Friday, September 30, 2016


Of Female Bonding

Coming a week after Pink, Leena Yadav’s Parched is like a rural version of the same core idea--  the problems faced by women in a patriarchal society. In the first film, the urban, educated careerwomen are aware of their rights; in the second, there are rural women, who are resigned to their fate, because there is no alternative in sight.

Yadav’s film—with enough exotica to entice foreign festival audiences—seems to suggest a solution, and that is-- women should support other women.

Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is a widow, with a son, Gulab (Riddhi Sen), who is going the way other boys in the village (in Rajasthan), swaggering around, drinking and whoring. Rani and her friend Lajjo (Radhika Apte) select a bride for Gulab, but he does not like Janaki (Leher Khan) and goes back to his dissolute ways. She is in love with another boy, but nobody asked her what she wants; the family decides and she has to submit.

Lajjo has an abusive husband, who throws her childlessness in her face every time he thrashes her. The third friend Bijli (Surveen Chawla) is a dancer with an itinerant company, and entertains clients on the side. Of the three, she seems relatively happy with her lot, at least she is free of family responsibilities and somewhat independent. Her life comes apart when the manager gets a younger woman to replace her.

Rani and Lajjo work on handicrafts for a kind man, Kishan (Sumeet Vyas), who runs an NGO and treats them with respect. This little bit of financial freedom irks the men, who eventually hound him out.

It’s not as if Yadav says anything new, the plight of rural women is known, but she tries to cut back on the bleakness.  For every scene of a woman’s suffering, like the one of the young girl forced by the panchayat to back to the husband and in-laws who torture her, there is one of women enjoying a breather, like the trip Bijli takes the other two on a‘chhakda’ (a three-wheeler), during which, they discover a risqué use of a vibrating mobile phone.

For a film that is pro-women, Yadav has too many scenes of violence against them, plus raunchy dances and nudity that would attract the male gaze but leave women discomfited. For such a conservative society the women’s friendship with Bijli would be frowned upon, Lajjo’s sexual encounter in cave is incredibly cheesy; the ending is also a bit implausible, but the sheer joie de vivre of the women, and the uninhibited performances by Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte and Surveen Chawla make up for the film’s other shortcomings.


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