AT ONE POINT in the new Michael Winterbottom-directed Trishna, a bratty actress describes her most recent project: an adaptation of Hamlet, as performed by gibberish-spouting clowns.
It's hard to know how to take this joke in the context of Trishna, which is itself a recontextualization of a classic. Moreover, it's Trishna's adherence to its source material—Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles—that ultimately sinks the promising film.
When a jeep full of rich kids rolls into the small town where pretty Trishna (Freida Pinto) lives with her family, some bilingual flirtation quickly turns into a romance with charming, upper-crust Jay (Riz Ahmed). Trishna follows him first to his father's hotel—where she works as a maid—and later to Mumbai, where her status as "live-in girlfriend" proves precarious.
Trishna's first two-thirds are absolutely great, as Jay and Trishna's class-crossing romance allows Winterbottom to film life in contemporary India from a variety of perspectives (including a fun behind-the-scenes look at Bollywood film production). But unfortunately, Trishna is shackled to Hardy's novel, the events of which seem jarringly melodramatic against the film's otherwise naturalistic tone.