Sunday, 29 April 2012


Madman Films
Now Showing

We were assigned to read Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'urbervilles in high school, and while I certainly remember beginning the book, I don't recall finishing it. Apologies to Mr. Hardy, my more literary-minded readers, and my Year 11 English teacher.

My only experience with Hardy since then has been in film and television, most notably Jude (1996), director Michael Winerbottom's adaptation of Jude The Obscure, as memorable for featuring a full frontal nude Kate Winslet as it was for Rachael Griffiths' slaughtering of a pig.

Winterbottom returns once more to Hardy with Trishna, a sub-continental re-imagining of Tess of the D'Urbervilles set it in modern India. And while it may be the director's third Hardy adaptation (after 2000's The Claim), he continues his trend of never repeating himself; Trishna is as different to any Hardy adaptation as it is to Winterbottom's previous films, The Trip (2011) and The Killer Inside Me (2010).

Trishna (Freida Pinto) is a poor young woman in Rajasthan, supporting her family as a servant in a hotel when she catches the eye of Jay (Riz Ahmed). A handsome and charming England born-and-raised Indian, Jay's on a boys-only holiday with mates before taking up a managerial post in one of his father's Indian hotels.

Jay arranges to have Trishna come work for him, and it's the beginning of her downfall (Hardy loves a tragic heroine). Fleeing the hotel after Jay's affections finally take physical form, Trishna returns to her family, but after she brings shame to her father's household, Trishna is sent away to look after an ailing aunt.

That's where Jay discovers her and whisks her away to Mumbai, dazzling the country mouse with beaches and night clubs, dance classes and film sets, and a world of possibilities Trishna could only ever have dreamed of.

But then Jay is called home to England, and Trishna is seemingly abandoned. His return, which sees both relocating to Rajasthan and Trishna returning to a servant's uniform, witnesses a marked change in Jay's behaviour and sets in motion the tragic end to their always ill-fated romance.

India makes for an ideal setting for a Hardy tragedy given that it's a country where women remain at the mercy of the dictates of both men and tradition. Trishna herself seems like a rather passive heroine but that passivity is culturally ingrained, and Pinto's performance (granted she's not a great actress) perfectly captures that 'between-a-rock-and-hard-place' resignation and the believability of her actions.

And while Trishna's final, desperate actions may go some way to evening the ledger in favour of women following their mistreatment at the hands of men in The Killer Inside Me, that's not the point of the film: it's a good old fashioned Hardy tragedy, regardless of the setting.

Winterbottom's adaptation may be far from perfect -- the set-up is over long and the middle section of the film, despite being in the midst of the vibrant Mumbai, is rather inert -- but Trishna is an oddly beguiling film. And it's final moments make it both hard to ignore or shake.

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