Actress Freida Pinto's occasional opacity works in the movie's favor as her character, Trishna, remains mysterious.
Courtesy of Marcel Zyskind
In Michael Winterbottom's "Trishna," Thomas Hardy's Victorian romantic tragedy "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" proves surprisingly adaptable to contemporary India. Freida Pinto plays Trishna, the eldest daughter of a poor rural family in Rajasthan, who is romanced by Jay (Riz Ahmed), the wealthy son of a property developer. As is true of so many dramas played out against the Indian backdrop, these people are both singular and archetypal.
Trishna represents a younger generation that has been moving into the cities for greater freedoms while still tied to tradition. Jay, who doesn't want to manage his father's properties and is lured to Mumbai and the Bollywood swirl, is split between modernity and a kind of neocolonialist hauteur. Although he is smitten by Trishna, whom he first glimpses working in one of his father's hotels, he takes it as a given that she is subservient to him. His love for her has its sharp demarcations. And because Trishna, both innately and through her station in life, is extraordinarily passive with Jay, she has no real say in what happens to her (until the end).
The tragedy of "Trishna," written and directed by Winterbottom, is that these young lovers, in an idealized setting, would be the perfect couple. Instead, the story plays itself out with a dreadful inevitability. We know, even without any familiarity with Hardy's book, where all this is heading. Trishna's fate has a sacrificial grandeur, and a sacrificial horror, because she embodies so much more than herself.