(Freida Pinto) is a young woman living with her large family, who meets Jay (Riz Ahmed), a son of a hotel owner who offers her a job after an accident leaves her father unable to provide the family. She starts working at the hotel and forms a bond with Jay, but things start turning sour when the two move, making each other unhappy and leading to dark times indeed.
Michael Winterbottom is not one of the country’s most “famous” directors; he doesn’t attract quite the kind of attention that Ridley Scott or a Danny Boyle do, but in terms the quantity and variety offered by his filmography, there are few in this country who can touch him. Working in virtually all genres be it drama, sci-fi or in the case of the infamous 9 Songs hardcore pornography, he is a jack of all trades and at some occasions proves to be a master. Last year, he unleashed Trishna, a highly unusual sounding take on Tess of the D’ubervilles with a very different location and a cast you may not expect. Starring Frieda Pinto, still most well known for Slumdog Millionaire, it sees Winterbottom take on another unusual adaptation of a book but feels like it was largely ignored.
It’s not often that a literary adaptation starts with speeding cars bombing down a road with Kasabian on the stereo but such is Trishna, a film which sets out to be somewhat unexpected from the off and continues in this manner. I was also overwhelmed by something I didn’t anticipate by the time I finished watching the film, a feeling I don’t often get – one of hate. I loathed Trishna and there are many reasons for this.
It is key to mention that I have never read and am not that familiar with the source material, though I can see the general throughline of the story which has been adapted here. I’m sure the major plot machinations which fill the book are reproduced here but in adapting it, things have been clearly done which felt at best inane, at worst insulting.
One of the main offenders is what can essentially be boiled down to ‘Slumdog Millionaire Syndrome’, a need by the filmmaker to essentially paint the various places of India as beautiful and mystical. Done in small doses this is absolutely fine, as it adds a sense of flavour and character and for the earlier parts of the film I was perfectly fine with this. But as it continued it became clear that this was being done as much to fill screentime as much as anything else. The film began to take lesiurely jaunts through what felt potential holiday destinations for some viewerss but ultimately felt like major padding in a film that is not exactly short in the first place.
Worse than this though are the character arcs afforded to Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed, who have proven in the past that they can both act but here are given roles which make them seem far worse than they really are. Trishna herself is a character with only cursory depth, she’s a good family girl who’s been put upon all her life and doesn’t seem to be able to break the cycle, and when she does it proves devastating. The first half of the film essentially sees her being eyed up by Riz Ahmed and saying “yes sir” a lot, before a second half where we are made to watch her get ever more miserable. It’s about as much fun for the viewer as it is for the character, and made even worse because there’s only surface depth to her character. It’s almost impossible to muster up any kind of sympathy about the situation. Riz Ahmed’s arc is nothing short of a disaster, his character turning from nice guy to scumbag without any sense of continuity, the frustrations of his character getting barely sketched out by the increasingly on-the-nose dialogue and a penchant for laying down on sofas.
With a first half which is unoriginal, vapid and boring and a second one which seems to be Winterbottom essentially daring the viewer not to switch off, Trishna is one of the worst films I’ve seen this year and certainly the worst I’ve seen from Winterbottom. A misfire on pretty much every level and one to be avoided.
The film comes to DVD with a 2.35:1 transfer which looks very nice – the picture is a little soft but the image is bright and vivid and comes from a clean source. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also solid with some decent ambient sound design leading to a lived in surround track which while never demanding to be turned up loud does create an involving soundscape regardless. The DVD comes with a few extras including the trailer, two short interviews with Michael Winterbottom and Riz Ahmed, with some discussion about the casting of Pinto, shooting without much of a script and how India feels like the England of when the novel ‘s setting in terms of the space between tradition and industrial revolution. Lastly, there are a few deleted scenes which don’t add all that much to anything.
Obviously I don’t recommend this, but the video and audio are solid and there are at least some extras.