Trishna (Freida Pinto) lives a poor, sheltered life in Rajasthan until she meets the wealthy young Jay (Riz Ahmed), who has come back to India to work in his father's hotel business. Being the sole provider for her family since her father's truck accident, Trishna agrees to leave Rajasthan to work for Jay, and gradually they fall in love, but their relationship must remain a secret under the pressures of a traditional society. After a dramatic event separates them, Jay tracks Trishna down and offers her a more liberated life full of possibility in Mumbai. As time passes, the relationship begins to transform and Jay's true character emerges. Trishna soon finds herself torn between her family, her life of new freedom and the reality of her troubled relationship.
Review by Louise Keller:
While the origin of Michael Winterbottom's portrait of a woman caught in the tragic chasm of class discrimination is Tom Hardy's British novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, its flavours and textures are as Indian as the folds of a traditional sari. Winterbottom has recreated the essence of the Hardy story, transposing it onto the rich backdrop of modern day India with its bustling, chaotic cities and contrasting primitive villages, where life has changed little over the decades. It plays a little long, but love, desire, prejudice, perceptions and control are the drivers of this tragic love story into which we are intoxicatingly drawn. Superbly made with a stunning lead performance by Freida Pinto, who will always be known as the Slumdog Millionaire girl, Trishna is a profoundly moving drama that vividly describes Indian culture and the consequences when privileges become confused.
Trishna is the beautiful village girl whose fate changes when she catches the eye of the son of a wealthy British Anglo-Indian Hotel owner Jay (Riz Ahmed); to him, Trishna epitomises the fantasy from his roots. It is at the oldest temple in India in Rajasthan that Jay first sets eyes on Trishna and is bewitched by her beauty and femininity. Through a series of fateful circumstances, the job he offers her as a waitress at his father's hotel is one she accepts gratefully, and before long at his request, she is delivering lunch to his room every day. Ahmed is effective in the role and the scenes with Roshan Seth as his father are some of the film's best. It is only a matter of time before the inevitable happens - irrefutable chemistry kicks in, followed by passion - in whispers and behind closed doors. Trishna is one who is compromised and pays the price.
In Mumbai, where Jay next heads to pursue his ambitions producing a Bollywood film, taking Trishna along, their relationship is totally different. (Curiously, the city's British name, Bombay, changed in 1995, is used in the film.) She takes dance classes; he takes her shopping; they walk on the beach together and spend long nights making love. For the first time they are perceived as being equals. The scene in which we see an Indian woman crossing a bridge, while precariously balancing a large basket on her head, symbolises the shift of the balance. Fate and circumstances once again intervene and when they return to the hotel in Rajasthan, Trishna agrees again to accept her public role of waitress and private role of mistress. It is at this point in the film (after reading the Kama Sutra) that Jay's boredom becomes one of obsession in which his fantasies become twisted into sexual perversion and cruelty.
Trishna's journey as she gracefully follows the signposts of love is one of extreme hardship, with Jay always doing the wrong thing by her. The scenes in which she communicates with her girlfriends, colleagues and family as she manages the ever-changing boundaries of her life are authentically intoxicating. Winterbottom keeps us off balance throughout this gripping tale with real tension in the lead up to the devastating climactic scenes. Sharing equal billing with Pinto is India herself: the authenticity of the street scenes with tuk tuks, cows, goats, dancing girls and dust form part of the richness that help draw us to the characters and their situation.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Seemingly seduced by the endless exotic picture postcard possibilities of India, Michael Winterbottom's vision of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Ubervilles (which I haven't read) is full of latent promise. Countless images of India - at work, at play, at cooking, walking, driving, and doing nothing - pad out what is a rather trite story of forbidden love and its tragic consequences.
The first two acts are thus drawn out, while the third is rushed, at least dramatically, as it delivers the double-hit resolution; not to our satisfaction, though. It feels contrived, even if that's not how the book reads. The film's producers describe the book as "the story of one woman whose life is destroyed by a combination of love and circumstances."
Yet on the basis of the film, Trishna is not the victim; it's not only her life that is destroyed, but so that of Jay's and his family's. She makes conscious decisions of her own and her ultimate decisions are morally inexcusable. True, the customs of a rigid society in which her affair with Jay would be seen as a grave offence are the triggers, but the choices are hers alone. If the film's intentions are to mirror the book's in its portrayal of Trishna torn between tradition and family on the one hand, and modern, emancipated living, it has not succeeded.
Hardy, a frequent critic of social constraints that hinder people's lives, published the book in 1891; the film has been brought it into the 21st century, mobile phones and all - but they still refer to Mumbai as Bombay, a faithfulness to the prose that jars. The social constraints are probably still the same, though ....
Freida Pinto is lovely to look at and is engaging as Tirshna the shy country girl swept off her feet by the English born and educated Jay, son of a wealthy hotel owner. He seems a generous and caring young man at first; he gets her a job at his hotel to help her family's finances and begins to woo her. Trishna eventually responds.
Riz Ahmed gets his chance to really put himself on the movie map as Jay, a complex character - but simplistically portrayed by Winterbottom's script and direction. The change from young man about town to a sleazebag takes two short scenes in the third act and is totally unconvincing. But it's not his fault.
Veteran Indian actor Roshan Seth is reliably terrific as Jay's father, and the entire supporting cast is wonderfully naturalistic and credible.
As if chopping to provide the impetus missing from the screenplay, many scenes seem incomplete, perfunctory and unnecessary.
Cinematography and production design - using India's natural colourful exuberance - are both spot on, but the often beautiful, sometime melancholy score is frequently used inappropriately. It's a big, romantic underscore which is supposed to lift the film to feel epic - but with such flimsy content, it has too little to work with on our emotions.
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CAST: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Roshan Seth, Akash Dahiya, Neet Mohan, Harish Khana, Kalki Koechlin, Anurag Kashyap,
PRODUCER: Michael Winterbottom, Sunil Bohra, Melissa Parmenter
DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom
SCRIPT: Michael Winterbottom (novel Tess of the d'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Marcel Zyskind
EDITOR: Mags Arnold
MUSIC: Amit Trivedi, Shigeru Umebayashi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Bryan
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 10, 2012