The prolific English director returns to TIFF (where he has shown many of his films, including 2010’s The Trip), with his first India-set film, Trisha.
Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed star in the contemporary, relocated retelling of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Bankside handles sales.
What gave you the idea to update Hardy and bring Tess to India?
When we were doing the reccies on Code 46 we were travelling around with in Rajasthan, there just felt like there were a lot of aspects of the place at that time which were similar to the world that Hardy describes. It’s about rural communities that have been very conservative, very fixed, very traditional, and then it’s the impact of the new technology, education, communication. That’s what Hardy is writing about in Tess, and that’s very much what’s happening in India now.
You also did an adaptation of Jude the Obscure, what is it about Hardy that you love?
Tess and Jude are my two favourite books of his. He has stories that are tragic love stories, and he’s brilliant at showing that they are very much individuals’ lives connected. And showing why they struggle to achieve the things they want to achieve.
How did you work with Riz and Freida?
Riz’s character is brought up in England, so he could draw on what he already knew. With Freida, she spent more time going to learn about Rajasthan. She spent some time at farmers ‘houses. In the end the family we filmed, so she spent some time with them and then they are in the film as well. I had worked with Riz before [on Road To Guantanamo] but this is the first time he’s done a romantic leading man kind of role, he completely stepped up. They were both great to work with, and the film is all about the two of them, right from the beginning they seemed to connect.
How much of a Bollywood influence is there to the film?
Hardy was telling stories not dissimilar to the stories that Bollywood tells. In Tess, one of the guys falls in love with her when he sees her at a village dance. So I took that idea, and dancing and film are huge in India. Trishna loves film, she loves dancing, and when they go to Mumbai Jay is trying to be a film producer, they are in that world on the fringe of Bollywood. We had four songs specially composed for the film by Amit Trivedi.
How do you describe the look of Trishna?
So much of the look of a film depends on where you’re filming and what you’re filming, because we always shoot on location. We shot on the Alexa, so it has a nice quality to it.It is Rajasthan, it has these amazing hotels, the desert, houses. It’s a film that moves from countryside to farm to hotels to Mumbai to Jodhpur to Jaipur, from my point of view I’m just trying to capture what that’s like. The look of it is how it looks.
Would you shoot in India again?
It was weirdly more transparent and enjoyable this time [compared to earlier shoots for 2046 and A Mighty Heart], it is very dynamic, they are making a lot of films there. It’s quite an enjoyable atmosphere to work in.
What do you think of Toronto as a festival?
It’s great, the first thing Andrew [Eaton, co-founder and producer at Revolution] and I ever did together was a TV thing called Family, and we did a film version that showed in Toronto [in 2004]. It was from that showing in Toronto that we got a chance to make Jude. We’ve been there a lot over the years.