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Film Review: Trishna (2011)

Trishna is a loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Ubervilles transported from Victorian England to modern-day India and starring Frieda Pinto and Riz Ahmed. The titular protagonist is a shy, hardworking, virtuous, and humble girl living in rural Rajasthan who catches the eye of a rich and handsome hotel heir named Jay. After Trishna’s father gets into a car accident that places the family in debt and prevents him from working, Trishna receives and accepts a job offer to work at Jay’s father’s hotel. Lavished with gifts and special attention, Trishna finds herself drawn to Jay but the imbalance of power places her in an increasingly powerless and awkward position. After a line is crossed, Trishna leaves the hotel and returns home but is soon forced to take up work in another city to provide for her still struggling family. Jay tracks her down and offers her the opportunity to move to Bombay with him and live a free and luxurious lifestyle away from everyone who knows her. She accepts but after a blissful period of parties, shopping, and romantic walks on the beach, Trishna’s new, idyllic life shifts slowly and almost imperceptibly into a slavish nightmare.

My only other encounter with Thomas Hardy’s work is the 2015 film adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd, which I found beautiful but problematic. The same can be said for Trishna, which is gorgeously shot and nicely acted but suffers from terribly flat characters. Pinto’s character is given very little in terms of an inner life since Trishna is infuriatingly passive and self-effacing. Her role is simply one of a pretty maid, serving her family and then serving Jay, and never questioning her place or seeming to desire more. She allows her life to be dictated by her father and Jay out of paralyzing fear and social expectation, which is a cultural issue that plagued women in Hardy’s time and still affects women today, but is truly frustrating to watch a victim for two hours. Trishna’s only marker of individuality is her love of dancing, which she gives up with only the tiniest flicker of struggle when circumstances and Jay conspire against her. The story does redeem itself at the end when Trishna finally does set out to reclaim her life from Jay but her actions are extreme and arguably out of character. Ahmed fares slightly better as the mercurial and ambiguous Jay who walks the knife’s edge of being likeable and villainous throughout the movie and leads the audience to question his actions and intentions from light-hearted beginning to twisted end.

Aside from the drama, Trishna presents a varied scope of India from the dusty rural to the fast-paced urban, from tranquil temples to bustling streets, and from spacious hotel suites to cramped servants quarters. The camera often dwells on beautiful patterns of light and colour from geography, architecture, and clothing. The pacing does suffer a bit from this languid approach—and there are a few too many montages in the film—but it is a small complaint. Music and dancing are also used to interesting ends and a mix of traditional and contemporary elements add to the discordantly romantic and dark tone of the film.

Ratings (out of 5):

Directing: 3.5

Story: 3

Acting: 4

Dialogue: 3

Editing: 2.5

Visuals: 4

Music/Score: 4

Overall Average: 3.4

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