Freida Pinto takes on some intense material with "Trishna," Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's tragic "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," set in modern-day India. In Winterbottom's third update of a Hardy novel, Pinto found how well the 19th-century British novel translated to Indian culture intriguing -- and the lack of a script more than a little daunting.
When Michael Winterbottom approached you about this, were you already familiar with the original novel?
Oh yes, I was already familiar with the original novel and also with some of Michael's films. It was a no-brainer; it was a yes right from the get-go. I did not need him to convince me of anything, but we did have a discussion about the film and how he intended to do it over lunch in London. Then I was like, "Oh, do I get to read a script?" And he was like, "Oh no, there is not going to be a formal script, but I will send you the treatment and the concept and all of that." And then he also sent me a script that said, "This is not a script." [Laughs]
And that was a first for you?
Yes, exactly. That was a first for me. It was very interesting because I had never done anything like that before, so it seemed like it would be a very liberating task -- but at the same time it was very daunting as well, because you really do not know which direction you're going in. There were days on set where the other actor and I would just look at each other like, "What are we doing right now?"
How much harder is it improvising in a language the director doesn't speak?
Oh, how is it when you're speaking a language that you don't speak either? That's the first question! [Laughs] I didn't speak Marwari. That was an alien language to me. I mean, I am from India, but we grew up speaking Hindi and English, and that was it. The Hindi was OK, but then he gave me this added challenge of speaking Marwari, which is a local Rajasthani dialect. The good thing was, Michael never understood what I was saying.
It's fascinating how well Hardy's 19th-century English story translates to modern-day India.
I definitely found it very intelligent as well for Michael to think of something like that, to draw an early comparison of 19th-century England and 21st-century India. And of course the sexual double standard that existed in 19th-century England probably does still exist in India. It was very frustrating even to play it, because I've never been in that situation before and will never be in that situation ever. So it was definitely very frustrating to play something like that, but it does exist. I was really representing women in certain parts of India -- certain parts of the world, actually -- that do really exist. It was not a figment of anyone's imagination.