Direction: Leena Yadav
Actors: Radhika Apte, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Adil Hussain, Surveen Chawla
The best thing about Parched is that it dispels any notions you might have about rural Indian women being prudes. Rani, Lajjo and Bijli are raunchier than most women you meet at your local Starbucks. They love talking about sex. In fact Bijli is a sex worker, and her sales pitch is that a night with her will bring an earthquake to your bed.
The story is set in a fictional village in Gujarat. These women are bound by centuries of rigid tradition. Here, girls are married at 14. One married into the neighbouring village is routinely raped by her father-in-law and brother-in-law. She returns home but is forced by the elders to go back to her sasuraal.
Lajjo’s husband beats her mercilessly because she can’t bear children. Rani is a 32-year-old widow steeped in debt and unable to handle her headstrong, arrogant son. Each day brings fresh misery but these feisty women manage to steal moments of happiness. They find slivers of joy and cheer with each other.
Director Leena Yadav, who has also written the story, has etched these women with great affection and compassion. Their sisterhood has a depth and strength that doesn’t crack, not even when Rani’s son approaches Bijli with a bundle of notes.
The actresses playing the parts — Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte and Surveen Chawla — deliver heartfelt performances. They are defiantly strong and desperately sad.
And yet their pain didn’t pierce me in the way that Pink did last week. There are moments of genuine intimacy between the women. Their bond and love is authentic. But the larger narrative is inert and clunky.
Parched feels like a film written to make larger points. The events don’t flow organically and a few threads are just left hanging. Leena hints at a sexual intimacy between Rani and Lajjo but then it’s never addressed again. And none of the male characters is even remotely interesting. Most of them are abusive, alcoholic, sexual predators.
Adil Hussain pops in to do a Brad Pitt from Thelma and Louise — basically provide one night of great sex — but this bit of the narrative is utterly unconvincing.
Parched gets bogged down by its good intentions. But these spirited female characters will stay with you. So will the luscious cinematography by Oscar winner Russell Carpenter.
Parched lives have never looked better.