Frank Conversations about Gender and Sexuality
Leena Yadav’s “Parched”, a new film by Leena Yadav, looks at the unquestioned acceptance of patriarchy in India. In 2012, Yadav was in some remote villages in the Indian district Kutch. As she traveled she spoke to women and some of those conversaions were very frank in nature and they spoke about gender and sexuality.
In 2012, a film maker from Mumbai found herself in some of Kutch’s remotest villages. In the course of her travels, she struck friendships with many women. “Often, our conversations would turn into surprisingly frank discussions on gender and sexuality. Looking back at those stories, she realized that they were universal especially those about how women sell their bodies to survive, survive in abusive relationships, or live in the shadow of past relationships. A result of those conversations is the film “Parched” that Yadav wrote, directed and co-produced.
Parched is a multi-layered story of three women — a young widow Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee); her vivacious best friend, Lajjo (Radhika Apte), who is trying unsuccessfully to have a baby with her abusive husband; and the erotic dancer Bijli (Surveen Chawla). Their unquestioning acceptance of patriarchy wavers when Rani has to find a bride for her 15-year-old son and this brings the three to question a world in which their sexuality is both despised and coveted. They realize that are looking for more than they have as women. While the film explores their oppression and repressed lives, it also takes a light-hearted look at the interactions of the three women, and “celebrates the small joys that even the most oppressed women enjoy in female company.”
“Parched” is a contemporary morality tale that critiques the often harsh treatment of women in the absence of egalitarian social norms. Yadav’s concerns about discrimination and violence against women are evident in nearly every scene of the film. Each of the principal characters undergoes self-actualization in defiance of prevailing patriarchal norms. We get three committed performances that demonstrate the full spectrum of transformation from enabler to disrupter. The supporting cast consists of many nonprofessional performers in this drama about female subjugation and liberation that plays first like a horror story that turns into almost a fantasy. We see India’s misogyny through the fictional tale of women in the small town of Gujarat. It’s in this patriarchal milieu that Yadav pinpoints the various ways in which institutional and personal prejudices keep people enslaved and gives the viewer a look at gender inequality.
“Parched” shows how intolerance sets in and the difficulty of breaking free of its regardless of various methods of escape.