Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Rhythm of Life

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Rhythm of Life

Article excerpt

Had it really looked east and dared to dance, this film could have offered so much more, says Philip Dodd.


Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Starring Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed

Released on 9 March

I was in a car in Mumbai a few weeks ago, on my way to an exhibition opening. I explained to my fellow passengers that I was in India partly to make a BBC series on how "the world is moving east". "There is nothing we can do about the ignorance of the West," responded one of my fellow passengers, more in resignation than in anger. "Where is the interest in the West in the Indian urban middle class?"

Whether her despair is right or wrong, recent "Indian" films from the West such as Slumdog Millionaire, Eat Pray Love and the new The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are ammunition for her argument: Slumdog was Cinderella- meets-slum chic; Eat Pray Love yuppie-meets-eastern mysticism; and Marigold ... well, it beggars description.

It would be unfair to lump Trishna - Michael Winterbottom's adaptation and transposition of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles to India - with such films. Trishna is acutely aware of the dangers of cinematic tourism and even begins with a scene of laddish young men from Britain, some of Indian descent, on a rooftop hotel in Rajasthan. They are consuming India, on holiday. One of them, whose family has hotel interests in the region, quickly falls for a local young woman, a dancer, the Trishna of the film's title.

Trishna is part of the current wave of what some see as "safe" literary adaptations - think of the recent Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. But the critical aversion to adaptation - the belief in the purity and autonomy of cinema - is illiterate given the mongrel nature of cinema's history. It all depends on what the film does with the source material.

Winterbottom's Trishna will not surprise anyone who has followed his earlier films. He has a cultural restlessness and political antennae that have seen him make films in places as various as Sarajevo (Welcome to Sarajevo, 1997) and Afghanistan (In This World, 2002), and it is not hard to see why an economically powerful India, where the tensions between country and city, poor and wealthy, men and women are so acute, would compel him. It may be that Winterbottom's fascination with these themes also repeatedly draws him back to Hardy. After all, this is Winterbottom's third adaptation; he has already made Jude and The Claim (The Mayor of Casterbridge).

Winterbottom simplifies Hardy in Trishna. …

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