Trishna begins as a very slow and seemingly unfocused film, but Michael Winterbottom manages to make a sharp left turn in the second half, going from a contemplative travelogue to an impassioned drama.
Trishna will be a very difficult film for American audiences to comprehend. The protagonist, Trishna (Freida Pinto), is an intelligent and capable young woman who is enslaved by the cultural expectations that come from being a woman and daughter in India. The responsibilities and obligations that come from being born into that world set her life on a terrible journey from which she has few opportunities to escape. As a woman, she is expected to be subservient to men; as a daughter, she is expected to give up any individuality as a sacrifice to her family.
When we first meet Trishna, she is working at a hotel in Rajasthan, a remote area of India. Her family lives in a small, poor village, surviving on what she and her father are able to scrape together from her job and his multiple enterprises. On one of her early morning deliveries with her father, he falls asleep at the wheel and crashes the jeep, leaving himself unable to work and leaving Trishna with a badly hurt arm. The family’s survival is now placed squarely on Trishna’s shoulders.
Her savior is Jay (Riz Ahmed), a young British businessman who runs the hotel where Trishna works. Jay’s father owns it (and many others), but the operational responsibility has fallen to Jay since his father has been ill. Jay doesn’t much care for India, preferring to booze it up with his buddies than fully appreciate the history and people that surround him. Trishna, though, does catch his attention, and he offers her a job in Mumbai at another hotel earning a great deal more. She has a duty to her family, so she has no choice but to take it.
Trishna and Jay’s relationship develops and ultimately leads Trishna into a much more terrible position than she could have envisioned. Early on, Jay seems like an innocent, if spoiled, kid who doesn’t know how to take “no” for an answer. We find out, though, that his personality is much more dangerous, dragging Trishna around India as a more of a pet than a companion. He likes to have something pretty to look at and not necessarily a wife or girlfriend with whom he wants to share his life. Trishna’s despair reaches a crescendo when she realizes she has few options left, and she makes a decision that she has been hurtling toward for some time.
Michael Winterbottom directed the film and adapted the screenplay from the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Winterbottom has taken many liberties with the story, most notably setting the film in India. Trishna begins as a very slow and seemingly unfocused film, but Winterbottom manages to make a sharp left turn in the second half, going from a contemplative travelogue to an impassioned drama. The locales in which he films are beautiful and stark. Through the variety of settings, we get a true sense of the myriad conditions in which India’s people live.
Pinto is absolutely tremendous in her role. We can see in her eyes the sadness Trishna carries with her. Though Trishna must be subservient and docile at all times, Pinto shows us that there is much more brewing beneath the surface than she is allowed to show. The joy she derives from the interest Jay shows in her is so heartbreaking because we can sense he is not the escape she hopes he will be.
Trishna leads the audience on a very bleak journey for which there is little cause for hope. Trishna is a wonderfully written character and Pinto is the perfect choice to play her. The true tragedy of the story is that, no matter what she does, Trishna is only allowed so much freedom. Her story is unlike most we have seen before, and the film is not shy about depicting the terrible results that await someone in her position. | Matthew Newlin