Trishna: Freida Pinto in a Thomas Hardy Update

I love a good bummer as much as the next man, and Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles is certainly a good bummer—maybe even a double-bummer, now that I think of it. Roman Polanski took his crack at the novel in 1979, making a star of Nastassja Kinski; a silent adaptation dates from 1913; and you can find the 2008 BBC miniseries (starring Gemma Arterton) on DVD. So what new spin can director Michael Winterbottom possibly bring to the tragedy? He stages it in caste-divided India, and even recruits the girl from Slumdog Millionaire, Freida Pinto, to play his doomed heroine. Trishna is a peasant girl in Rajasthan, educated enough to speak English and work in a hotel. Jay (Riz Ahmed) is an idle, British-educated hotelier's son who doesn't even speak Hindi (much less Marvadi, the local dialect), but he's got an eye for beauty—and Trishna is a beauty. Their romance takes them from one palatial hotel to another, where caged birds sing and maids gossip; and there's an enjoyable interlude in Bombay, where Jay tries to produce movies and Trishna takes dance lessons with Bollywood stars. (Amusingly, some play themselves.) But we know where things are headed: Jay has all the power, Trishna has none, and he's a shallow, easily bored sort of fellow. Perhaps because of this, and having done a straight Hardy adaptation with the 1996 Jude, Winterbottom dwells on the incidental pleasures of his story: Jay's rowdy English friends, his blind father (Roshan Seth, excellent in his few scenes), and dinner parties in Bollywood. It's the same digressive strategy used in The Trip or 24 Hour Party People, and for a while you can deceive yourself that things will work out for Jay and Trishna. But Hardy always closes the book on such hopes.

 
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