Trishna, by Michael Winterbottom

I do not like reading reviews or summaries about films I intend to see. I instinctively guess which film is made for me and which film isn’t. I usually base my choice on the film maker’s name, sometimes his origins, his previous films or the theme he deals with. Which explains why I only go to the cinema five or six times a year.

As far as Trishna is concerned, I just knew it was the story of a kind poor girl who is manipulated by a naughty and wealthy man. Such a cliché would have made me run away from that film if I had not heard that it had been mainly shot in Rajasthan, an area I am fond of. I must admit I am not a Freida Pinto fan either; her sexy poses in fashion magazines seem a bit commonplace to me. So I was moderately enthusiastic as I was walking to the cinema, thinking that it would just give an article for my blog or whatever.

However, during the beginning credits, something drew my attention: « Film adapted from Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Ubervilles ». Oh dear! I realised we were not going to kill ourselves laughing for two hours! But that was fine! Hopefully, I didn’t know the end of this classic by Thomas Hardy, as I had never had the opportunity to read this novel although I love this author. I also remember watching the first part of Roman Polanski’s film on TV, but I had not enjoyed it at all.

The story starts softly. Freida Pinto is respectworthy and simple; she is a pretty servant from a Rajasthani village near Osian. Riz Ahmed is both elegant and disturbing as he plays Jay, an Indian mesmerizing daddy’s boy who cannnot even speak Hindi. These two characters will end up in the pleasures of the flesh of course, in an elliptic way for a start.

But I will not tell you the whole story which starts softly but goes on very slowly! Indeed, this film which rather looks like a beautiful TV documentary on India strangely lacks rythm, which could make the puzzled viewer wonder: What does the director intend to do? Except in thrillers, sluggishness has nothing to do with such a film!

Despite this apparent lack of rythm, Trishna is a film which makes people think. The themes that Thomas Hardy used to deal with are highly developed: first of all, the contrast between modern cities and traditional villages is depicted in abundance. Little naive butterflies like Trishna are dazzled by the lights, the frenzy, the chaos of urban life. But to be frank, I think Michael Winterbottom’s first aim was to make a film about India. So, he showers the spectator with innumerable pictures of the Indian society as Thomas Hardy provided his readers with innumerable descriptions of the English society. That is why people who have never been to India will travel for a few euros, discovering a wonderful collection of colourful postcards: typical Rajasthani villages, children running in school uniforms, goats and cows frolicking in dusty courtyards, jeeps speeding among garish rickshaws and overcrowded buses on bumpy roads, palaces and havelis converted into luxury hotels, Jaipur, its pink walls, its human tide, and terrible Mumbai, its huge white buildings, ugly, splendid, both harmonious and busy, swarming with dancers and so called Bollywood producers. All we need now is a little trip to the Taj Mahal! I guess the director has been refused the permission to shoot there or perhaps this symbol of neverending love has been considered as unsuitable for the story told in Trishna!

But let’s not forget the second theme treated in this film: women. Thomas Hardy and many of his victorian colleagues dealt with this inascapable subject; the evolvement of women in the 19th century. Even if nowdays, western women may be a bit too emancipated to correspond to this doomed servant-master love story, there are still countries where hopeless submission of low-class women for well-off bourgois is not just an artistic fantasy. Trishna is not the kind of woman to be married but the kind of woman to have sex with. Besides, Jay ruthlessly tells her there are only two sorts of women men can sleep with: servants and courtesans.

During her stay in modern Mumbai, Trishna tastes dancing and freedom. She meets artists, free young women… Suddenly, her master’s hand is not so soft. But it is too late. She is the lost woman from the victorian society. Jay leaves her and she locks herself in her attic – here, it is her lover’s appartment which looks down on the beach- as Bertha Mason and Catherine Earnshaw did it before her. Trishna cannot build a brand new life; she cannot rebel, she is trapped, she is docile, she is tamed. Her name, Trishna, has to be understood in its literal meaning now; she is just the beverage to quench her saviour’s sexual thirst. Jay keeps on leading her on the way of humiliation. Will she find a way out?

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