I went on Tuesday to see Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna at the London Film Festival. I had read one or two reviews but, as it was a movie about a country I’m particularly curious about and was directed by a man that I kind of adore, I decided to keep my fingers of the keyboard and practice p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e (not easy to do for a restless beast like me).
The movie presents the tragic love story between a young, wealthy British-Indian man, Jay (Riz Ahmed) and a beautiful, yet poor Indian woman, Trishna (Freida Pinto). Their love blossoms when they leave countryside for Mumbai, where they can live as a couple. Yet life circumstances and their own actions drive them apart.
It was beautiful. I get that many people are afraid that Western directors (or “Hollywood directors” as they are often inaccurately described) will misrepresent countries that due to their history of poverty have received limited – and usually – negative coverage by the media in developed countries. They are afraid of the representation of the “brown” (“yellow” etc.) man (or woman) as uneducated, stupid, simple, poor, miserable and goofy due to his (or her) lack of understanding of the western ways of life.
First thing first, despite coming from a European country with an ancient civilisation, as the textbooks keep reminding us, I never considered the ‘brown’ man as a lesser human being. We do have as a nation our stereotypes, I must admit, but I have been struggling my whole life to see the person behind the mask of the identity. I see people of different background not as curious exotic birds but as opportunities to exchange views and expand my understanding of the world. So, my point is that I watched the film with a sound (though limited) knowledge of India and with the expectation to see the life of actual people who happen to be living in a certain geographical area.
And this was exactly what I got. Trishna, based on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a beautiful movie that explores without loosing time in useless dialogue the two Indias: the India of Mumbai and the India of Rajasthan, the India that you can be and act as you please, be part of the change that capitalism and Westernisation brought and the India where you sleep with your younger siblings in the same bed and work in the fields. Both Indias exist and they are both given equal time to be explored by the hungry eye of the viewer. The monkeys hanging from the power lines, the open air nightclubs, the tea factory, the Western actress working in Bollywood, the Hindu wedding. Freida Pinto’s was “family” was an actual family living in the area. His love for naturalism had led the director to ask people to allow him to incorporate their reality into the film.
The storytelling is compelling and the acting is quite good. Riz Ahmed is handsome and manages to provide to his character a convincing transformation from lover to abuser. Such characters are always harder to portray: we as so used to seeing abusers as two- headed monsters whose goal in life is to degrade and maltreat women. His portrayal, on the other hand, made me genuinely interested on the character and generated in me feelings of sympathy. He was a complex human being whose life was practically ruined by circumstances. I by no means support abuse towards women. However, I strongly believe that a relationship has two parties and the motives of both people should be explored, something that is often overlooked by many cinematographers and actors. They portrait their characters as a sadistic creature and that’s the beginning and the end of the character study. Freida Pinto is stunning, dark skin and everything. Her acting, though not perfect, is simple and for the most part does the trick.
My main issue with the movie, nevertheless, was how unprepared I felt when the ending came. Trishna’s actions felt too rushed, too irrational, too violent. Of course, when I thought about it later on and retraced step-by-step the climax, I could justify such a turn of events. Maybe it’s me. Having been raised to think that women and men are equals and a person should do what she pleases with her life, I couldn’t truly related to the emotional battle that she was experiencing. Or maybe that was the Achilles’ knee of the narrative economy. Maybe that was the moment that the audience needed a few more worlds.
So yes, I enjoyed it a lot and I was quite pleased to see so many Indian talents contributing to the creative process. Like Amit Trivedi and his beautiful song that first made me fall in love with the trailer and watch it again and again.