Tuesday, 20 March 2012


In this contemporary reworking of Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles Director Michael Winterbottom translates the story's context to modern day India setting the film in Rajasthan and Mumbai. This offering simplifies Hardy's original plot whilst taking the viewer on a journey that undulates between hope and despair. The title role is played by the beautiful Freida Pinto (Slumdog) and her suitor Jay by Riz Ahmed (Four Lions) who both turn in strong performances that draw you into the story.

Trishna's odyssey from the privations of large-family rural subsistance to the excesses of Bollywood film sets in Mumbai is an ultimately cruel and tragic journey. From humble beginnings with familial pressure for her to turn main provider and where she has very little, to a context in which everything seemed possible and within her grasp, Trishna's naivet√© allows her to follow her heart rather than her head which leads to ultimately tragic consequences. How much of a past a secret life should we share with those closest to us? As Trishna journey's through the three different contexts - rural Rajasthan, luxury hotels and Mumbai, so each one is accompanied by a markedly different score which helps to differentiate the way in which they contribute to the unfolding narrative.

Jay is depicted as being neither fully at home in either his native British culture or adopted Indian culture. What is clear is that he enjoys the trappings of wealth provided by his millionaire businessman father as he lives out a modern day parable of the prodigal with its hedonism and excesses. The way in which Hardy's original plot devices are translated into this new setting is cleverly done and delivers a believable and compelling set of circumstances.

As with the original, the main male character undergoes a radical transformation that sees his infatuation and gentle caring love for Trishna become an abusive and violent lust-filled relationship of sexual domination. The meandering and unevenly paced story throws up a host of moral questions that are simply presented leaving the viewer to process them and arrive at their own conclusion. The film beautifully pits traditional Indian values up against the creeping Westernisation of an emerging Indian sub-culture. It explores love and tracks it into lust and Karma Sutra inspired abuse. It also presents a portrayal of wealth and privilege passing from one generation to another with the younger generation seemingly unable, or simply unwilling, to embrace the older generation's values and ideals.

The vibrant cinematography presents a portrait of in-your-face India that is as alluring as it is alien. The soundtrack paints a mindscape to help disentangle the different contexts in which the story plays out - as Trishna returns home for the final time, the soundtrack delivers a haunting lament for what might have been. The actors deliver strong and compelling performances. The plot is filled with drama with many twists and turns as it holds out a vision of hope for the life Trishna and Jay have within their grasp. Sadly, as in Hardy's original, the ultimate transformation sees it all come to nothing.

This is a film to watch to appreciate the journey rather than marvel at the destination. The acting performances are strong and we are sure to see more of Pinto and Ahmed. The locations are seductive in and of themselves. The multiplicity of moral and ethical questions the film throws up make it ripe for ongoing reflection and discussion. All-in-all a very good film that will repay the investment of your time to watch it. I'll give 7.5/10.

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