|Michael Winterbottom: Trishna has one foot in Bollywood
|Director Michael Winterbottom is in the news for his much-talked about film Trishna; he recently took time to talk to Desiclub.com.
After working with Angelina Jolie in The Mighty Heart, director Michael Winterbottom is in the news again. This time for his recent release Trishna, which is an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's popular novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Continue reading to find out why Trishna is special.
Why did you decide to make TRISHNA now?
We tried to make TRISHNA in 2004 and our casting director went to India to look for someone who could play the title role, but she did not find anyone. It was only when we thought of Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed playing the roles that we started over again.
Trishna marks your third time filming in India?
It is the third time that I have filmed in India but this is the first film I have made that is set in India. We did a few days filming on Code 46 - but that was mixed in with locations in China and Dubai. We shot the interiors of A Mighty Heart in India, but the rest of that film was shot in Pakistan - where the story took place. It was frustrating working in India in the past, and not actually telling a story that is set there so this was a very different experience. We were able to locate the story in a very specific place. We spent a lot of time talking to people in Rajasthan - and specifically in Osian and Jodhpur. We found a family whose father drives a Jeep - the Jeep we use in the film - and we used them and their house and so on - and inserted our characters into their world. Then when Jay and Trishna move to Mumbai, they are on the fringe of the Bollywood industry. So we worked with Anurag Kashyap and Amit Trivedi, their world became the world within our film.
Has India changed since you last worked there?
Certainly, Rajasthan had changed from when we worked there in 2003. The biggest visible change was that there was a lot more irrigation. There had also been more rain in the area than last time we were there. However, many farmers now irrigate, so where there was only desert before, you now see fields of vegetables. We came across many schools where they have made a big effort to make sure that all the children - boys and girls - stayed on at school until they were sixteen or so.
What were the big changes you made to the story?
The biggest I guess was in combining two characters into one. In Tess, there are Angel and Alec, the spiritual versus the sensual. I think most people are a combination of both. Moreover, having worked with Riz before I thought he was capable of bringing out that complexity in Jay. He does fall in love with Trishna, but he is rich and young and wants immediate gratification. If he stood back, he would realize that the consequences for Trishna of what he does would be huge, whereas he, as a man, and as a rich man, can get away with whatever he likes. Then in terms of context - besides mobility, education and urbanization Trishna is set in a world where international tourism has a big impact. Tourism is a big industry in Rajasthan. It has contradictory effects. It provides opportunities for work and careers. The other characters in our film who work in the hotels - Rita, Chanchal and Manisha are played by people who do work in tourism. They are young, college-educated articulate women who hope to have a good career. However, tourism also recreates a sort of neocolonialism where rich westerners can live in palaces and be waited on hand and foot. This has an echo in the original story.
Another change is that in Hardy's story Tess gives birth to a child, who dies. Researching in Rajasthan, everyone told us that if an unmarried girl got pregnant the family would want to try to get an abortion before any other people became aware that she was pregnant.
How were Freida and Riz to work with?
They were both fantastic to work with. I had worked with Riz before on The Road to Guantanamo so I knew that he knew what to expect. We work with quite a small crew, on real locations, with many non-actors and a lot of improvisation. Riz is a very intelligent actor. I think this is the first time he has really played a leading man kind of role, a romantic lead, and he really stepped up to the mark. You have to be able to like Jay, and at the same time see his weaknesses. Freida was lovely to work with. Trishna is a huge role - she is in almost every scene - she goes from working in fields to dancing in Bollywood and back again. Therefore, it is a big journey. She is the centre of the film. Hardy is always pointing out that Tess is opaque, passive, a canvas on which Angel and Alec paint their own different fantasies, until finally she acts. I think Freida has that great ability to make you want to watch her, to imagine what is going on inside her head. Jay imagines she is simpler than she is. That is what destroys their relationship and leads to her final rebellion.
Would you call this a Bollywood film?
No, however, there are similarities between Hardy's storytelling and traditional Bollywood material. This is a melodrama, a love story, the story of a poor girl falling in love with a rich man and being carried away. It is also set partly in Mumbai where Jay wants to make films. We had a close collaboration with Anurag Kashyap and his film company who are making a kind of new wave of films, working in Bollywood, but telling stories their own way. Like a Bollywood film, we use a lot of music. We have four songs by Amit Trivedi - a very successful composer in Mumbai - and also a beautiful soundtrack by Shigeru Umebayashi who did the score for In the Mood for Love, and of course, we have lots of dancing. Therefore, the film has one foot in Bollywood - and it has already been bought to be released in India.
What are the day-to-day logistical challenges of shooting in India?
I have worked in India twice before and I think on those occasions it has been the most difficult country that I have filmed in. For all sorts of reasons, however, on this shoot things went pretty smoothly, especially in Rajasthan. We worked with a local location manager and shot in many locations, which you might expect to be difficult, but we had really great co-operation from the people in Osian and Jodhpur and Jaipur and Samode. Everyone was incredibly generous and helpful and to be honest we did not have that many nightmares. Mumbai was harder, but that is just the nature of a big city.
Riz said Jay is 'bewitched' by Trishna at the beginning and Freida is equally bewitching on screen. What is it about her that brings that quality? How does she work on a day-to-day basis?
Well, obviously Freida is very beautiful. So that helps but she is also very straightforward, very easy to work with and very sympathetic. And all these qualities were important for Trishna. However, in Hardy's story it is important that you do not know exactly what she is feeling or thinking. There is an opaque quality, an enigmatic quality. I think Freida pulls this off very well. So, we have to guess what is going on in her head. And sometimes to be frustrated by her passivity. In terms of Freida's technique, you will have to ask her about it.