March 31, 2012


Trishna as a film is based upon one simple insight- Freida Pinto (see above) is very beautiful. You may think that's a betrayel in some way of a film that models itself on one of the great tragic English novels, that transfers it into another context and seeks to play with our ideas about the West and the rest- but I don't think it is. You see Freida Pinto's beauty is really the issue in Trishna, the new film by Michael Winterbottom. Its what the main character Jay wishes to possess and flaunt, its a metaphor for the beauty of India itself and lastly its the fate and despair of Pinto as an actress herself. Her beauty is not incidental to the film it is both the film's success and its failure, it is the alpha and omega of what Trishna is really about. You can't really just get the film by looking at the portrait I have put above, but you can sense its themes and understand its ideas if you stare into her eyes for a couple of seconds and flick your gaze away. You see its all about the beautiful girl and the beautiful country.

Trishna really is a film about glimpses and glances. Jay catches sight of Trishna (played by Pinto) at a dance somewhere in Northern India, she is there to entertain the tourists, he, a British Asian playboy, is there to be entertained by the quaint customs of the locals. She stands for India in its exoticism and perhaps its eroticism. She is a child of India, less comfortable than he is with the sexual mores of the West and Western cities- in their relationship, he bears no risk, she bears all the risk. He can look at and enjoy her beauty, she has to suffer their relationship- to say more would be to give away details I don't want to give away. But whereas Jay slowly becomes uglier and uglier as the film goes on, Trishna retains her beauty. Though abused and insulted, she retains that perfect look: Miss Pinto does almost no acting in this film, she stands impassive to receive what the world throws at her, and throws back her looks. In that sense, she perhaps does ressemble an India that Jay is colonising- he has come to run his father's business, but actually he is creating his own cultural universe within the country. Even the way that the film is photographed mirrors the girl and the country: both are beautiful, both are impassive.

Glimpses and glances are not quite enough to make a film though because they do not give an inner life. No character in Trishna has a developed inner world: they are externals. There are indications that Trishna and Jay's relationship will fail in the way that she doesn't talk, and isn't confident as opposed to his breezy confidence and sense of ownership. There are hints in the power relationship between the two. These relationships are surface ones though- one never gets a sense of why these two people are together apart from the fact that Pinto is very beautiful and her male costar, Riz Ahmed, is also handsome- but that's not enough for a real drama about relationships. Its not enough for two and a half hours of screentime- not enough to just admire, one has to enter into and understand.

And that's the real problem with Trishna- it goes to some dark places and really doesn't own those dark places- or justify going there- but more than that its a film about surfaces and beauty. It might make you want to go to India, it might make you acknowledge that Freida Pinto is a beautiful woman- but it doesn't make you want to rewatch the film. Pinto is never allowed to give her character an inner life here- she dances, she talks, she smiles, she suffers- but I never got the feeling of a character- more of a target. Whether that's Pinto suffering from the disease of beautiful actors- that they aren't allowed to act, I'm not sure. But as I walked out of Trishna, I wondered about whether beauty ultimately is really ever enough.