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【Official Interview】 Competition “Trishna”

Competition “Trishna” Interview with Michael Winterbottom (Director)

©2011 TIFF

“Trishna” is British director Michael Winterbottom’s third adaptation of a Thomas Hardy novel, following “Jude” (1996) and “The Claim” (2000). And just as “The Claim” switched the setting of “The Mayor of Casterbridge” to the 19th century American West, “Trishna” updates “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” to 21st century India, a country poised between rural traditionalism and urban modernism. Though basically a love story, “Trishna” is mainly a study in the conflict of expectations informed by cultural and economic realities.

—I read that you came up with the idea for the movie nine years ago.
Michael Winterbottom: We were working on “Code 46″ at the time, so I’m sure it was 2003, and then we started making this one in 2010, so there’s a seven-and-a-half year gap between thinking about it and making it.
—And the Hardy angle was part of the plan from the beginning?
Winterbottom: That was the idea. We were in Rajistan, the place where we shot the film, where Trishna lives, and I was working with some people from Mumbai. I kept thinking this would be a really interesting context for a story like “Tess.” At the time there were kids at the village pump getting water, so I saw this contrast between people who have to go from their house to the village water pump and the crew from Bombay all on their cell phones and laptops. The dynamism of a culture and a place where there can be such extremes of modern technology on the one hand, and a static social situation on the other is the kind of thing Hardy was writing about in “Tess” and “Jude.” I had already made “Jude,” and it was a great experience, but it was also frustrating trying to capture Hardy’s radical edge.
—Is that what appeals to you about his books?
Winterbottom: I like him for a lot of reasons, but I think he’s brilliant at relating the individual to the wider forces in society, and then criticizing society for what he sees as its negative things, like marriage in “Jude” or the church in “Tess.” It’s hard to get that in period films, which always come across as conservative no matter how hard you try.
—I always thought people made too much of class in Hardy. It always seemed to be more about a clash of sensibilities. Is that why you decided to make Jay ethnically Asian but from a different social system, since he grew up in the UK? Why didn’t you just make that character someone who grew up in Mumbai?
Winterbottom: Partly it was because of the book, where you have Alec D’Urberville, the first person who loves Tess. As you can see we combined Tess’s two lovers, Alec and Angel, the sensual and the spiritual, into Jay. Tess goes to the D’Urberville house because her family thinks he’s connected to them due to the name. As it turns out, they just borrowed that name. They’re not from therel. They’re industrialists who made their money in the north of England and then bought into the idea of cultural heritage by buying a manor house and changing their name. So I thought it was a good parallel with Jay’s dad, who made all his money in England and then bought up this cultural heritage and these beautiful palaces in India, turning them into hotels. I knew Riz Ahmed (the actor who played Jay) before and talked to him about the whole idea of this second generation–his own parents are from Pakistan–and how they feel about their connection to a place they’ve never really been to except for brief holidays.
—Jay is frustrating in that regard, because you expect him to be sympathetic to Trishna’s situation but as the movie progresses he gets even farther away from it.
Winterbottom: What you said about sensibility is especially important for Jay. He has had it very easy. He’s not really found who he is yet, hasn’t got a career. He doesn’t really need to work. All those things feed into and connect to his lack of imagination. He really likes Trishna and he’s not a bad person. He wants to help her, he wants to make love to her, but he doesn’t have the imagination or the empathy to think, “I will enjoy this and it will have no consequences for me, but what will it do to her?” She has to live with other women and work for him. Rajistan is a very conservative culture, and he’s not willing to make the effort to empathize. And obviously that becomes more extreme later when they return to Rajistan after living together in Mumbai.
—It’s annoying how he keeps saying “How are you doing?” to Trishna when the words are so obviously empty.
Winterbottom: There’s a gap. You said it’s not about class, and what I like about Hardy is that he never reduces something to the point where you are a product of your class. The other women who work in the hotel are very different from Trishna. Those women are strong and bold and chatty and will grab any opportunity to change their situations. Trishna is not a product of her class but her economic situation is an important part of who she is and what she has to do. When Jay says, “How are you doing?”, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care but rather that he can’t make that imaginative leap to understand what it could be like for her to be back in Rajistan. It’s handy for him. He can get pleasure from her. Like most 20-odd-year-old British guys, if you’ve got a chance to have some fun that night, you’re going to have some fun. Most people his age from cultures like Britain would think, “Why not?”

©2011 TIFF

—The movie presents the city as a liberating place.
Winterbottom: One of the ideas is that when you have rapid cultural change as well as economic change, when you have organization and technology and communication, it opens up opportunities, gives people ideas about what they might want to do with their lives. Bollywood films do that. On the simpler level they’re about falling in love and getting rich, but there’s also education. Trishna has had enough education to get a job in a hotel. That education also offers up the idea that you’re seeing people living lives that you can aspire to. Compared to a generation earlier when just working on the farm or working for the family would have been the only outlets, it does offer you new horizons. But in any situation when you have rapid change, only a small number or small percentage are really benefiting from that change. There are a lot of other people who see the possibility but don’t achieve it. That is true in Hardy’s version of “Tess,” and even more true in his version of “Jude,” the book that came after. Through education Jude gets to see towns and a possible life for the future. But he’s totally destroyed by not being able to achieve it. That’s the case in Mumbai: two people can live together, they’re not married, and no one will care as long as they have the money to do it. But in Rajistan that would be totally impossible.
—But there’s also the idea that Trishna grows in the city. She isn’t beaten down by it, she improves in many ways.

Winterbottom: Trishna is obviously in a privileged position. She goes there, in love, with someone who is in love with her, someone who has lots of money. When we were doing casting we met lots of professional dancers in Mumbai. They had come from small towns and gradually ended up in the film industry. Those two dancers who talk to Trishna in the film are really strong women. They say, “What’s wrong with dancing? It’s a good career, we make good money, we’re having fun, what’s wrong with that?” So there are people who have made those lives for themselves. Trishna could have had that life, but in the end she sticks with Jay and Jay goes back to Rajistan. She’s been in love with him. She’s made love to him, and feels she has to stick with him.
—Were the Bollywood elements incorporated into the script from the beginning?
Winterbottom: I can’t remember how we got there, but I think that was always the idea. In the book, the first time we see Tess is when she’s dancing on the Village Green, and Angel is there on holiday with his three brothers. He sees her and later falls in love with her. So it’s similar in structure to our movie, where Jay sees her dancing while he’s on holiday. Obviously, dancing is a big part of Bollywood culture, as well as a big part of Indian culture. And what I wanted to connect to the story is this celebration of sensuality and pleasure. Like in the temple in the beginning, there were all those dancing girls; it’s like having naked dancing girls in churches. That would be seen as a conflict. In India they celebrate those pleasures. At the same time there’s a conservative aspect of the culture that means if you’re a woman and you have sex with a man and get pregnant, it’s a big taboo. There’s this conflict around the central idea of the story, which is that there’s nothing wrong with making love. There’s a lot of pleasure in that. But there can be huge consequences if you’re a woman.

©2011 TIFF

—When Jay says, “There’s nothing wrong with making love,” it almost seems like a slap in the face, as if he were talking down to her.
Winterbottom: It’s difficult, because there’s always a gap between them. There’s very little dialogue between them. I always felt that their relationship could never be about how they express their feelings. The key element of the story is that they come from such different backgrounds that they would have to be incredibly lucky in the real world. Everything would have to go right for them for their love to succeed. When they go to Mumbai, they are in a cocoon, and maybe if they could have stayed in that world they would have gradually gotten to know each other. But as it stands they hardly know each other. After all, she was working for him, then they made love, she ran away, and a few months later he’s back. I wanted that sense of a communication problem. I wanted him to be explicit, because that’s exactly what Hardy says in the book, not through the characters, but as the narrator he says to the readers, “What’s wrong with making love? Look at all the animals, they’re making love all the time. It’s part of the natural world. It’s the church that makes it look bad.” And it’s the social condemnation that leads to Tess’s tragedy, not the fact that she had a baby.
—India is the home of the Kama Sutra and dancing girls in temples, but in Bollywood movies you can’t even kiss.
Winterbottom: Well, I think you can kiss now. I mean they’re very sensual and up front about sensuality, sexuality, the physical. So it is a contradiction, but a contradiction that plays into our story. It’s a contradiction that’s present in most cultures, but it’s very explicit in Indian culture.
—Did you do the Bollywood scenes yourself?
Winterbottom: Yes, we did. It wasn’t piggy back. It was fun. The songs were written just for the film by a major composer in India, and they will be released in the usual way. Films in India depend on the songs as a way of selling the film. On the DVD you can pull out the songs and watch them rather than the film.
Interviewed by Philip Brasor (Film writer)

KEIRIN.JPThe 24th Tokyo International Film Festival will be held with funds provided by Japan Keirin Association.TIFF History
23rd Tokyo International Film Festival(2010)