Within Hindu culture, the peacock is considered a sacred animal, emblematic of eternal life and renewal. The male peacock in particular though also possesses a considerable degree of pride, strutting and displaying its vibrant plumage to attract a suitable mate. It is this conflicting battle between personal renewal and hyper vanity that dominates director Michael Winterbottom’s latest film Trishna, an examination of the troubled physical and emotional awakenings of a young woman.
Based on Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess D’Urbervilles, the film follows Trishna played by Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire), who lives with her family in a village in Rajasthan, India’s largest state. After the unexpected injury of her father, Trishna takes a job working at a nearby resort to help pay the bills. It is there that she meets Jay played by Riz Ahmed (Four Lions) the wealthy son of a property developer. When Jay takes up managing a resort at his father’s request, he meets Trishna at a dance, and soon tries to win her affection at every opportunity. The two quickly become a couple, with Trishna introduced to a world much different than her rural upbringing. But when the two move to Mumbai, the couple’s curiosity and confusion regarding ancient privilege and modern equality plunges both of them into a warped journey of sexual exploration and degradation.
Trishna marks Winterbottom’s third adaptation of a Hardy novel (The Claim and Jude being his previous), and with it, the director takes every opportunity to examine a nation where the rapid agricultural and industrial progression has created a sort of neocolonialism, where the rise in aspects such as international tourism has taken young, rural educated men and women and placed them in positions of waiting on wealthy westerners hand and foot.
Pinto fully immerses herself into the complexities of the Trishna character, embodying not only an individual on the brink of change, but an entire culture as well. Moving from the sand swept huts of Jodhpur to the heat-drenched bedrooms of Mumbai, we watch Trishna float like a loose piece of frail paper, ascending from the desert dunes caught in a current of conflicting emotions and traditions. What starts as a whirlwind romance and sexual awakening between her and Jay, eventually diminishes into a form of slavery, her young, vibrant being unraveled, becoming instead a wrinkled, two dimensional faded illustration mirroring a copy of the Kama Sutra Jay keeps near their bedside at all times.
Trishna’s thoughts and tears seem to melt and influence the environment around her, and Winterbottom has done an effective job in bringing on collaborators to sustain and enhance this feeling. Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind who has worked with the director before on The Killer Inside Me and A Mighty Heart, captures every flashing streetlight and shadowed corridor with precision and grace, while the lush score by Shigeru Umebayashi (Best known for Yumeji’s Theme in Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood For Love) peels back the dry, often crowded city streets, and magnifies the desirous whispers of Trishna’s mind into a swirling breeze illuminating a troubled and yearning soul.
More than one woman’s personal journey, Trishna acts as an elevated manifestation, a collective collage of the empty hands and hungry hearts of a group of people deciphering the puzzles of the present, and moving ahead towards an uncertain yet promising future.