Adams on Reel Women: ‘Trishna,’ Freida Pinto, and a tragic, twisted Cinderella tale
Photo by Sundance
As performed by Pinto in a role that plays to her strengths, Trishna is a woman of staggering beauty inside and out. She emits light whether she's dancing for tourists at the local fancy hotel well beyond the budget of her rural family, or playing with her younger sister in the dirt yard outside the family hut. She pulses with goodness, drudging dutifully like Cinderella among the ashes and dreaming of better things.
There is never any doubt that Trishna is more worthy than the beautiful boy who enters her life on a Jeep, but the deck is stacked against her. In contemporary Indian society, the rich son of a rich man has all the power. And when she is plucked by the handsome yuppie, even though we have seen how cavalier he is with his dope-smoking continental friends, we hope that he is better than he seems. We hope that he will make her Bollywood Cinderella dreams true. We're as much a sucker as she is.
Anyone who has read the Thomas Hardy novel "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," upon which the movie is loosely based, knows that Trishna, like Tess, dances toward tragedy. It's a Hardy-luck life. This meeting of highborn and lowborn in the East, rather than the English countryside, will not end well.
As an image of women in film, Trishna is a traditional feminine icon, as opposed to a contemporary feminist one. At home, she lives under the patriarchal thumb. Her father dictates her actions, and she submits.
After he crashes the family truck and imperils their livelihood, dad tells Trishna to go to the city and work for Jay at his father's Jaipur hotel, because the money she makes will support the family. And, months later, when Trishna returns pregnant from her unsupervised adventure, he insists she abort the baby and shuttles her off in shame to work for an uncle.
Shouldn't her life with Jay be an improvement? Well, no. This Cinderella remains subservient, even when her surroundings change and her material possessions improve. While Jay speaks our language, dances to our music, and behaves with familiar contemporary college-educated jocularity, in some ways what he offers Trishna is just as antiquated as the curry back home.
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Trishna shares Jay's bed. They hang out with his friends. He gives her the illusion of a contemporary couple. But it's an illusion: She has no power in the relationship.
When Jay discovers Trishna's pregnancy and subsequent abortion, he does not acknowledge his contribution to the dilemma. From that moment, even though they are back together in Bombay, and then Jaipur, he withdraws the one thing that made their life together magical: his physical and emotional love. By pulling all the strings, Jay turns even their lovemaking into an act of subjugation.