- Published on Thursday, 10 May 2012 06:44
There is a line in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d'Urbervilles, when a character remarks that Tess has jumped “out of the frying pan and into the fire!” It is an apt characterization that comes to life in Michael Winterbottom’s film adaptation of the classic novel, Trishna.
Winterbottom and the film’s star, Frieda Pinto (of Slumdog Millionaire fame) were both present at the Tribeca Film Festival in April to introduce the film, where they also praised the festival for its dedication to independent filmmaking.
Transporting the story from 19th century England to modern-day India, Trishna follows its namesake protagonist (Pinto), a peasant from the villages of Rajasthan, and her relationship with Jay (Riz Ahmed), the wealthy and charismatic hotelier. How the initial attraction develops into a complexly dangerous relationship forms the crux of the plot.
Beginning in rural Rajasthan, shifting to urban Mumbai, and then returning back to the Rajasthani village, Winterbottom ably depicts a diverse and multifaceted picture of modern-day India. Trishna and Jay’s relationship evolves from furtive glances to an open live-in relationship and then reverts back to a clandestine relationship, and as the Indian city in the backdrop changes, so does their bond. While Hardy purists may be skeptical of the drastic change in setting, the move to India allows Winterbottom to explore the very issues of social class and status that are so pivotal to the original novel, albeit in a modern Indian context. Some of the most effective scenes are when the couple return to rural Rajasthan and are forced to keep their relationship a secret as Jay resumes his role of employer while Trishna resumes her job working in his hotel.
Ultimately, it is Trishna’s personal journey that draws the viewer into the film. Whether she’s a hotel worker in rural Rajasthan or an aspiring Bollywood dancer in Mumbai, the consequences of Trishna’s social and economic status follow her wherever she goes, affecting all of her relationships—from Jay to the dance instructor she meets in Mumbai, it is not always clear whether the other person has her best interests at heart or if they simply want to take advantage of her. The fact that the relationships where this ambiguity is most obvious are all with male men is Winterbottom’s not-so-subtle addition of gender politics. The final reels of the film, as Trishna’s relationship with Jay reaches a volatile high, are some of the most engaging—the viewer feels as trapped and vulnerable as Trishna does.
Frieda Pinto delivers a quiet but powerful performance as Trishna. Sometimes speaking volumes with a simple arch of her eyebrow, she expertly depicts the helplessness of Trishna’s circumstances without turning it into a pity party. But it is Riz Ahmed who steals the show as Jay. Winterbottom’s decision to combine two characters from the novel (Angel and Alec) into one could have had disastrous results in the hands of a lesser actor. Ahmed takes the challenge and turns it into a dynamic performance—he depicts the transition from besotted to dangerous so effortlessly and with such subtlety that you almost don’t even realize what’s happened. One and a half hours later, the viewer is caught off guard by how the charming flirt has suddenly turned so dangerous and unlikeable—a fate not unlike Trishna herself.
Trishna will be available on blu-ray and DVD in the UK in June 2012, and will have a limited theatrical release in the US in July 2012. For more details, check out the film’s official website.
Click here to watch the official movie trailerBy Jafreen M. Uddin, Aslan Media Contributor