"Dedicated to the women who generously shared their lives and stories in the making of this film." - The opening titles of Parched
I wanted to watch Parched, or as it is titled in German, The time of women (Die Zeit der Frauen) as soon as I heard it would be coming to my local small, cozy cinema hall with its wooden painted ceilings.
Parched, directed by Indian filmmaker Leena Yadav (Teen Patti, Shabd), premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015 to thunderous applause that rolled and rolled and rolled. And for good reason.
Parched intimately tells the story of four women who wish to part from the patriarchal Indian traditions that confine them. Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is the mother of a teenage boy who she is trying to marry. Her husband left her 15 years ago and she hasn’t had an encounter with another man since. That is until an anonymous man begins calling her. Janki (Lehar Khan) is the bride to be. She is 15 and therefore "at the best age for marriage". Lajjo (Radhika Apte) is Rani’s best friend. She is beautiful and somewhat ferocious. She desperately wants to conceive a child but faces daily rape and violence in her marriage. Last, there is Bijli (Surveen Chawla), an erotic dancer and seductress at a night circus in the village. She is the most independent woman of the four and possesses worldly knowledge that fascinates the others.
The film unravels as a comedy and a drama wrapped together seamlessly. The women talk about men and sex and intimacy while also facing the limitations of their lives. With its picturesque scenes and convincing acting, it feels like a truly authentic social commentary on contemporary India.
Yadav describes the film as being about parched freedom, parched souls, and the parched landscape. When asked why Yadav intertwined playful scenes with challenging scenes, she said,
“I think that came from life. People find it strange that she gets beaten up in one scene and then the next scene she’s laughing with her friends. But isn’t that what life is? I mean just because you’re beaten up, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be sitting depressed every day. And actually, this came from the women I met… they shared their lives and stories with me. They were all sitting and giggling and there was a woman and I asked her at one point, what are these bruises? And she’s like, let’s not talk about that right now. You know my husband hits me but you know that happens every day. Poor thing has nowhere to take out his anger so he takes it out on me.”
Yadav comments that “I’m not giving a lesson in this film, I’m not preaching anything. I’m showing you life.”
Parched really flung the doors open for me. Being a feminist in Germany while also working for the LGBTIQ* rights, it saddens me how present sexist behaviour is in our day to day life. Subtle - but present. We still have so far to go and yet this film made me ask myself, how do women set themselves free under even more challenging circumstances?
When asked by FilmicaMedia if Indian audiences will be receptive to being shown a mirror? Yadav says, “I think the audience is really divided and opinions are specific… I know Parched will find its audience even in India.” She’s firm in saying that she would only release Parched in India if it was uncensored. “I will only release the film that it is… we have to open up and see things for what they are… it will be silly to dumb ourselves down for whatever the censorship is. You can’t stop exposure. We’re being bombarded from every angle. If this film doesn’t find theatrical release, people will see it on the net*.”
Parched is a story about a changing Indian identity. It’s about friendship, eroticism, and gender. It’s celebratory, it’s playful, it’s harsh and it’s authentic. It’s life. And it’s brilliant.lscreen">
*After her interview, the film was released in India in October 2016 after a fierce battle with Indian censors.