Just last week we had this small film in theaters that managed to bring a nuanced dialogue on feminism in the popular medium which no Hindi film ever has. The film was called Pink. Pink too had three female characters – all victims of patriarchy (who were eventually supported by a patriarch lawyer in their fight) which makes them no different than the women in Parched except for their socio-economic status (Pink’s women are independent, working in the upper middle-class of Delhi; Parched’s are from repressed rural Rajasthan). Pink tried to deal with monstrosity of patriarchy heads-on. But Parched is so ridiculously simplistic and superficial that it remains largely an ineffective film.
The film’s problem shows up right in the first fifteen minutes of the film – it’s the perspective. It’s seen through a foreign lens (quite literally – the film is shot by Russell Carpenter, the Academy Award winner DoP of Titanic. Yes, Titanic! That’s the biggest coup the film could get). It’s not only an outsider’s perspective with which this film has been written, staged and shot but it’s very urbane – which is in stark contrast to the film’s setup, and that’s what makes it look like what they call an exotica. Oh and deserts are the first ingredient in an exotica recipe (The foreigner DoP is second).
It’s the panchayat scene in the opening minutes, I’m talking about, where a girl called Champa (Sayani Gupta) has escaped from her husband's home for being abused there. Lajjo is shocked and moved by her situation (which did provide some foreshadowing here: escape is the solution here). Problem is not the issue Champa brings up -- we are aware of it; it exists, but can we have a nuance here? Everything is so spelled out and the approach is, again, too simplistic. This scene not only sets the tone but is also the microcosm of the discourse we are about to follow. But most importantly, it tells how (un)informed the filmmaker is. No matter how aware we are of the rural issues and its discourse, when bringing it into a medium – and a popular medium like films, what an informed filmmaker could do at least is bring it with such a nuance and insight that it reminds you how burning – and neglected – the issue is. That’s a thing to learn from Nagraj Manjule – Sairat was a Romeo-Juliet story, but look what he did!
Even the language mouthed by the actors sounds forced rustic – as if they are not Rajasthanis but are made to act in a Rajasthani film (Radhika Apte, at multiple times, slips into her Marathi accent in an attempt to get that rural dialect). Which is well it is. All the falseness and cracks shows up and glares through the beautiful frames. Another extraneous element in the film is the third character of Bijli – a dancer and a prostitute. She is the symbol of (sexual) liberation here. Nothing is wrong with that—she, well, has control and choice over her body – but that’s from where the slightly misplaced sense of feminism comes in in the other two characters’ lives and in the film.
When one (Apte’s Lajjo) is in an abusive marriage and the other (Tannishtha Chatterjee’s Rani) is troubled by her growing son and his hyper-masculine ego, sexual liberation would rather be the last thing to aspire or protest for. For things to get right in their lives, this is extreme and escapist. But that’s what the film suggests. The women merely escape from their problems as if the world outside is not a patriarchal one (remember what happened with Champa?). One could say aspiring for beauty in this beautiful-looking film is going for it. Only that that conceit is hardly convincing. The last thing they do enroute their escape is… haircut. Short hair is how right-wing nuts associate feminists with. Of course, here it is meant as a metaphorical scene. But it’s again in the sense of the extreme steps. It is Feminism 101 (Bechdel Test was invented for this movie). The story and the conflicts they (the film and the characters, both) are escaping from warrant for a drama; the solution is melodramatic.
Pandering to the West and conforming to their sense of beauty, you know this film has no business to do with the world it’s dealing with. Pretty sure, Yadav, the director, was desperate for this film to be India’s Oscar submission – which is why it’s been quickly released on the last day of the eligibility criteria date (films to be considered for Oscar submission should have run for at least a week in theaters before 30th October this year). But hard luck, Yadav. And all the best, Visaranai.