Details: 117 m ins, In Cinemas 10 May 2012, United Kingdom, English
Synopsis: Set in contemporary Rajasthan, Trishna (Freida Pinto) meets a wealthy young British businessman Jay Singh (Riz Ahmed) who has come to India to work in his father's hotel business. After an accident destroys her father's Jeep, Trishna goes to work for Jay, and they fall in love. But despite their feelings for each other, they cannot escape the conflicting pressures of a rural society which is changing rapidly through industrialisation, urbanisation and, above all, education. Trishna's tragedy is that she is torn between the traditions of her family life and the dreams and ambitions that her education has given her.Based on Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
Thomas Hardy melodrama moved artfully to India.
Trishna (Freida Pinto) lives in rural India, the eldest daughter of a large and poverty stricken family. For Trishna, it’s a life of much responsibility and seemingly few rewards. Trishna is set up as decent, hardworking and innocent in most ways, and being inexperienced in love, she is vulnerable to romantic treachery. By chance she meets a rich, handsome young man called Jay (Riz Ahmed) and that’s an encounter that will seal both their fates. Jay runs a chain of hotels for his kind father (played by the great Roshan Seth from My Beautiful Laundrette). After Trishna’s dad is seriously hurt in an accident, her family fortunes take a tumble; Jay ‘rescues’ this situation by offering her a catering gig in one of his hotels. All is well for a while. Trishna gets a taste of independence and Jay, in his quiet, but persistent way, continues to pursue her affections. The romance sours. But eventually they reconcile and Trishna ends up in Mumbai where Jay is trying to get into Bollywood production. Meanwhile, Trishna discovers a talent for dancing, but Jay disapproves of her ambition to turn professional in the movie business.
I won’t try to unravel more of the film’s truly wonderful melodramatic plot here, since watching it unwind is one of Trishna’s great pleasures.
It’s a story swelled with the standard tropes of romantic and gothic fiction: unwanted pregnancies, furtive love affairs, class conflict, and, of course, death. Here, characters are at the mercy of their desire. And that desire is betrayed and tortured by cultural standards meant to give order to society. The irony is, of course, these same rules only help to create chaos. The characters are motivated by shame, guilt, and the urge to break away from the predestined life they were born into.
Pacey, surprisingly funny given the grimness of so much of the plotting, and superbly acted – especially by Pinto and Ahmed – writer/director Michael Winterbottom’s film, shot in his now patented ‘you are there’ style, is engrossing, dense and rich, and quite playful in a way since it’s an attempt to translate 19th century English literature to 21st century India.
Winterbottom’s movie is a version of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Hubervilles; its classic story shape derives from the key turning points of the book, though, literary fans will find that certain characters have been combined and other aspects, like the significance of Tess’ family name, have been ignored altogether. Still, quite a few of the book’s major set pieces have been cleverly re-imagined for the locale and time shift; but what’s really important is that Winterbottom has secured his film to many of the same dramatic values as Hardy. Which is to say, modernity and tradition, fate, coincidence, and a society’s double standards in terms of gender, class, and even religion to a limited extent, all play a part here.
I’m not sure, though, if these kinds of considerations ultimately mean much; I think in setting the film in India and partly in a Bollywood context, Winterbottom is taking the ‘stuffiness’ and reverence out of literary adaptation. I mean to say, you don’t need to know Hardy, or the Tess story already, to ‘get’ Trishna.
Indeed, at least superficially, Trishna resembles the plotting and content of a lot of contemporary Bollywood cinema (without the song and dance, although there is a couple of behind-the-scenes-type musical parts here.)
One could conclude that Winterbottom is a Hardy fan; Trishna is his third adaptation of the novelist’s work. He did Jude in 1996 (based on Jude the Obscure) and The Claim in 2000, which translated Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge to a frontier setting in the American West. Is it possible that Winterbottom is making some kind of literary joke about how ‘timeless’ certain yarns are? (And in terms of Hardy’s social commentary, how depressingly valid so much of it still seems to be for intercontinental audiences!?)
All such lofty considerations aside, what’s valuable about the film, what’s exciting about it, is the way Winterbottom controls all the elements and directs them to deliver a strong emotional punch. (He makes it feel like he’s merely recording what is already there; we never feel the design behind his shots, everything seems vividly real and that ‘sells’ the story’s melodramatic twists.)
Much of Trishna works without dialogue and through gesture, setting and personality. It’s artful and soulful. For instance, once Winterbottom establishes the sad, arid place Trishna calls home, you get instantly a deep sense of what’s at stake for her. It makes her optimism that much more heartaching when we see how much of that hope is, ultimately, tragically in vain.
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