Long after ‘Parched’ played out its poignant plot, one might keep thinking about the four women at the forefront of Leena Yadav’s sparkling saga of patriarchal tyranny. The enduring grief and the brief bouts of buoyancy that Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Lajjo (Radhika Apte), Bijlee (Surveen Chawla) and Janaki (Lehar Khan) carry with themselves, lingers in our hearts and minds long after the last frame of this luminous work dies down.
The film is shot with such inescapable beauty by Russell Carpenter, that you fear for the inner lives of the characters. Would their emotional existence be able to withstand the sheer extraneous splendor of the storytelling? The answer, my friend, is blowing passionately in the winds. The winds of change, if you will. ‘Parched’ is shot on location in the hearts of a glorious gallery of women who seem to have emerged from generations of oppression and longing into a tremulous, dim yet restorative and nourishing light to claim a place in the blue open skies.
‘Parched’ is a melancholic yet sunny meditation on feudal mindsets where women are treated as objects of recreation and contempt, to be used and discarded. It’s a brutal life for the childless Lajjo who gets thrashed by her sodden husband regularly, for Bijlee the ‘nautanki’ sex worker who satisfies masculine lustful urges at the drop of a ghagra, Rani a mother at 14 a widow at 17 and now a discarded hag at 35-plus, and tender little child-bride Janaki who is yanked from her parental home and raped by her randy drunken teenage husband (Riddhi Sen, outstandingly loutish) who visits prostitutes, discusses his wife’s breasts with his friends and brags, “I am fulfilling my husbandly duties even when I don’t like my wife.”
Significantly, the writer-director creates two parallel universes for her women heroes. They are crestfallen shriveled dying flowers in their stifling domain of domesticity, but they blossom like summer flowers once together on joyrides in the outdoors, navigated into surreptitious excursions into ecstasy by the feisty Bijlee.The bustling cosmos that ‘Parched’ creates, comes dangerously close to over-reaching itself. Leena Yadav exercises enormous control and a profound empathy over the narrative. In this endeavour, she is vastly aided by editor Kevin Tent who displays remarkable ruthlessness over the cluttered material, leaving room for not a single superfluous moment.
In a sense, ‘Parched’ mirrors the other side of the truth about sexism and the single girl from what we saw last week in ‘Pink’. The women in this film are not sophisticated or urbane enough to fully fathom, let alone deal with their horrendous plight. Their sexual oppression goes hand in hand with their sexual innocence.
There is also a curious reversal of societal ground-rules where women are often seen to be the worst enemies of their own gender. In ‘Parched’, all the women share a terrific kinship including Tannishtha’s character with her bed-ridden dying mother-in-law.
A little tug, a firm push, will do. “Parched” hits us where it hurts the most.