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Review: Parched genuinely shines

Parched'One week after the release of PINK, audiences in India will witness another strong feminist tale, this one set in rural India,' says Aseem Chhabra.

Towards the beginning of Leena Yadav's Parched, two Rajasthani women -- Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee) and Lajjo (Radhika Apte) -- are riding in a crowded bus. The windows are rolled down; the wind blows on their faces.

Lajjo's dupatta falls off her head, but Rani covers it. 'This wind feels wild,' Lajjo says and then she adds, 'It's touching me everywhere.' And then Lajjo pulls Rani towards the window, 'Tu laigee zindagi ka mazaa?'

And the two poke their heads out of one window, feeling a sense of complete abandon like little children. They have not felt this much joy in a while.

Rani and Lajjo are friends in the village, but also they form a bond of support in an otherwise harsh world where men make all the major decisions about their daily lives.

Rani -- a widow who watches over her bed-ridden mother-in-law and supports a worthless, irresponsible son -- has truly bottled her emotions. Lajjo has the spirit to laugh, but is often brutally beaten up by her drunk husband who blames her for the couple not having children.

One week after the release of PINK, much appreciated by critics and discerning viewers, for its frank examination of how women in cities are mistreated by men, audiences in India will witness another strong feminist tale, this one set in rural India.

Parched is actually a year-old film. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2015 and since then has traveled to several film festivals, winning awards for the director and its actors. And it has had a long and successful theatrical run in countries like France and even an art-house release in the US.

In fact, it is already available on Netflix in the US. Finally people in India can experience a film that has been praised and celebrated across the world.

In the world that Yadav creates -- bright, colorful and often exotic in its look (but then the film cannot help that, since Rajasthan is such a vibrant looking state) -- there is darkness everywhere in the lives of women.

They survive, sometimes taking up sewing work from a cooperative run by a local man who has recently married an educated Manipuri woman -- much to the annoyance of the village elders who have little respect for a fair-skinned educated woman who they consider a foreigner.

But mostly they are abused, mistreated by men -- family members, as well village elders. A young woman Champa (played with tremendous intensity by Sayani Gupta) who has fled her abusive in-laws is forced by the village panchayat to return to her husband's home as she begs and pleads for help from her parents. She has been molested by her brother-in-law and father-in-law, but the villagers -- at least the male members -- have no sympathy for her situation.

The head of the panchayat is more concerned about the fact he has already given the village women so much leeway, including the right to own mobile phones.

This is not to say that Parched is just a bleak film. Rani, Lajjo and their third friend Bijli (Surveen Chawla), who performs Bollywood-style item numbers in a make-shift entertainment centre on the outskirts of the village, often laugh out loud, tease each other and talk very frankly about sex.

Their sex talk (Yadav nearly wanted to call the film Sex in the Village) may surprise city-bred people, but the director spent time visiting rural areas in Gujarat and Rajasthan, as did her lead actress Tannishtha Chatterjee. And the kind of bawdy talk they heard made it into the script of Parched.

So while highlighting the tough lives of these women, Parched also celebrates their spirit. There is enough truth in the film, that an occasional misstep -- a strange sex act scene between a hermit (Adil Husain) and Lajjo -- can be overlooked. The film has a larger goal.

While Parched might remind some viewers of Thelma & Louise, the film is rooted in India. The theme of women being mistreated in traditional and even modern societies may be universal, but Parched remains Indian in its tone, ethos, and the very distinct and disturbing male-female dynamics.

The film's leads -- Chatterjee and Apte -- are two of the finest Indian indie cinema actresses of our times. And both give strong moving performances, including a brief tender scene between the two -- a rare moment in Hindi cinema. The rest of the supporting cast is equally good.

The film is lovingly shot by Russell Carpenter (Titanic, Jobs). He makes the characters and Rajasthan's landscape glow.

And under Yadav's able guidance, Parched genuinely shines.

Rediff Rating: