“Trishna” could be the film that Michael Winterbottom has been working towards throughout his restlessly prolific 20-year career. After labouring over big-budget adaptations of Thomas Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure” and “The Mayor of Casterbridge”, he slipped the studios’ yokes for the freedom to shoot on-the-hoof indie films with improvised dialogue and real-life locations, including last year’s twisted gastro-travelogue for the BBC, “The Trip”.
On “Trishna”, those two approaches come together to remarkable effect. The film is based on another of Hardy’s novels, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, but set in contemporary India, which Winterbottom sees as analogous to late-19th-century England. The dizzyingly beautiful Freida Pinto (above left) from “Slumdog Millionaire” stars as an innocent country lass from Rajasthan who is whisked away to the bright lights of Mumbai by a silver-tongued Anglo-Indian hotelier’s son, Riz Ahmed (“Four Lions”), an amalgam of the book’s two male leads, Alec and Angel. Despite the liberties taken with the text, “Trishna” is recognisably Hardy’s tragedy of male condescension.
But Winterbottom’s footage of genuine locals going about their daily lives gives it the immediacy and naturalism of a fly-on-the-wall documentary. And bleak as the story may be, the sun-baked temples and deserts could just entice as many tourists to the north of India as “The Trip” did to the north of England.
Trishna is released in Britain on March 9th and in America on July 13th