Director Michael Winterbottom has tackled the works of British novelist Thomas Hardy twice in the past, with the 1996 film Jude, (based on Jude the Obscure), and the 2001 Western The Claim, (based on The Mayor of Casterbridge). He’s adapted Hardy once more with his latest film Trishna, which reimagines Tess of the D’Urbervilles in modern-day India.
Since Tess is one of my all-time favorite books, (and Roman Polanski’s 1981 adaptation one of my favorite movies), I was eager to see Trishna. And while the adaptation is loose, Winterbottom’s changes add some interesting dynamics to the story.
Frieda Pinto is Trishna, a nineteen year old girl in rural India who works a series of jobs to help support her family. She catches the eye of Jay, (Riz Ahmend), a handsome hotelier’s son, an Indian born and raised in England who doesn’t speak any Hindi. When Trishna’s father is injured in an accident and can no longer work, Jay offers her a job at one of his father’s hotels.
She agrees and is soon learning the hotel trade, while working closely with Jay. His fondness for her is apparent, but she is apprehensive and inexperienced. Soon, a seduction (or is it rape?) occurs, and a confused Trishna flees back home, and Jay soon follows to get her back.
While these events are pretty close to the original source material, Winterbottom chooses an interesting route in combining the two men in the original Tess’s life, so that Jay becomes both Angel (her true love), and Alec (the cause of her downfall).
Much like the original book, class plays a major part in Trishna’s destiny, with the big question being: is class too big an obstacle to overcome when it come to love? And do the powerful really want those dynamics to change?
It’s a little disappointing to see the character of Trishna remain so passive throughout most of the film–the original Tess had more strength and determination–but Pinto is both stunningly beautiful and heartbreaking in the role. That, combined with the lush, widescreen cinematography, and lively Bollywood score, (complete with a few dance scenes), make Trishna worth seeing, despite some of its limitations.
Trishna screens at the SFIFF again today at 1:45 P.M. and is set to open in limited release on July 13th.