Review: Women in Radhika Apte’s ‘Parched’ Are Bruised, Not Bechari

Produced by Ajay Devgn, ‘Parched’ premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and has won several awards already.

5 min read
A still from the film <i>Parched</i>. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="">Youtube</a>)

Last week’s big release Pink gave us an insight into the misogynistic mindset of the supposedly sophisticated urban population. Set in the capital of the country, we had a foreign educated young professional lucidly explain how “decent” women must behave.

They don’t drink, only the menfolk do. They don’t attend parties, only family gatherings. Also, that the hem of her skirt is a dependable measure of her character and availability.

With Parched, we enter the hinterlands. A village trembling at the cusp of modernity (scared that a new TV set in the village will lead the women astray). Although dilapidated and poor, it bears a striking resemblance to the stink of regressive thought in Pink – here too the men like to tell the women what to do.

The struggle against patriarchy, therefore, is all-encompassing as the socio-economic differences dwindle into insignificance. It is still the same fight… against the same enemy!

A still from the film <i>Parched</i>. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="">Youtube</a>)
A still from the film Parched. (Photo Courtesy: Youtube)

The movie has been in the news for Radhika Apte’s nude scenes. Stripped of context, these scenes are the only things people have come to associate with the film. This is tragic considering that Parched is so much more than titillation and skin show.

However, if this is all that interests you, then a good internet speed and YouTube should be your target. For the rest, the theme and trajectory of Parched is far bolder than the sum of these “bold scenes”.

Parched has lots of women with enough problems to call their own. Society likes to label them – so one is a widow. The other one is infertile. The new 14-year-old child bride is ugly and cursed. And the fourth – well, she is the real threat. She ensnares innocent men; she is the slut!

A still from the film <i>Parched</i>. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="">Youtube</a>)
A still from the film Parched. (Photo Courtesy: Youtube)

Leena Yadav, who doubles up as the writer and director, helps us meet the women behind the labels. Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is a 32-year-old widow who goes bride hunting for her 17-year-old son, mortgaging her own house.

Her friend Lajjo (Radhika Apte) is a happy soul who gets beaten black and blue every other night by her drunken husband. She wants a child and blames herself for her inability to have one.

The third is an unlikely fiend. Bijli (Surveen Chawla) gyrating to cheap songs is the star attraction of the brothel in the village outskirts. Then there is a young girl, Janki (Lehar Khan) who is forced into marrying Rani’s son by her family for money. She is treated miserably by Gulab (Riddhi Sen). Riddhi and Lehar are both remarkably effective in their roles.

A still from the film <i>Parched</i>. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="">Youtube</a>)
A still from the film Parched. (Photo Courtesy: Youtube)

Somewhere in the middle of Parched, one female character asks “ye galiyan bhi mardo ne banayi hai (have the men made these streets too?)” and as a form of protest, invent their own abuses – “sonf****r”, “unclef****r” – an agency that liberates them and also highlights how patriarchy has long permeated our language and thought.

These women get a raw deal, but they are un-putdownable. They joke about men, about the bruises those men give them, about their needs and unsatiated desires, they dare to dream, and therein lies the beauty of Parched.

Their thirst for freedom of thought, of their bodies, of the ecstasy of orgasming, is brought out with raw energy. Leena Yadav‘s female protagonists are bruised and battered but they aren’t “bechari”.

A promising idea backed with actors who breathe fire, Tannishtha and Radhika are exceptionally accomplished actors and rarely disappoint us. As the movie enters darker territory dealing with marital abuse and male control, their performance acquires deeper layers of empathy and meaning.

A still from the film <i>Parched</i>. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="">Youtube</a>)
A still from the film Parched. (Photo Courtesy: Youtube)

Surveen Chawla delivers a fabulous act too. It is interesting how the very dance stage that has firmly put her at the margins of society is also the source of her individuality and strength. Bijli’s stage, her way with men, is a skill that she hones against the very patriarchy that wants to straightjacket her.

She moves to the steady thrum of cheers, hoots, and whistles fortifying her territory and while the village women consider her a threat for Rani and Lajjo, she and her life seem an escape from their daily abuse.

Her scenes with Chandan Anand, who works in the same brothel – always palpitating with an uneasy, almost tactile intimacy – is testimony to their mastery over the craft.

The men in this film are more or less painted with the same brush. Be it the members of the panchayat, the owner of the brothel, Lajjo’s drunk husband or Rani’s gone-astray son.

The ones who are shown to be a little different from the herd are sadly left with incomplete character sketches. Kishan, played by Sumeet Vyas, is a sincere do-gooder but is never really allowed to develop. Chandan Anand stands apart purely by the dint of his performance, and Adil Hussain has just a one-scene presence.

For a film which showed such a steadfast commitment to reality, at the end it goes into a limbo. We are left to fend for ourselves as the contrivances take over, leaving behind very little substance.

The questions raised are poignant but the solution put forth seems flimsy and ineffectual. It is this that dampens the overall impact of Parched.

But for all the things that it does well, the movie definitely merits 3.5 QUINTS OUT OF 5.

But go for it knowing this movie isn’t for those who are looking for cheap and titillating thrills. The fairytale end not withstanding, it will show some uncomfortable realities, which isn’t up everyone’s alley!

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