Friday, 23 January 2015
In Trishna, Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles is transported to modern day Jaipur by the mercurial and prolific Micheal Winterbottom, his third Hardy adaptation (Jude in 1996 from Jude the Obscure and 2000's The Claim based on The Mayor Of Casterbridge precede it) and sadly one of his lesser works.
Riz Ahmed stars as Jay the son of a rich Jaipur hotelier (Roshan Seth) with ambitions to be a key player in the Bollywood film industry. We meet him instantly, travelling with friends visiting ancient temples and, like any young man in both Hardy's time and now, drinking beer and discussing girls. One girl in question utterly captivates him one evening at a traditional party; this is Trishna, played by Freida Pinto, a beautiful untouched young girl who dreams of being a dancer.
Trishna comes from a poor family. Her father works as a delivery driver but inadvertently places the family into penury and both himself and Trishna into physical injury when he falls asleep at the wheel, crashing his jeep head on into a bus - a smart little updated twist on one of the novel's most famous scenes. Hearing about Trishna's accident, Jay wangles a job for her at his dad's hotel, putting into motion a doomed relationship.
As anyone familiar with either Hardy's original novel or one of the many film/TV adaptations can see from reading Trishna's plot precis, it takes great contemporary liberties with the source material. Tess' familial plight and her father's delusions of grandeur that shape the body of the novel are jettisoned in favour of a fixed and firm early focus on the character of Jay. But just who is Jay - is he Angel Clare or is he Alec d'Urberville? Winterbottom favours an ambiguity that is both interesting and frustrating to those familiar with Tess.
Personally I've no issue with changing things up a bit, but the story has to sustain that interest and unfortunately this is something that Trishna ultimately fails at. Despite its modernity and its rich, well captured location work, Winterbottom's film remains unfocused and flabby and the normally reliable leads Ahmed and Pinto seem to struggle in conveying their characters pain, love and journey.