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Parched movie review: Bold, but not beautiful

Prithviraj Dev/ |

Film: Parched

Cast: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla, Adil Hussain, Sumeet Vyas and Lehar Khan

Director: Leena Yadav

Rating: ***1/2

“No matter how deeply he drills me, I somehow manage to remain barren.”

Hard-hitting dialogues such as the above set the tone for the Leena Yadav (Shabd, Teen Patti) helmed Parched, taking the viewer into the tabooed world of marital abuse and bride price among others.

Set in rural Gujarat, the film deftly deals with real issues that Indian women are forced to endure for no fault of their own. ‘Endure’ remains the key word, as most of these ladies do not speak, let alone act on these grave injustices they go through on a daily basis.

“What will people say?”

A classically cliched line if there ever was, but one which rings true in the opening scene of Parched. A newly-wed bride escapes from her in-laws to return to her parents, who along with their tiny village, are horrified to see her. They force her to go back, despite her earnest protests, and her haunting revelations about her new family will shock you to the core.

Over the course of two hours, you get acquainted with four distinctly beautiful women, namely Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee, Lajjo (Radhika Apte), Bijli (Surveen Chawla) and Janki (Lehar Khan).

Tannishtha revels in the lead role with a strong performance as the widowed Rani, desperately trying to rein in her immature son, Gulab. Mortgaging her house to find the prettiest bride for Gulab literally opens Pandora’s Box as she is forced to deal with serious issues that spring up.

Arranging money for the bride’s price turns out the easy part. It is what comes after it that she is not prepared for.

Her scenes with her sickly mother-in-law are a treat to watch, as she narrates her life story and draws great comfort sharing tidbits of her daily life with the octogenarian. How her perspective of life expands manifold towards the end of the movie, proves that it is never too late to change, no matter where you are. A special mention must be given to  the hilarious conversations she has with her unknown admirer, her very own ‘SRK’.

Rani’s best buddy number one, Lajjo (Apte) is married to an abusive drunkard, who is more or less a good for nothing. Constantly derided in public and in private for being unable to conceive a child, hers is a truly miserable existence. The lengths to which she goes to find her happiness will shock a few, but none can deny she deserves every bit of cheer she can get.

Much had been made of her ‘leaked intimate scenes’ with Adil Hussain. And to say that the particular scene is a highlight of the film would be a unjustifiable to all involved with Parched. The essence of intimacy is not lost, and yet never once will you feel ‘too much’ has been shown.

Rani and Lajjo’s other best friend, the one they are envious of, Bijli is a wandering prostitute who is looking for a way out, even if she doesn’t initially admit it. The bright lights of her tent and the phat-phatpatiya she occasionally commandeers do seem very attractive, but in reality she is as miserable as the rest. She does provide comic relief at some key instances, and her blunt but uncannily true take on Hindi abuses will make many men squirm in their seats.

Lehar Khan, who won the Dadasaheb Phalke award for her impressive performance in Jalpari, is the coy newly wed-bride of Gulal, Rani’s son. Why he never quite takes to her is a damning take on the psyche of the typical Indian male, and her plight will resonate with millions of women who were married off at an age when they had barely begun to read.

Russel Carpenter (Titanic, Ant-Man) and Kevin Trent (Blow) keep the camera angles tight and smartly focus less on the scenic, yet brutal landscape and on the film’s real treasure: its women.

The background score flows in tune with the rhythm of the film and takes the narration forward and as you move from scene to scene, everything feels inch perfect.

Without a doubt, the movie is disturbing. For many, it will be an eye-opener. Set in a village it may be, these social evils have existed in sprawling metropolises and among the elite for eons now. High time somebody showcased it on the silver screen, and one hopes that at the very least some form of dialogue will be started in households across the country.

Bold but not beautiful, dark but not sombre, Leena Yadav seems to have struck gold in the desert on her third attempt, and Parched is a must-watch for all. Having said that, the film is a new direction for Indian cinema.