Nearly half an hour into Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna, its protagonist Jay (Pakistani-British actor Riz Ahmed) instructs a young and naive Trishna (Freida Pinto) in the art of the bird-whistle. Jay twists his lips, slowly blowing air through the upper part of his mouth. Trishna shapes her lips in the same fashion, but alas can produce no sound. It is an innocent yet joyful scene: a magical cinematic sequence. Winterbottom, one of the most eclectic of British filmmakers, lovingly captures the playfulness of the moment as his leads—Jay, the UK-educated son of a hotelier, and Trishna, the poor girl from rural Rajasthan—overcome class differences. There is also an underlying sexual tension in the air. Situations like this make Trishna—Winterbottom’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles—a pleasure to watch.
Trishna is technically a British production, even though Mumbai filmmaker Anurag Kashyap is listed as a producer. It’s one of the five India-themed films—the others are Ribhu Dasgupta’s debut film Michael, Akshay Kumar production Breakaway, Suseendran’s Tamil film Azhagarsamy’s Horse and Sri Lankan director Vimukthi Jayasundara’s Bengali film Chatrak (Mushrooms)—that played in the last 10 days at the recent Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). A sixth film, Pankaj Kapoor’s Mausam, pulled out at the last minute.