Director: Leena Yadav
Cast: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla, Leher Khan, Riddhi Sen, Sumeet Vyas, Adil Hussain
Set in a Rajasthani village, Leena Yadav's "Parched" focuses on three women shackled by the misogynistic, patriarchal society that they're a part of. These are women with gumption and grace, and yet, they are unable to break free from the suffocating chains they're put in by the men in their lives. It's when a fourth woman, a child bride, enters their lives that the three best friends rebel against tyranny and forge their own destiny.
Writer-director Yadav tells their story with a generous dollop of bawdy humor and many moments of genuine pathos. Beautifully shot, and embedded with sharp wit, the film's key strength lies in the astute characterization of the four women. Tannishtha Chatterjee is effortlessly natural as Rani, a 32-year-old who has been widowed half her life. Rani struggles to discipline her loutish 17-year-old son, even as she empathizes with her 15-year-old daughter-in-law Janaki (played with aching innocence by Lehar Khan).
Rani's confidante is Lajjo, who is regularly beaten up by her alcoholic brute of a husband because she cannot conceive. Radhika Apte plays Lajjo with an intriguing mixture of carefree spirit and vulnerability. Bijli, a travelling erotic dancer and prostitute, is an old friend of Rani's and Lajjo's. The two see Bijli as the bold, free one, but she, ironically, can't escape the clutches of the men in her own life. Surveen Chawla as Bijli practically lights up every scene she's in. She plays the character with spunky humor that barely conceals her deep-seated frustration over her plight.
Alas, you wish that Yadav didn't tar all the men in the village with the same brush, except for a couple of characters here and there. The film is also over-indulgent with both exoticism and eroticism, leading viewers to feel as if they are stuck in an unwieldy loop.
But for these hitches, it's an entertaining ride. The three friends, parched both emotionally and sexually, will have you rooting for them and cheering as they find their feet and their freedom in the end. I'm going with three out of five.