On Movies: Trust presages the tragedy of 'Trishna'
When one lover looks deeply into the eyes of another and utters the fateful words, "There's just one more thing I have to tell you," watch out. That one bit of volunteered information could change everything. That's what happens in "Trishna," a moderately engaging if at times overbearing romantic tragedy set in India and starring Freida Pinto of "Slumdog Millionaire."
The story of an ill-fated affair between a rich man and a poor girl is loosely based on the novel "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" by Thomas Hardy; and in both book and movie the real roots of the tragedy lay in the class and gender-based strictures that bind the main protagonists, whether in modern India or 19th-century England.
Trishna (Pinto), who is inordinately beautiful and graceful and kind, grows up in a poor family made even poorer when both the father and the truck with which he made a living are seriously injured in a collision on the dangerous roads of rural India. (All the roads of India, city and country, would appear to be dangerous, and director Michael Winterbottom makes the thrill and risk and potential disaster of motor travel vividly central to his story and theme.)
By chance, Trishna meets Jay (Riz Ahmed), handsome and sophisticated, the son of a multi-millionaire real estate developer. Smitten, Jay offers Trishna a job in one of his father's luxury hotels, in a gorgeous bucolic setting on the outskirts of frenetic Mumbai. Jay manages the hotel, but he really wants to get into the movie business, and he introduces Trishna to the world of Bollywood.
Eventually, they become lovers, and life is full of promise for Trishna. It even appears they may marry, despite the social and cultural gulf between them. Then something is said; and Jay, who has been a model of affection and respect, who seemingly would do anything to make sure that Trishna is happy, turns into a lout. He increasingly mistreats the woman he said he loved. She bears his abuse as long as she can.
In the movies, India is generally portrayed as either dazzling with sunburst color and heady tropical perfume or buried in grim poverty. In "Trishna," Winterbottom gives us a less exotic portrait of India, a country where young men and women with ambition and an education live and strive and party in many ways like their counterparts in this country. But social class still matters, there even more than here, and Trishna finds herself trapped in that tragic reality.
Winterbottom seems attuned to Thomas Hardy's dark sensibility. The prolific director has made two previous movies derived from Hardy's pessimistic novels: He based "Jude" (1996) on "Jude the Obscure," and "The Claim" (2000) on "The Mayor of Casterbridge."
"Jude" is one of the gloomiest movies in memory, and "The Claim" has a nasty temper. "Trishna," for much of its progress, has a pleasant sweetness as it flies on the wings of romantic passion -- Pinto and Ahmed are very convincing and even endearing as young lovers, heedless of the outside world and its rules. Then one of them feels obliged and trusting enough to provide a piece of deeply personal information to the other, fully confident that love will conquer all.
Opens Friday July 27.