Sep 14, 2011


Country: United Kingdom
Year: 2011
Language: English, Hindi
Runtime: 117 minutes

Reviewing this film will probably prove to be the most challenging effort of mine as a self-proclaimed film critic, simply because I feel that I will either give away too much or not say enough about it. Since I wish for you to live the same cinematic experience as I did with "Trishna", I will try my best to say as much as I can without letting you know exactly what to expect.

The story is based on one of the most celebrated pieces of literature of all time, Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the d'Ubervilles". Director Michael Winterbottom takes this classic tale and adapts it for modern audiences by changing the setting to contemporary India. Does this work? Surprisingly, it does, and this is coming from someone who hasn't ever read the novel nor seen the 1979 Academy Award winning film adaptation from Roman Polanski, "Tess".

The titular character, Trishna (Freida Pinto), is a humble, soft-spoken young woman and the eldest daughter of a poor, rural, Indian family. While working at a nearby resort to help pay the bills, she is swept off her feet by a young British businessman, Jay (Riz Ahmed), who finds himself in India to manage a hotel at the request of his father, a wealthy property developer. When Trishna's father is severely injured in an automobile accident, Jay asks her to work for him, and she shyly accepts. Their feelings for each other grow the more they spend time together. However, Trishna isn't easily torn away from her beloved family nor her traditional life nor her ambition as a dancer, and she's in for some drastic changes when she moves to Mumbai with her lover.

To be honest, I really didn't know what to expect from this film. I entered the theater only knowing two things about it: (1) the story is based on a classic novel and (2) it's set against an Indian backdrop. Never would I have guessed-- even at an hour and a half into the film-- that this simple premise would progressively turn into something a lot more shocking, to say the least (the last 10 minutes made the whole audience gasp simultaneously).

This is a unique kind of cinema that really transgresses the boundaries of conventional filmmaking with the way it develops a seemingly simple story and with the many reactions it gets out of the audience as it unfolds. I guess you could call the film a little deceiving, because it never goes in the direction you imagine it would go. But I'm not suggesting that there's a plot twist at the end, so please don't go expecting that.

What makes the ending so shocking, then? It's all due to the gradual, subtle buildup that does a great job developing the characters of Trishna and Jay as their relationship becomes increasingly odd and discomforting for the viewer. I don't know if I was alone here, but as I was watching the film, I was kind of going through what Trishna had to go through-- emotionally, of course. I believe this confirms that Freida Pinto still has what it takes to deliver a solid performance since her "Slumdog Millionaire" fame. The acting isn't anything amazing or noteworthy, but there's no denying that she does a good job in her role, despite being a little inconsistent in some scenes of dialogue between her and Riz Ahmed, the male co-star who plays Jay. He was surprisingly decent for a relatively unknown industry newcomer, but-- once again-- nothing extraordinary.

To be honest, if it weren't for this ending, the film's many flaws would be significantly more distinctive and visible for me. I just can't get over how well everything is tied together in the last few scenes. This is where Michael Winterbottom finally achieves in putting his point across; in making sense out of the film as a cohesive whole.

Apart from the unique structure and progression of the story, "Trishna" has many other memorable elements. I was particularly blown away by the beautiful, on-location shots and nearly candid cinematography that gave us a very realistic perception of life in India, and the clearly-defined division between both social classes. I loved how a great deal of non-actors were used in the production of the film (for instance, Freida Pinto claimed that her character's family was in fact a real family in rural India who cooperated with the crew).

Throughout the entire film, there's so much absorbing beauty in all the outside locations in India that you won't believe your eyes! For the mere fact that what you're seeing in the background is completely real, you should be as blown away as I was while watching the film! It's breathtaking! This exquisite imagery is backed up by a powerful original score from Mike Galasso that complements the Indian countryside and the Mumbai cityscape without ever sounding too traditional or foreign. Music plays a key role in enhancing the emotion of this particular film.

Despite all of these admirable aspects, this film is far from being perfect (though the concept of perfection is, in itself, flawed). I still question the pertinence of certain scenes in the film, as well as the strength of the narrative structure. Will "Trishna" stand the test of time? Will it live up to its original power upon multiple viewings? I'm inclined to say "no" to both of these questions, despite being very affected by this piece of cinema. It was clear that most of the audience wasn't very impressed by such avant-garde cinema, but I'm sure I wasn't the only one who admired it in so many ways. To me, this film feels like a one-time experience; an interesting artistic vision capable of marking you and staying with you for some time.

So, go ahead! Whenever you get the chance to see this film, I say "go for it!". It's something refreshingly unconventional that you might find yourself drawn by for the same reasons as me! I recommend seeing "Trishna" because of its ultimately shocking, thought-provoking nature. Come on! You have nothing to lose! (Except a small sum of money, perhaps.)

Three stars out of four.