for the director’s fans. There are times, however, when Trishna feels like a Five Obstructions-esque experiment, such is the way in which Winterbottom has worked in his recurring motifs (stylistic and thematic). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just an attempt at an explanation for the distance and disconnect between the tragedy of what’s happening on screen and my own lack of an emotional response.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Trishna arrives in Australian cinemas May 10, 2012.

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