Trishna transforms a classic tale of tragedy
Starring Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed. In English and Marwari with English subtitles. Rating not available. Opens Friday, July 20, at the International Village Cinemas
Because Michael Winterbottom built his international reputation on the back of Jude, his 1996 adaptation of Jude the Obscure, four years prior to turning The Mayor of Casterbridge into The Claim, it should surprise no one to discover that this literary-minded British director has reconfigured Thomas Hardy’s novelistic universe once again. Trishna is based on Tess of the d’Urbervilles, only this time the action has been moved from Victorian Wessex to modern India (more specifically, to Rajasthan and Mumbai, the director’s preferred metaphors for the subcontinent’s past and present).
The centrepiece in this updated tragedy (Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto) has yet to benefit from India’s much-heralded economic miracle. Thus, when Jay, the spoiled, half-Indian son (Riz Ahmed) of a rich hotelier (Roshan Seth), takes a shine to this beautiful but poor country girl, she is more than a little intrigued. Before you can say “class enemy”, Trishna and Jay have been transformed into Tess and Angel Clare (without there being any indication that the girl belongs to an old Mughal or Maratha noble family).
If Rajasthan is a place of deserts and tourist hotels, Mumbai is a modern metropolis where rich and poor are jammed even closer together than they are in Rio de Janeiro. (What Winterbottom does with urban beaches is nothing short of astonishing.) Over time, both lovers change radically, especially Jay, who gradually devolves from a gawky upper-class kid into an increasingly cruel sexual tyrant. As for Trishna, she eventually decides that enough is enough.
Although the film’s pace is sometimes too close to that of a 19th-century novel for 21st-century comfort, Trishna manages to extract meaning from Bollywood dance routines, paperback books, and a hundred other things besides. Not a great film, in other words, but still a very good one.
Watch the trailer for Trishna.