Take a classic novel, transplant it into the Indian subcontinent, and put a noted director at the helm and what do you get? Trishna. The novel is Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and in the hands of Michael Winterbottom, this centuries old tale is brought to life in modern day India, with the enchanting Frieda Pinto in the lead role.
The Slumdog Millionaire star shows that she is way more than just a pretty face in this quite brilliant modern adaptation of a favorite oldie. Trishna is a bright, young peasant girl trying to make her mark in today’s India. Following the arc of the original Trishna is, as Hardy fondly described Tess, a pure woman, and we follow her on a journey that gives her both hope and disappointment in equal measures.
The journey starts in Rajasthan, her home village, into the smart hotels where she works hard to cater for spoilt, western tourists and a brief dalliance with Mumbai where she tries to break into the film industry known as Bollywood, where dreams are manufactured for the masses. This all accumulates in Trishna asserting herself in an act of pure desperation which, invariably, ends in tragedy.
Michael Winterbottom is one of the most respected British directors, and in his eyes he sees the bustling Indian society very like the rapidly changing face of England that Hardy so eloquently observed in his original book. He places Trishna firmly in this turbulent world, and it’s interesting to note that the double standards concerning the behaviour and treatment of the sexes is still very much in existence today.
He has also, thankfully, much simplified the complex plot that Hardy weaved, and has also dropped nearly all the religious references. One of the boldest steps he took while creating this movie is combining the two main male roles from the original into a single character.
The smug and superior son of the Manse, Angel Clare, and the idle and lascivious inheritor Alec D’Urberville meld into Jay Singh, the educated son and heir of a property developer. He has made his money by transforming former Indian palaces into a chain of hotels for tourists from the west. Jay is a double edged sword in that he is Trishna’s true love but also her seducer. It is their relationship that grabs your attention, particularly at the end.
This reworking isn’t perfect, it has both pros and cons. Purists may argue that the toning down of the original’s complexity weakens the story, whereas you also have to consider that the rambling narrative it dispenses with transforms it into a tight story. Frieda Pinto shines in this movie, and it is a testament to her talent that one so beautiful can so brilliantly portray a girl who is so uncertain of herself and her whole identity.
Slumdog Millionaire turned Ms Pinto into an international star, and Trishna will keep her there. Riz Ahmed is also excellent as Jay Singh, and pulls of a difficult part with style. This beautiful couple make an awesome screen presence, and this movie is well worth a look.