Trishna (Freida Pinto), a beautiful young woman who falls in love with wealthy British businessman Jay (Riz Ahmed). Despite their feelings for each other, the relationship must remain a secret because of the conflicting pressures of her traditional rural community and the country's rapid change and modernisation. Their problems seem to be solved when the couple escape to the vibrant metropolis of Mumbai, an exciting new world of dance, vibrant life and possibilities. But Trishna harbours a dark secret that threatens the very heart of their love affair, and the inequalities within their relationship lead her to question Jay's true intentions.
Author Thomas Hardy has made sensational novels in his time of Victorian England, and two of these have been adapted to the big screen by director Michael Winterbottom: 1996’s ‘Jude’ and 2011’s ‘Trishna’, based on ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. But for ‘Trishna’, Winterbottom resets events and places; instead of English actors, we have Freida Pinto as Trishna and Riz Ahmed as Jay Singh, and the story happens in India. It’s a good idea but does it produce great results?
Director Michael Winterbottom is one of the most versatile film makers working today. From one film to the next, his style changes but one thing’s certain of his works – they’re all provocative. Winterbottom has taken liberties to change and re-arrange most of what’s in the novel ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, and you can say that it does give a different impact especially to what happens to Trishna. But no matter, it makes for a fine experiment. Besides, India is still a society that has its morality in check, so when Trishna and Jay decide to be entangled with each other, the consequences are dire, more so on Trishna who is in fact a woman, a second-class citizen even in this century.
As it is, Freida Pinto (‘Slumdog Millionaire’) embodies Trishna to a sari. Her partner Riz Ahmed is her equal; in fact when it comes to their nuanced acting, they are too reserved for their own good, the total opposite of what author Thomas Hardy has created. If Trishna is indeed ‘Tess of D’Urbervilles’, why is it so hard to condemn Freida Pinto for her supposedly scandalous choices?
As for Riz Ahmed, he makes the impossible task of combining two of Tess’ male love interests in the novel, and the outcome is quite perplexing. Gone are the tug and pool that we expect from Trishna’s story. We are meant to accept that this ‘pure woman’ must give in to her fate, preferably when she does it passively. Actress Freida Pinto has an arresting beauty but the verdict is still out on her acting ability. Hopefully, with more films she dramatically improves.