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Parched, which raises the question of choice in women’s lives and weaves in a beautiful sisterhood, is a must-watch movie.
I recently watched the movie Parched with my mother, in a theatre which was filled with only a handful of people. No surprises there, really – after all, who wants to pay and watch a movie about the trials and tribulations of Indian rural women!
Directed by Leena Yadav, the movie is set in rural Rajasthan, and is beautifully woven around the lives of three women, each striving hard in their own way to pull away from the blatant patriarchal traditions enforced upon them by society. The performances are powerful, moving and subtle – they touch upon sexuality, freedom of choice and empowerment, making it an important relatable watch for women across rural and urban settings.
Tannishtha Chatterjee plays the role of Rani, a widow who is dealing with her teenage, worthless son and a bed ridden mother in law. Radhika Apte, as Lajjo, plays the role of a barren woman, who is judged and critiqued, rather graphically, by her inability to produce a child. Surveen Chawla, as Bijli, plays the role of a gutted prostitute, who is temperamental in her own right, and yet unable to move out of the clutches of prostitution.
Chatterjee and Apte find solace in each other and share the daily ups and downs of their lives. Apte is beaten black and blue by her husband, while Chatterjee’s son blows away her hard earned money, making it difficult to replay her loans. Yadav creates an atmosphere of exuberance where the women are unabashedly open about their sexuality, the kind of men they wish to be with, the kind of lives they wish to build for themselves – all amidst palpable darkness.
Bijli provides the much needed getaways for these women, and in turn they give her the promise of a supposedly normal life – one where men can’t force themselves on her for money and one where she is not regarded with disdain in public gatherings for being a prostitute.
The movie is peppered with instances which make your skin crawl – where Apte’s husband metaphorically refers to her uterus as an oil well, and that no matter how much you drill, there isn’t any sign of oil; when Chatterjee’s son forces himself on his child bride and she rushes out of the house because she cannot bear to see the little girl in the same situation as she was, a decade ago; when a couple of vulgar, Rajasthani men pound themselves into Bijli all night long, and she wakes up with gashes all over her face and body.
At the same time, the movie is bright and colorful, and warms you from within – when Chatterjee stands up for her son’s wife (played very realistically by Sayani Gupta), and makes sure she escapes with her young lover into the city; when Apte discovers that she may not be barren, it could be her husband – and goes on to indulge in a passionate love making scene with a stranger, arranged and put together by Rani and Bijli; when the three women partake in their getaways and laugh and talk by the lakeside, or near an abandoned fortress or in Bijli’s tent – it makes you root for them. The movie is edgy, realistic and bleak but at the same time it is empowering in its own right – it brings about the all-important question of choice in women’s lives, or the lack of it, really.
Why is it that women are judged by their ability or inability to produce children? Why is it that men are given the right to use a woman’s body the way they wish to, to force themselves down on her, to bruise her, to sexually violate her? Why is it that girl children are still sold as child brides? Why is it that a household is believed to be incomplete and non-functional without a male figure?
Parched goes on to do away with these expectations, and in a heartening climax, depicts how Apte leaves her husband in a burning house and how the three of them escape to the city, with the beautiful hope of rebuilding their broken lives.
The year-old film has gone on to win several awards in international film festivals and art houses, and only now appears in theatres in India. As an Indian woman, who is almost always judged by the regressive yardsticks put in place by patriarchy, I urge you to watch the movie and absorb the subtleties in a storyline very succinctly put together by Yadav.
Image sourced from movie promotional material