Trishna review

Pinto gives her best performance to date in Winterbottom's India-set drama. The versatile director has coaxed a very good turn from her that holds the narrative together in the most difficult way. The title role she plays is a docile one, always subservient to the men in her life. Pinto plays the passivity of the character to perfection but this very passivity instills frustration in the viewer. You long for her to develop some backbone. Especially as it is not until the very end that she registers a quiet, surprising force.
But one doesn't want to spoil it for you by giving anything away as to how this is displayed. The plot actually plays second fiddle to the sights and sounds of Rajasthan and Mumbai, two vastly different regions in the subcontinent. In the former, Trishna lives with her impoverished family and works for her poor father. Uneducated, her shy but radiantly beautiful demeanour attracts casual and likeable Jay (Ahmed), who arranges for her to to work at a hotel. A relationship develops and soon the smart young couple move to the latter where the change in lifestyle is an awakening to her. The bustling energy of Mumbai and the creative people she meets there slowly draw her out of her shell. But not quite enough. Jay is still in command and the hold he has over her manifests itself more acutely when again they move so he can oversee another hotel.   
This is Winterbottom's third reworking of a Thomas Hardy novel. It's not as pungent as Jude but way better than The Claim, a remarkably slow and tedious affair. There isn't much pace in Trishna either but the richness of India is compelling, drawing you into the plot with patient skill. The director has a very keen eye and knows how to get the best out of his locations. The film ambles along therefore when perhaps it should be tighter, but the central relationship is well delineated. The two leads play off each other with a natural rhythm - some of the dialogue is improvised - and Ahmed is impressive in subtly showing the upper hand in their relationship, his amiability becoming less sympathetic as the tale unfolds. Veteran actor Roshan Seth, so good as Pandit Nehru in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi 30 years ago, contributes an agreeable turn as Jay's blind father.
Trishna is a fine movie, ponderous but powerful, beautifully filmed and very evocative in bringing the subcontinent to life. It takes its time but is eminently satisfying in its own caring and thoughtful way. Recommended.

Trishna at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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