It has the chance to do something extraordinary, but takes the more pre-determined direction. Trishna (English and Hindi, with English subtitles), if anything else, captures the beautiful flair, sumptuousness, and the wild commotion of India better than any movie I’ve ever seen. For awhile it’s going to be a love story that shows two people being in love and simply that. Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed play the lovers who have their short-lived blissful peace until duty and social customs besiege them. British Michael Winterbottom isn’t just a great director, he’s one of the most well-traveled men in the world. You fall in love with his images, but the arc of the story stays true to its source, Thomas Hardy’s 19th century literature “Tess of the D’Ubervilles.” Less of that source faithfulness might have been more.
There are too many people in this world who will think that it’s impossible for Pinto to be a girl of such beauty, both poor and shy. Rich boy Jay Singh (Ahmed) spends much of his time gently flattering her, asking her, “Are you OK? Do you have everything you need?” He transports her from a poor Rajasthan village to his father’s hotel in Jaipur to work. Trishna greets guests, cares for the atrium birds, tends to the garden, and is a tea hostess.
The two share a taboo tryst, Trishna runs away in shame (likely in fear of retribution of her parents), but Jay finds her again. Surreptitiously, the two relocate to Mumbai where they engage in some steamy sex scenes, her social circle is broadened through him, and yes, bliss(!), they regale in their perfection.
But a withheld secret, finally exposed, changes the temperature. A man’s hard heart can keep him from being emotionally and spiritually endeared by his woman. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.” Jay, however, would rather be corporally quoting the Kama Sutra.
I’ve been to India and have grasped the regional differences and societal expectations amongst diverse religions, modern cultures, and enduring tribes. I have seen women of such beauty in India that have a breadth of intelligence in the segregated regions, at the same time are timid about socializing or developing romance. I know this very well because I married an Indian beauty, born in the Northeastern hills of Meghalaya but educated here in the States at UCLA and USC. The accuracy and naturalism of “Trishna” of its landscapes and sociology is inarguable. Winterbottom pays tributes to such truths, and, in addition, is a master of vibrant images and of the art of editing and movement. My wife and I know India in our bones, and we are fervently grateful for this pulsating lovely film.
Yet I reacted to “Trishna” in a similar way as to when I read “The Great Gatsby” for the first time. Sure, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel is a triumph in language and description of the towering antiquated social class. But that book was so extraordinary on such base terms that I never felt that a death was necessary. It had achieved greatness without that plot kick. And “Trishna” as a film has a [British] penchant for roping tragic consequences into its plot. The fate of the movie lies in an author’s invention.
That shouldn’t keep you from seeing this extravaganza of India. For many in America, “Trishna” will be just too damn “exotic” to withstand. But see it if you are an adventurous filmgoer looking for riches and enlightenment. Only ask yourself, were the plot beats of Hardy’s source novel really necessary? I believed it well enough as story narrative, sure. But the most stunning scenes of “Trishna” are those that have nothing to do with Hardy. And, of course, Pinto takes a difficult role and uncovers her gradually, and brilliantly.
Read the accompaniment Freida Pinto interview: click here.
113 Minutes. Unrated. French in English subtitles.
FOREIGN FILM / ROMANTIC DRAMA / WEEKEND MIND-OPENER
Film Cousins: “Gandhi” (1982); “Salaam Bombay!” (1988); “In This World” (2002); “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008).