Freida Pinto, the young actress who has played supporting characters in blockbusters like “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), deserves a moment in the spotlight.
She has taken center stage in a few smaller films, but none of them have established her as a leading actress. Her new film “Trishna” – based on the Thomas Hardy novel “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” – could have provided her such a platform, and the movie, if done properly, may have even garnered her critical attention during awards season. But unfortunately for Pinto, her character is so underdeveloped that it’s hard to take an emotional interest in the story.
Pinto plays the title character, a dancer driven by familial responsibilities but also tempted by the possibility of living her own life. Shortly after the story begins, she befriends a young man named Jay (Riz Ahmed) in her hometown of Rajasthan, India. Jay is immediately smitten by the young woman.
Tragedy soon strikes, though, and Trishna’s father is seriously injured in a truck accident. His daughter is suddenly forced to earn a living for the entire family. Jay – who has been hired to manage his father’s resort – offers her a position, and she accepts. That decision forces her to move out of her home to rely on the kindness and support of her new employer.
The dramatic and ultimately desperate relationship that Trishna and Jay share lies at the heart of this film. As we journey with the characters from one location to another, we see the romance between the young couple change, and we watch as it delves into something dark and dangerous.
Such a tragic film – if done properly – would have provided Pinto a fine showcase from her dramatic talents but “Trishna” too often fails its characters. Trishna is an intelligent and shy woman, but it’s difficult to fully understand the choices she makes along the way. Her obligations to her family push her to take the job with Jay but beyond that, it’s hard to rationalize her behavior.
And without understanding her completely, the movie becomes a cold, dark journey. When the film’s final chapter arrives, and Trishna makes some harsh decisions, the film lacks the emotionality and depth to keep the viewers interested. What should be a powerful series of events ends up lacking the resonance that it should have developed earlier.
Director Michael Winterbottom, who previously helmed “Jude” (1996) and “A Mighty Heart” (2007), fails to bring the characters to life here leaving viewers with a nearly-empty experience. Unfocused and easily forgettable, “Trishna” shows that even a likable actress can’t carry a movie that undervalues its characters.
One hopes that Pinto will soon be given the chance to show off her talents in a film that is worthy of her.