With Trishna, Winterbottom has taken yet another new turn in directing, choosing to adapt Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but, set in India, and starring the doe-eyed Freida Pinto as Trishna.
The film is a character study, and Pinto is captivating in it. Having previously thought her to be a bit banal, she surprises in this film, carrying its weight with elegance and grace, even in the most emotionally difficult scenes. Pinto is only 27-years-old, yet she manages to be both girlish and womanly, switching from one to the other through the film that chronicles the life of a young village girl in Rajasthan who happens to catch the eye of an upper-class Indian man who has just returned from Britain to look after his family's posh, palatial hotels.
After Trishna's father has an accident and wrecks the jeep upon which the family's livelihood depends (she is also in the vehicle at the time of accident), Jay Singh, played by the newcomer Riz Ahmed, who speaks with an unfortunately grating, almost petulant English accent, offers her a job in Jaipur at one of his father's hotels. Suddenly able to earn enough to support her entire family, Trishna, the only educated daughter, takes the offer and moves to Jaipur, reluctant to leave her family, but left without choice.
She arrives at the hotel with a broken arm, and is picked up by Jay himself at the bus station. They speak with each other in English, as he is not comfortable in Hindi. She also initially calls him "Sir", and seems oblivious to his obvious attentions, something quite apparent to the rest of the hotel staff.
I will not describe the course of the love affair, but I will say that it is disturbing. More than anything, it is Trishna's obvious vulnerability and innocence that disturbs; one cannot help but wonder when things will fall apart.
As always it is Shakespeare who put it best in The Rape of Lucrece: "Beauty itself, doth of itself, persuade the eyes of men without an orator". Trishna's loveliness is perhaps more of a curse then, instead of a blessing, because though it does bring her love, and a change of circumstances initially, it is not enough to circumvent the enormous chasm of social inequality.
As Raj's behaviour towards her devolves, Trishna is strangely passive, up to a point. This enigmatic passivity is the biggest weakness in the script, however it does not harm the narrative irreparably.
Shot beautifully and with one tremendous performance, Trishna is worth seeing for its sensitive and skilled portrayal of the horrors of a love affair gone awry and the tragedy that can sometimes accompany the very beautiful and pure of heart.
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