India is a huge filmmaking machine. Bollywood, that’s what it’s called! And there are some major pipelines to the domestic market for the output of these films on both DVD and Blu-ray. Big films; big players … that’s just the way of the world.
However, when word that indie supplier Wolfe had acquired Indian filmmaker Leena Yadav’s latest, Parched, it came as quite the surprise. Her film, Shabd, for example — starring five-time IIFA Awards-winner (the equivalent of our Oscars) Aishwarya — arrived on these shores by way of Eros (one of the biggest distributors of Bollywood films). Yes it is quite the coup for Wolfe to pick off a film of this stature.
Wolfe announced this past week that Parched will be making its domestic DVD debut on July 5, so be sure to circle that date on your must-see calendar for this Hindi-language import.
Filmed primarily on location in Rajasthan (northwest part of India — very near the Pakistan border) by none other than Academy Award-winning cinematographer Russell Carpenter (1997, Titanic … plus such films as Ant-Man, The Lawnmower Man, True Lies, The Negotiator, etc.) and starring a quartet of frontline talent headed by Tannishtha Chatterjee in lead role of Rani (Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain, Gulaab Gang, Brick Lane, Anna Karenina, etc.), a widowed mother.
She is joined by Radhika Apte as her best friend, Lajjo (Dhoni, The Waiting Room, etc.), Ugly, Hate Story 2, etc.) as Bijli, a woman of low standing from the outside world and Lehar Khan (Jalpari: The Desert Mermaid), the teenager whose actions serve as the catalyst for the story.
Rani lives in a rural village in the Thar Desert, where she was married-off as a child bride, soon widowed and has a 17-year old son named Gulab (Riddhi Sen) who is about to repeat the cycle in this largely misogynist community. Still a young woman in her 30s (by Western standards, that is) Rani’s short-lived moment of happiness (her son taking a bride), is soon dashed when the 15-year old bride-to-be, Janaki, cuts off her long and beautiful hair in an act of defiance. There goes the marriage!
If the truth be known, her son is a bit of a layabout, a punk who has no business taking on a teenage bride and who would rather hang with his buddies and enjoy the company of the “ladies of the night” in the nearby city.
Rani’s best friend, Lajjo, fares no better. She is often seen nursing wounds from beatings given her by her husband for not bearing him a child — a cycle of abuse with no end in sight.
So there you have it, a less than enlightened living environment (a generational thing), a broken hearted mother, a miserable son, a rebellious teenage girl and a woman trapped in an abusive marriage. And then comes Bijli, a long-time friend and member of a travelling “entertainment group.” She’s an “exotic” dancer (a pole-dancer, get the picture) who is back in town once again to entertain the men (village to village, an endless cycle).
One look at Lajjo and Bijli knows the truth, another beating. But when she suggests that perhaps it is her husband who is the problem, everything changes. Why of course … it is his failure, not mine. Talk about a bolt of lightning!
Four women — well, actually three women and a teenager — are all now free (perhaps an illusion) to explore other options.
Rani’s life in the village is ruined, Lajjo sees no future with a husband who will repeat the cycle of violence again and again until one day he goes too far, and Janaki, she’s a disgrace to her family, what future does she have? And, of course, Bijli, despite her beauty and her intelligence she is already an untouchable outcast.
Filmmaker Leena Yadav’s Parched is a bold movie, especially for Bollywood, that explores the relationship between these women, who find strength in each other and perhaps the courage to break free of centuries of repression. Uplifting, sure; easy, sadly, no … but the die is cast and your heart is with Rani and her friends.