Parched: A Review
22 Jun 2016
What a film! I am a fan of any film that breaks with traditional portrayals of women and Leena Yadav‘s Parched certainly breaks with convention!
The title alone paints an accurate picture. Parched: thirsty, longing for a drink, dry, dehydrated.
Set in modern-day India, the film opens up on a desert landscape where the only significant colors available are in the apparel worn by thirty-two-year-old Rani’s best friend, Lajjo. The camaraderie between Rani and Lajjo is affectionate and warm as Rani seeks a beautiful bride for her seventeen year old son, Gulab. Watching the women in the bride’s family as well as Rani and Lajjo adorned in traditional clothing and adornments while the bride’s father announces that he was raising her purchase price, it would have been easy to forget that the film is set in the present day had Rani’s cell phone not interrupted the negotiations. This is Yadav’s warning that this film would be about the interruption of some age-old traditions that our heroines were quite accustomed to.
Upon Rani and Lajjo’s return to their village, they are among the villagers who are led by an all-male council. We are reminded of the brutal traditional subordinate role of women when a young woman from the village begs the elders to let her stay after explaining her torture under the hands of her husband’s family. She has run away from her husband’s family/village after being raped repeatedly by her brother-in-law and father-in-law. However, letting her stay is still not acceptable in the eyes of some of the villagers because a woman becomes the property of her husband and cannot seek refuge elsewhere, including the village in which she was born and raised.
The lives of so many women in Parched seem destitute. They suffer endless days of laborious work in the fields, never-ending chores in their homes and craft shops. The only glimpses of joy we witness is through their friendships with each other. Lajjo is beaten and sexually assaulted by her husband too many times to count and her infertility defines her self-worth. In a society where a woman is worthless if she is childless, Lajjo accepts her role as a punching bag for her perpetually angry husband. Though Rani is the breadwinner in her household, it is her spoiled seventeen-year-old son that calls the shots. Seventeen-year-old Gulab is in constant trouble with the local pimps for his debts and he possesses not a morsel of respect for Rani or his new bride, fifteen-year-old Janaki.
Being a slave to tradition, Rani sanctions her son’s abusive and neglectful behavior towards his wife because she has accepted that Janaki’s fate as a young bride will be no different than her own when she was a child-bride herself. When Janaki is not catching on to the household chores fast enough for Rani, Rani spews at Janaki, “They’ve sold me a useless goat!” In her eyes, women are meant to be used, disrespected and subdued.
When Bijli, the erotic dancer/escort comes to town, she brings the thunder! Bijli and Rani have been close friends for nearly two decades and it is difficult to imagine two women with more different lifestyles and outlooks on life. With Bijli in town, we get a bit of Bollywood, fireworks and the Playboy Channel. Although, Bijli makes a living by moving her hips in a public arena and exploiting her physical beauty, she is also subject to the mercy of the men around her. The show promoter does his best to rule her with an iron fist and arranges all of the clientele who pay good money for a few hours with Bijli. In some ways, Bijli’s freedom is just an illusion because her pimp exploits her the way abusive husbands exploit their wives.
Though Bijli has her own chains to break free from, she provides the water necessary to bring moisture to Parched. Her stories of lovemaking leave the women in a state of disbelief. I loved the scene where Bijli leads the other women in a curse-fest where she reassigns all curses derogatory towards women to men. She shouts “Fatherfucker! Brotherfucker! Unclefucker!” from the hilltop in an act of defiance that the women find liberating. However, Bijli’s most powerful revelation is that Lajjo’s husband may be the reason that she has never gotten pregnant and that it’s not necessarily a woman’s fault why a couple cannot have children. In Lajjo’s desperation and desire for a child, she participates in a sexual tryst orchestrated by Bijli that is reminiscent of Mira Nair‘s Kama Sutra in all the sweetest and most erotic ways.
Change permeates the life of each character in this film. Hard changes, subtle changes, progressive and regressive changes. Many are resistant to the inevitable transformations. Parched gives us a naked view of a modern-day village with an ancient mindset in the middle of fluctuation. In scene after scene we experience the four women fight and embrace change, their many deaths and rebirths. I loved this film’s ability to make me feel the void in every corner of the lives of these women and even more for letting me experience the end of their dehydration and the quenching of their thirsts.