Published Sep 23, 2011Considering that Thomas Hardy's penultimate novel, Tess of the D'Ubervilles, boils down to the battle between traditionalism and the impeding forces destroying it, Michael Winterbottom's modern adaptation, Trisha ― set in India ― actually maintains the core thematic vitality of the novel despite the many narrative concessions made.
To boot, there's even a little Bollywood dancing, rear-entry coitus and abortion action, taking Hardy's sexually timid, although contextually racy, writing and spicing it up in ways the Victorian Realist writer never imagined.
Here, the socially constrained protagonist, Trishna (Freida Pinto), lives in rural Rajasthan, with her family, taking a job at a posh hotel (not a poultry farm) when the owner's son, Jay (Riz Ahmed), offers it to her in an effort to get under her sari. From there, the flirtation escalates, with mere curiosity on the part of Trishna becoming problematic when Jay's familial ties influence his decisions, and his controlling nature ultimately degrades her self-worth, also hindering her dancing ambitions.
Because of the many characters and storylines throughout the novel, Winterbottom has smartly removed complexities in favour of the core struggle, escalating issues of virtue and identity in relation to family obligation and survival. Trishna's desire to help her family financially ultimately outweighs her reservations about becoming involved in something that seems too good to be true.
It's also pared down stylistically, much like most of the genre-hopping auteur's works, using handheld camerawork in most sequences, heightening the visceral aspects while taking advantage of the geographical views. This makes the gradual build-up of character conflict and compounding emotions hold that much more power when the final act comes and delivers a stomach-churning resolution to a complex relationship.
Once again, Winterbottom has managed to take a seemingly simple and familiar premise and expand on it in a slightly unconventional way, shaking up complacency without drawing attention to himself. It's an impressive feat, even if the journey is a little dry, at times. (Bankside)