Rating: 2.5/5 Stars (Two and half stars)
Star Cast: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla, Adil Hussain
Director: Leena Yadav
What’s Good: Leena Yadav’s film is brave, raw and a sufficing attempt at throwing light over the issues of women in rural India.
What’s Bad: Parched comes off as a mere repartee over women’s issues. The solution it concludes with is a reminder that this is just a film and reality seems far from it.
Loo Break: You could sneak out during the much-hyped, leaked Radhika Apte-Adil Hussain sex scene.
Watch or Not?: Parched has enjoyed critical acclaim outside India, but as an Indian, I would say the film does not comes as a surprise. We are familiar with these harsh realities of rural India and a new outlook towards it would have been a revelation. As for the performances and cinematography, if you enjoy art films, this could be your pick!
Parched revolves mainly around Rani (Tanishtha Chatterjee) who is a 30 something widow in a fictional town from Gujarat, Ujhas. Rani mortgages her hut to fetch a beautiful bride for her 17 year old son Gulab (Riddhi Sen). He is an arrogant prick who considers having sex with a sex worker makes him a ‘man’. Gulab is soon hitched to Janaki (Leher Khan) but much to Rani’s surprise, this set-up does not make her life better but only worse.
Rani’s close friend on the other hand is Lajjo (Radhika Apte) who is a regular victim of abuse from her alcoholic husband for being the sole bread-winner of the family as well as for not being able to bear his child. She is considered to be a ‘Banjh’ (infertile to bear children) by the villagers.
The third wheel to this story is Bijli (Surveen Chawla). She is a fiery dancer and a prostitute whose after reaching the pinnacle of her youth is threatened by a younger girl taking her place. Fading beauty and ageing are the biggest threats for a sex worker and that’s what Bijli is grappling with.
In this hell hole of a system for women, there is also the kind-hearted Kishan who is working towards making the ladies of the village independent by setting up a handicrafts business for them. His revolutionary attitude gains him much hatred from the men. Also, him being married to a North-Eastern educated girl is looked down upon.
Parched Review: Script Analysis
Parched is quite an apt title for this film considering the lead protagonists and their lives. This is the kind of film that is unsettling and will leave you with a lot of after-thoughts.
Practically, there is nothing shocking about this film in spite of its stirring representation. It deals with issues that we have known for quite some time now. Marital rape, child marriage, abuse of sex workers, domestic violence seem significant with a rural setting. Quite like the desert terrain, the ladies here too are barren when it comes to the feelings of affection.
Yadav connects the trio with a strong friendship and also gives it a sexual twist. In a society that forbids these women to think of other men, a widow who is unsatisfied after an early death of her husband, seeks carnal pleasures from her girl friends. Lajjo on the other hand after finding out that her husband may be infertile, doesn’t hesitate to sleep with another man just to get pregnant. These seem to be bold moves but far from reality.
Also, the portrayal of men in a patriarchal society is always so cliched. Whilst showing how important it is for ladies to stand tall for their honor, Yadav forgets to give the men in the film a similar lesson. It is disappointing to see Kishan’s character being so easily shooed away by a bunch of arrogant teenagers like Gulab and his friends. That is where the change is actually needed, not the ladies leaving behind their families and home towns to find a new place to settle.
The film’s script is laden with sexual innuendos and it’s as if, the only thing on the minds of these ‘parched’ ladies is sex.
There is little shown about Kishan who is working towards the development of these ladies. Also, one of the unique points in the story is the self-earning women of the village, fighting for cable connection to be set up to prevent their men from attending the vulgar dance shows that Bijli performs on. Sadly, this angle gets lost as the writers try to spice up the film with its sexual content. Also, the way Bijli and Rajesh’s relationship concludes seems quite cliched for a plot that wants to break free.
Parched Review: Star Performance
Tannishtha Chatterjee does a fairly good job as Rani. In spite of having a complex character that actually comes full circle from being a victim at first to becoming an enforcer and so on. She excels in the scenes where she deals with her spoilt son Gulab towards the end and also her conversations with the mystery caller Shah Rukh Khan.
Radhika Apte as Lajjo does a fairly decent job except for the obvious accent slip–ups that she has. She brings out her character’s innocence extremely well. In the intimate scenes too, she is composed and extremely comfortable.
Surveen Chawla as Bijli is a stunner. She nails the carefree, untamed character with full might. It is her character that you feel for the most considering how headstrong she is at first but how the society pulls her down.
Riddhi Sen, Leher Khan, Chandan Anand and Sumeet Vyaas give a great supporting act.
Parched Review: Direction, Music
Leena Yadav’s film is easily bold with its content but no where beautiful. Quite early, there is a scene where the Panchayat is discussing the issue of Champa (Sayani Gupta) wanting to leave her husband’s home. Of course, as Indian traditions go by, ‘Shaadi Ke Baad Sasural Hi Beti Ka Ghar Hota Hai’, she is forced to live with her in-laws, despite her revealing some horrific facts about the lechers in her family. This scene itself sets the tone for the rest of the film. In a way, one could say, that if Pink which released recently is the face of urban society’s treatment towards women, Parched is easily the opposite and a mirror for the rural areas.
While Yadav’s representation of Rani, Lajjo and Bijli’s problems is very much real, its connectivity to sexual undertones didn’t work for me much. The lovemaking scenes seem to be added simply to make the film saleable, which is always a concern for non-commercial cinema.
Working on the cinematography was the Oscar-winning Cinematographer of “Titanic” Rusell Carpenter. He catches the setting in a mere perfect manner especially the scenes where the ladies are seen enjoying their private time away from the prying eyes of the villagers.
Parched Review: The Last Word
Parched is a powerful women-centric drama but it falters with the underlying themes of sexuality. Also, breaking free from the shackles of tradition and society is something that stands true for Kishan’s character much more than the leading ladies. I am going with a 2.5/5 for this film.
Parched releases on 23rd Sept, 2016.
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