Women have the right to decide what they want. They can articulate their needs and desires. And they have the power to put a stop to abuse and violence: these crucial themes are toplined in Leena Yadav’s Parched.
The film would have been welcome at any time because the more discussion around these themes the better; coming a week after Pink, the timing seems even more opportune.
Pink’s young women were urban, privileged-by-education-and-paying-jobs. Parched takes us into the hinterland, into what looks like a Rajasthan village, and introduces us to its main women protagonists who don’t have even the semblance of agency.
Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is a widow all set to marry off her young son (Riddhi Sen) to a reluctant girl (Leher Khan) from the neighbouring village. Lajjo (Radhika Apte) is a childless woman in an abusive marriage. Bijli (Surveen Chawla) is a local dancer who gets farmed out for money by her handler.
These women live a parched life of despair and disuse. The men have either abandoned them, or use them as chattels, and instruments of brutal pleasure. Some of the sequences Yadav crafts are familiar but a sock-in-the-face, regardless. And some of them show welcome flashes of empowerment: women talking about their sexual desires, and being openly desirous (a hilarious scene features a cell-phone and the discovery of its pleasuring potential) is essential, even laudatory.
But despite Parched’s obvious worthy intentions, its execution left me discomfited. The violence unleashed on the women, including the clearly underage bride who is ravished by her entitled ‘husband’, the drunken beatings which leave Lajjo routinely broken and bruised, the horrific assaults on Bijli’s supine body, are relentless. The film shows all its punches landing where they hurt most, and after a while it all becomes too much, almost gratuitous.
Watch | Parched trailer here
The use of dialect sounds sing-song: there’s only so much language coaches can do. And it is also a little too glossy: you can understand the temptation to make so much grimness a little palatable but the lambent lighting — especially the makeshift dance floor where Bijli gyrates amongst leering men, or the cave (yes, a cave, where the skilled lover played by Hussain tenderly helps Apte get in touch with her real self) — makes it more ‘exotic rural’ than grey and real. And this is a problem faced by most films in this genre, not just this one.
A little restraint, leaving some things to our imagination, would have served the film better. Because it is saying something whose importance is paramount: that unless women become a little more empathetic to their own kind, change will not come about. Rani becomes that change agent, and we cheer. Good way to wrap: you only wish the journey was not as problematic.