Hindi (A)Cast: Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Leher Khan, Riddhi Sen, Sumeet Vyas, Adil Hussain, Sayani Gupta
Director: Leena Yadav
Set in a non-nondescript Rajasthan village, Parched is a feisty and fiery tale of rustic women, who rebel and tenaciously fight the odds against a patriarchal society, being subjected to physical abuse by beastly men who dominate and dictate their torturous lives. The daring film tackles myriad woes of women — domestic violence, marital rape, child marriage and male masochism, in a raw, raunchy manner.
Brutal and bloody, as women bear assaults of menfolk who believe they are mere chattels for pleasure and domestic duties, the film revolves around Lajjo, a barren woman in an abusive marriage with a drunkard, loutish husband; Rani, a widow, with an uncouth son and ailing mother-in-law; Bijli, a local exotic dancer-sex worker brazenly abused for pleasure at will, thanks to her handler, and Janaki, a reluctant bride forced into marriage to Rani’s son Gulab. There is also a young distraught, desperate and bewildered Champa who has fled from abusive in-laws but is forced by the panchayat to return even as her pleas fall on her parents’ deaf ears.
Beaten and bruised, these women’s lives are full of untold misery which they try to face, sharing and understanding, providing soothing salve to one another and seeking empowerment. Though a village women’s self-help group helps them, bringing a ray of sunshine in their bleak lives, it is, however, skittled, even as Bijli becomes instrumental in their mutiny against the exploitative and regressive men.
Holding a stark mirror to what rural women go through, Leena Yadav etches a compelling, disturbing and evocative narrative, aided by superlative cinematography by Titanic cameraman Russell Carpenter, who captures vibrant hues of Rajasthan in all the vivacious beauty and charm.
However, the film’s fault lies in a Bollywoodian approach to serious social problems it tackles. A more nuanced, subtle and understated approach, given the sensitive subject that Yadav has sought to address, could have made Parched more powerful than the libidinous play of women in overcoming their situation. Still, superlative performances by the entire cast, makes Parched a film with a difference, deserving a watch in its right context.