"Trishna" tells the story of a beautiful woman who is cruelly mistreated by a cold-blooded man. This man is so clueless, so emotionally tone-deaf, that his brutality threatens to undermine the film. That becomes all the more puzzling because he doesn't begin that way. He undergoes a change in his nature that it's hard for us to understand on an emotional level. And that isn't a weakness in the story but a strange kind of strength; we watch in horror as a tragedy unfolds.
The title character is played by the touchingly beautiful Freida Pinto, who you will remember from "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008). By "touchingly," I mean that in the way she plays this particular character, beauty becomes like a handicap. No woman so completely without resources should be forced to live with it. Her Trishna is a gentle, sweet, completely good young woman of 19, who lives with her family in a poor rural district of India. After her father is disabled in a road accident, she becomes the wage earner. This could mean working in the fields or in her uncle's factory — or making a good city salary on the staff of a luxury hotel.
It happens this way. Trishna catches the eye of a young man named Jay (Riz Ahmed), the son of a wealthy hotel owner. He has been educated in England and has returned home, is struck by her beauty and her plight, and offers her a job in his father's hotel. He does this out of kindness, and she accepts out of necessity. At first, all goes well. He sponsors her for a course in hotel management. She is good at her work.
Then, abruptly, his behavior changes. They had seemed to be falling in love, a romance that would cross class barriers but nevertheless seems possible to both of them. Then, at a tender moment, after a kiss, he grows aggressive. Whether he rapes her is left unclear, but she is in so much dismay that she returns immediately to her father's home. Won't tell you all that happens next. Let me briefly say that Jay comes looking for her and takes her to Mumbai, where they share a flat and become lovers, and she lives with him on the fringes of Bollywood. She even begins dancing classes, and it isn't unthinkable that she could find a movie career.