Trishna is a modern-day retelling of the classic novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. The Thomas Hardy novel is set in the late 1800’s in Wessex, England and deals with the trial and tribulations of Tess who has done things for her family to make them money, some of which came with a bad result.
Trishna director and writer Michael Winterbottom takes this classic novel and applies it to present day India. Like Tess, Trishna (Frieda Pinto) is a beautiful girl. She meets a rich Indian man, Jay (Riz Ahmed), while he is traveling in Rajasthan. Jay becomes infatuated with Trishna and soon offers her a position at his father’s hotel in Jaipur. At 2500 rupees per week, Trishna knows that this position will help out her poor family. She moves to the hotel in Jaipur, where in a lapse of judgement, Jay takes advantage of her. Trishna runs back home and deals with the consequences of her actions that soon become apparent. However, the relationship between Jay and Trishna is far from over.
While the film is set in present day, not all of India is modern, which makes it a perfect setting for a story that involves the difference between those who are rich and those who are poor. Trishna’s family’s home is not much, with many relatives and family members living under one roof. The land surrounding the house is dry and dusty and does not have much vegetation around it. Contrast this against the lush and beautiful hotels that Jay’s father owns. There are many scenes in the film that are just of the surrounding landscape and daily lives of those in the settings. It creates a vivid backdrop for the story to be told.
The music in the film is just as important as the setting and the story. Michael Winterbottom uses Indian music to illustrate what is happening in Trishna’s life at a moment in time and also how she is feeling. There is a particular song that is used a couple times in the film that is actually translated on screen using subtitles. This is the only song in the film that Winterbottom uses subtitles for. The lyrics are poignant as it shows how happy Trishna is at that first hotel in Jaipur before things go too far with Jay. The song is again used toward the end of the film and echoes a completely different set of feelings from Trishna as her life has been turned upside down.
Compared to the novel, Trishna is much more reserved, quiet, and subservient than Tess. Trishna is on screen a lot, but does not say much. I viewed her as pretty weak until the end where she finds her strength after being torn down so much. She has a breaking point and Jay finds it. I did not find Freida Pinto’s performance as Trishna anything spectacular because of what was just mentioned. She did not have a wide range of emotions or lines because her character is so restrictive.
The star of the film is Riz Ahmed as Jay. His character is the combination of nice Angel Clare and bad Alec d’Urberville from the novel. Riz Ahmed is tasked with playing a character with a total transformation from the beginning of the film to the end. Jay is a likeable guy in the beginning, offering Trishna a more lucrative job, but his true colors start to shine through midway through the film. He becomes a despicable human being who takes advantage of Trishna because he knows she will let him. He does not realize in the end that he has gone past her breaking point.
Michael Winterbottom took a classic English novel and applied it to a new setting. While there are elements of the novel that are missing from the film including some unexpected twists, he stays mostly true to the novel. He ingeniously combined the two central male characters in the novel to create one character who goes from nice to evil in 117 minutes. The film feels a little long as it dragged a little in the middle as the story did not progress much. Those who are not familiar with the source material may experience the film differently than those, like me, who knew where the story was headed. Shocked audiences reacting to the final act may be the norm for Trishna.
I give Trishna 3 “Bollywood Dancers” out of 5.
by Sarah Ksiazek