April issue 2012

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 12 years ago

A Bold Remake

Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles gets a courageous re-imagining by prolific British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom. The director, who has also written the screenplay, transports his third Hardy adaptation to India and sets it in Rajasthan. While he changes the locale and some characters, much of the novel’s central themes remain intact.

Freida Pinto, of Slumdog Millionaire fame, plays the title character of Trishna, daughter of a rickshaw-driver, who supports her family single-handedly after her father has a work-related accident. She meets Jai (Riz Ahmed), who is in India on holiday with friends and is the son of a rich property-developer from London. They hook up in a charming, Bollywood-esque scene where the two share a dance and glimmerings of romance. When Jai learns of her plight, he offers Trishna a job in one of his father’s hotels and seeing that this move could benefit her family, she accepts, setting into motion a series of events that ultimately end in tragedy for both Trishna and Jai.

Very soon love blossoms between the two and the young duo escape to Mumbai. Away from her family, Trishna lets her hair down, enrols in dance classes, and feels safer and happier about being in a relationship. But it is here in Mumbai that the class divide becomes evident and double-standards abound. Trishna can never really rise to Jai’s social standing. His friends include filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, music director Amit Trivedi and actress Kalki Koechlin, who all play versions of themselves in the film. After Trishna tells Jai that she had an abortion earlier (the viewer knows of this already), the films takes a sharp U-turn and so does Jai, transforming from good to evil within minutes.

The film begins promisingly, with the enthralling scenery of Rajasthan providing aesthetic pleasure and the initial banter of Jai’s friends some comic moments. It’s only around half-way through the film that events become monotonous. The movie’s weakest moment is the fusion of the two main male characters from Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Angel Clare and Alec D’Urberville, into one. This doesn’t mean that Riz Ahmed is in any way unconvincing; he underplays the ‘good’ Jai superbly and gives an even better performance as the ‘bad’ Jai — after a point you actually start to hate him. It’s just that this one-character transformation is hard to digest from a screenplay point-of-view, however good the ‘transformation’ scene is.

Freida Pinto is a compelling lead character for the first time in her career and proves that she can act; she just needs the right role and director. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that what saves the film is the almost trance-like, hypnotic ending which has a trademark Winterbottom shock-value to it and for which you can forgive the weak middle. Pinto is particularly good in the last few scenes. Original songs by Amit Trivedi and a creative score by Shigeru Umebayashi provide the film some sublime moments. Lagan Lagi Re, which plays several times throughout the film and over the end credits, is a treat.

Even though Trishna has its strengths, it’s just not as good as one might have expected. But for what it’s worth, it’s a decent one-time watch.

This article was originally published in the April issue of Newsline.

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany