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The Career Progression of Freida Pinto, From ‘Slumdog’ to ‘Trishna’: Auteur’s Leading Lady or Shallow Ingenue?

The Career Progression of Freida Pinto, From 'Slumdog' to 'Trishna': Auteur's Leading Lady or Shallow Ingenue?

Since Freida Pinto and Dev Patel broke out with Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” the real-life couple have had slightly different career paths. Pinto’s had the boost of beauty endorsements (L’Oreal) and magazine covers, and it’s easier to find roles for a beautiful ethnically-ambiguous ingenue than a quirky Indian man (because one can be made into a commodity, the other can’t; ironically Patel is British-born and Pinto is from India).

While Patel has supporting roles in “The Last Airbender,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (out May 4) and “Cherry” (which just debuted at Berlin), Pinto has been more high profile playing beautiful but shallow second fiddle characters in Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Immortals.” But she failed to prove her acting chops as leading lady in Julian Schnabel’s “Miral.” Michael Winterbottom’s modern retelling of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” “Trishna” (out May 18; new trailer) is her best opportunity to date to prove that her obvious charm and beauty has substance. Reviews out of Toronto have been generally positive, while hesitant to compliment more than her looks.

It will be an uphill battle for audiences to appreciate more than Pinto’s looks, since they seem to be the basis of her casting (she was a model in Mumbai before Boyle discovered her). At least she’s captured the eye of some auteur directors (Allen, Winterbottom, Schnabel), though it’s worth taking into acount their use of beautiful actresses (think Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” for the Scarlett Johansson-Penelope Cruz kiss, and Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me” for the graphic bashing of Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba). With Tarsem Singh’s “Immortals,” Pinto seemed woefully objectified by cast and crew, on camera and off. She’s not another beauty stuck in the B or C-movie objectification; it’s a slightly “higher-brow” objectification in which there’s still opportunity to find a voice – but will she?

(Here are a few disturbing reminders about the state of women and gender in film: Example A, Example B, Example C.)

Check out reviews for “Trishna” and trailers for both Pinto and Patel’s films.

“Winterbottom is less interested in echoing precise events from the late-Victorian novel than he is in exploring how love can be poisoned by class divisions, even in a modern, urbanized environment. Jay evidently sees himself as an evolved man, but never treats Trishna as an equal, underestimates her complexity and remains insensitive to his growing humiliation of her when he returns from England,..As easy as they both are on the eyes, Pinto and Ahmed are more limited in their expressiveness. Still, the restraint of the performances feeds nicely into what’s overall quite a gentle tone, even if what should be a shattering conclusion is not as affecting as it might have been.”

“Like Polanski’s ‘Tess,’ Winterbottom’s heroine is rather passive, a woman who lets things happen to her, and for many, the gorgeous but woefully reactive Trishna will be frustratingly meek. Likewise, Ahmed’s Jay, a nice guy who transforms somewhere along the way into a boorish bully, will be a test of an audience’s sympathy.”

“The latter third of ‘Trishna’s’ tale feels heavy-handed in its attempts to orchestrate the desired emotional response. Sudden and brutal, the tragic story’s climactic murder achieves what the helmer failed to do in ‘The Killer Inside Me,’ shocking auds through sheer intensity (and proving that perhaps the strategy wasn’t as misogynistic as Winterbottom’s critics first assumed).”

“Winterbottom’s script was apparently improvised in part. This allows for a spontaneous feel; but it fails to nail some of the plot’s complexity. The casting is a problem, too.”

“Think of it as the anti-Slumdog Millionaire; the film takes a real yet harsh view not only of Indian gender relations, but the continued place of women, especially the poor, as second-class citizens. India here is both beauty and terrible, a place where the divide between rich and poor is incredibly pronounced, and the poor have little or no option but to follow the will of the rich, especially when the poor is a woman.”

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