Trishna opens nationwide on May 10, 2012 — check your local cinema for details.
Trishna is a contemporary adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles from English director Michael Winterbottom, with quite a change of scenery. It transplants the story to India, swapping industrial England for rural Rajasthan and urban Mumbai as India modernises.
Freida Pinto (who made her film debut in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire) plays Trishna, a young woman living in with her family in the small village of Ossian in rural Rajasthan. She works on the farm with the other women, and makes a little extra money sometimes by performing in a traditional dance show at a nearby hotel. There, she meets Jay (Riz Ahmed), a young British businessman; he’s been taking some of his friends on a tour of India before he takes over the management of his wealthy father’s local hotel business. Jay is immediately captivated by Trishna, and the tourists give her a taxi lift home at the end of the night.
Shortly afterwards, Trishna and her father have a car accident in the family’s jeep, their only source of income — Trishna breaks an arm, and her father is bedridden. Enroute to the airport, Jay spots Trishna by the side of the road and offers a way out of this financial calamity: he suggests that he get her a job at his father’s hotel in Jaipur. Soon enough, a formal offer arrives in the post, and Trishna sets out for the big city.
I shan’t unroll the plot any further than that. Suffice it to say that Trishna’s relationship with Jay grows more and more turbulent, a mess of conflicting pressures from her traditional life, the new opportunities that Jay has given her access to, and Jay’s restless, sometimes dangerous personality.
Slumdog Millionaire is perhaps the most obvious film to compare with this one on the surface; they share a lead actress, and they’re both films shot in India by well-known British directors. Trishna’s story is told much more simply, unadorned by the flashbacks and sense of shimmering nostalgia that coats Slumdog. No homages to classic Bollywood or elaborate chase sequences here, though Winterbottom does take full advantage of the beauty of his locations. The quiet beauty or urban bustle of the backdrop recedes as Trishna and Jay’s relationship becomes more involved, until late in the film the prettiness of Jay’s palaces-turned-hotels stands in stark contrast to the the tragedy of Trishna’s life there.
Freida Pinto has a lot more to do in this film than in Slumdog, and she does a creditable job as an educated girl caught between traditional rural life and a more free-spirited existence in Mumbai, pushed this way and that by her family and by Jay. Riz Ahmed puts in a good turn as Jay, too, a character that combines Hardy’s Alec and Angel. Superficially charming at first, there’s a halting stillness to his mannerisms and lines that triggers a certain unease and hints at what he’ll become later in the film.
Trishna packs an emotional wallop, assisted more than ably by a great soundtrack from Shigeru Umebayashi (In the Mood for Love, Fearless, many others), along with a couple of songs from Bollywood composer Amit Trivedi. Essentially a tragedy, it draws your attention to the effects of modernisation and tourism in Rajasthan, to double standards of class and sex, and to the huge divide between rural and urban life in India.
Heavy going, perhaps, but a well-made and affecting film.