Much focus has been placed on Trishna as an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Certainly, it’s one of the most original and exciting literary adaptations I’ve ever seen, but the film stands alone, and is truly less of an adaptation than a kind of third-hand, half-remembered retelling of the story – more like an ancient Sanskrit epic than a Victorian tragedy. The effect is striking, and ensures that even the most ardent Hardy fan will encounter a few surprises along the way. Because Trishna, simply, is a wonderful film, and should be viewed, discussed and appreciated in its own right, not as ‘Trish of the D’urbs’.
Freida Pinto is Trishna, a young woman from rural Rajasthan, who is taken first to Jaipur, and later Mumbai, by the English Jay (Riz Ahmed). Their love affair is turbulent, painful and always beautifully observed, while Trishna’s journey of cultural and sexual awakening plays against a backdrop of Indian social mores.
Pinto’s performance is impressive in a ‘born to play this role’ kind of way. I suspect she might have demonstrated her talent much sooner, had Hollywood not come a-knocking after her success in Slumdog Millionaire. Regardless, she shows such range, diversity and, ultimately, craft, that one would never guess at, having seen her recent turns in Rise of the Planet of the Apes or The Immortals. Her beauty is treated with great care throughout – only occasionally referred to and never dwelled on – and presented as a mere fact, thus never overwhelming the audience. It is a visceral and deeply moving performance, and the first Oscar-worthy one I’ve seen in 2012.
Ahmed, too, is intriguing and unsettling as Jay, and his good looks augment his acting ability: at times soft and inviting, his face can, in an instant, harden and render cruelty.
Winterbottom’s depiction of India is a refreshing relief. He never condescends the working-classes of the nation, as was Danny Boyle’s crime in Slumdog Millionaire, nor romanticises poverty in the style of John Madden’s recent saccharine output, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Rather, Trishna has a compassion and truthfulness that is rarely seen in Western depictions of the Developing World. Winterbottom’s film highlights the enormous class and cultural divide between the rural and urban in modern India, while the screen burns with the heat of a languid, ancient summer.
All this, of course, amounts to nothing. The only thing you truly need to know is that Trishna is a brave and engrossing triumph of cinema, and my review may as well be these three words: see it now.
Trishna is currently showing at Duke of Yorks Picturehouse, Preston Circus, Brighton BN1 4JD