Very much like the works of Steven Soderbergh, acclaimed British director Michael Winterbottom could not have a more expansive CV, from collaborating with Steve Coogan on 24 Hour Party People and A Cock and Bull Story, to tackling controversial subject matters with The Killer Inside Me. As a man who never stops working, he’s got a number of future projects on the line, while his third Thomas Hardy adaptation is finally released in UK cinemas.
Set in Rajasthan, India, Trishna (Freida Pinto) meets a wealthy young businessman Jay Singh (Riz Ahmed) who has come to the country to work in his father’s hotel business. As her family is having financial problems, Trishna goes to work for Jay, and soon they fall in love. Despite their feelings to one another, they cannot escape the conflicting pressure of a society rapidly changing through industrialisation, urbanisation and, above all, education.
Taking its cue from Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Winterbottom has transported Hardy’s story from its original English period setting to present-day India. Whilst Hardy’s book has been adapted many times, mostly on television, this is a cleverly fresh new take, which is, however, sadly narratively flat. As the eponymous Trishna travels across India for various different jobs and with tragedy striking during her journey, Winterbottom has a lack of focus towards most of the emotional moments, which just seem to pass by.
It’s fair to say that Winterbottom wants to see authenticity and in the case of Trishna, there are some stunning locations such as Mumbai and Jaipur, where you see ancient Indian temples and the realistic depiction of the makings of Bollywood films. It is clear that the director is more interested in the different sides of the countries than the tragic story. Special praise has to go to the music which is orchestrated by In the Mood for Love‘s Shigeru Umebayashi, along with original Hindi tracks by Amit Trivedy that are terrifically upbeat.
Despite having a star-making performance in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, it’s a shame that Indian beauty Freida Pinto can’t find any other film to support her acting; she was even outperformed by intelligent apes. Despite trying her best here, she fails as a bland protagonist. Four Lions‘ Riz Ahmed, on the other hand, is the standout as he starts off a sympathetic young ambitious man who then turns into someone very nasty, and yet he can’t save the film.
Watching Winterbottom’s latest reminded me of the last act from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which even though showed a tourist’s view of India, seeing Tom Cruise swinging around the Burj Khalifa was more fun than the authentic but unremarkable journey of Trishna.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM
STARRING: FREIDA PINTO, RIZ AHMED
RUNTIME: 108 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: UNITED KINGDOM, INDIA