I am parched…thirsty for real freedom not pseudo liberation, not for taglines and hastags but simple acts of kindness and empathy….this thirst has kind of deepened with recent events of Indian women being hailed only after winning medals, pulled down despite winning grand slams, a minister commenting on what to wear and a nation trying to dictate on what one should not wear (yes I am talking about the burkini ban) and to add it my woes, a sex video of a “female” protagonist is going wild back home as if lovemaking is a solo act, it is not masturbating folks! Come on! But after hearing Radhika Apte, (the girl who can be charged for bringing infamy to “Indian” culture with her so called provocative nudity) in an interview “justifying” her stance on why she chose to do what she did, I was in awe of her honesty and rationale.
The story of four women, at different junctures of life in a fictional village in a dry part of western India struggling with their identities, choices and sexuality just sounded too good to be missed and thanks to Netflix for giving me quick access to a powerful story.
Lajjo, a battered wife, who in addition to her being a woman in a patriarchal society is also infertile or so does everyone living around her think as she could not bear any children in her long marriage of many years.
Rani, a young widow who works very hard to bring up her only son, Gulab. And eventually gets herself in debt to arrange dowry for his wedding. She is deprived of manly touch after her husband’s demise and in his lifetime of love.
Chameli, a bold dancer who performs erotic pelvic thrusts to attract men of the village, sleeps with clients, while she also befriends, cries and suffers as she cannot find a way out or for a long time. She is not pushed to either unless challenged by another competitor.
And, little Janaki who cuts her hair to avoid marrying Rani’s son Gulab. She is demure, quiet and is in pain like rest of the women around her, another victim of mindless traditions and patriarchy as she is first rejected by her husband for having short hair, then by mother in law for making her son unhappy.
Gulab while heavily relying on the sympathy of his mother indulges in all evil. He is opposed to any change in status quo and to any harbinger of progress as it will threaten his superior position as a man.
Kishan is a revolutionary who through his steady actions is empowering women financially by showcasing and selling their hand made works and clothes. He marries an educated girl from Manipur whom he drops off and picks from work daily, another incident which irks Gulab and his gang of boys who have little tolerance for a man straying away from rigid notions of masculinity.
From little incidents of a woman being sent back by a panchayat consisting of men with antiquated ideas to her in laws house against her will and despite the fact that her father in law and brother in law force themselves upon her to women being denied basic entertainment like television whereas men can drool at likes of Chameli openly to utter shock at revelation that men can also be sterile hence responsible for not furthering a family to of course, more gross tales of violence and torture, this film did give me goosebumps and a much required reality check.
What happens when the situation turns volatile? When all stories reach a climax of a sorts? The women escape. Each one from her harsh fate and empty life of shattered hopes. And they escape on last day of Durga Pooja when Ravan’s effigy burns in the background reminding us of triumph of good over evil. Whether they should have stayed and fought to change the system is a discussion for another day.
Lajjo leaves her husband to die when he accidentally catches fire, Rani asks her son to leave her house and helps her daughter in law, Janaki to elope with her lover, Chameli’ s soul finds utterance in the company of her two friends.
Cinema made me travel a few miles into the interiors of my country, to the vast, ignored majority, still so wretched, so miserable, so defeated… Parched therefore beautifully portrays how deprived we still are…Rani sums it up in a line to her son, Gulab “Mard banana chod, insaan banana seekh”…while we are busy living by the rules and traditions dictated by an indifferent society, we conveniently and easily forget that we are human beings first, much before being molded into a man or a woman.
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