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Based on Thomas Hardy's classic novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, 'Trishna' tells the story of one woman whose life is destroyed by a combination of love and circumstances. Set in contemporary Rajasthan, Trishna (Freida Pinto) meets a wealthy young British businessman Jay Singh (Riz Ahmed) who has come to India to work in his father's hotel business. After an accident destroys her father's Jeep, Trishna goes to work for Jay, and they fall in love. But despite their feelings for each other, they cannot escape the conflicting pressures of a rural society which is changing rapidly through industrialisation, urbanisation and, above all, education. Trishna's tragedy is that she is torn between the traditions of her family life and the dreams and ambitions that her education has given her. Written by
Take a classic Thomas Hardy novel and replace the setting (Victorian England) by modern India, a society that still has some of the characteristics needed to make this story believable. That's what Michael Winterbottom has done and it works wonderfully well.
Where else than in India can a poor, submissive girl who has never learned to speak up for herself, have a relationship with a rich guy who is used to getting everything he wants? Of course, the love affair is doomed because of the strict social rules that are still prevalent in India. We know from the beginning there will be tragic developments because this is a remake of Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
Winterbottom shows us very clear that the two would-be lovers have nothing in common. For him, she is purely an object of desire, a pretty face he can show off to his friends in Mumbai and have fun with between the sheets. For her, he is an escape route from poverty, an entrance ticket to the world of the jet set and possibly to a career in Bollywood.
Freida Pinto, of Slumdog Millionaire fame, is quite believable as the working class girl who is only used to obeying orders. For her, there is not much difference between saying yes to her father who asks her to fetch a glass of water, and saying yes to her lover when he asks her to move to Mumbai with him and become his live-in girlfriend. There is not much spirit in her role, and that makes you wonder if her passivity is the result of her acting talent, or, on the contrary, if it shows her lack of talent. Anyway, she plays the role exactly the way it should be.
The film doesn't paint a pretty picture of India. It's all there: the rural poverty, the girls who can't go to school because there is no money, the horrible traffic accidents, the inequality between the rich and the poor.
The only thing I didn't like about this film are the many scenes of successive nice-looking images, underscored by romantic music. In many of these scenes Pinto is featured very prominently, which is understandable because she is extremely beautiful. But it gets tedious after a while. I also lost count of the number of scenes where we see her carrying a tray to customers of the hotel she works in. These scenes make the story unnecessary slow and unbalanced.
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