It’s evident that the new trend is woman power. We had Pink a few months earlier and now you get Parched.

Parched is a film with somewhat typical story arcs and a plot that’s predictable. Yet, the key difference is a riveting performance by two of its women — Radhika Apte and Tannishtha Chatterjee. They’re both terrific and I’m sure they’ve added several layers to their characters. This is evident because the third woman character, the one who plays the nautch girl is extremely flat. It’s that kind of character which is perfectly scripted and played exactly as scripted. But, with Radhika and Tannishtha the characters become more human.

Radhika’s story arc is typical. In standard masala films, if the hero has a sister, then either she should get raped or murdered. Likewise in a film like Parched, if the woman doesn’t get pregnant, then the problem is definitely with the husband and he knows it and yet he blames the woman for it. Although in this film, there’s a small twist. Radhika thinks she’s the one who’s infertile and to find out if that’s true she goes to the extent of having sex with a complete stranger to see if she can get impregnated. And the reason for her doing this? She simply wants to have a child. Not to prove anything to the world. She simply wants to have one.

One of the key parts for the machinery of male chauvinism to operate in India, is women themselves. It’s common that when some women break out of the mould and revolt or step forth with a bold voice, they’re usually put down by other women, who’re part of the patriarchal setup. And Tannishtha plays one such character. She herself is a victim of the chauvinistic society. She lost her husband when she was young and has unfulfilled desires bubbling within her. Yet, thanks to societal norms, it never even occurs to her that she could remarry or seek out what she wants in life. She toils hard for her son’s future. All she wants is to get him married off so that she can get her daughter-in-law to do all the work and she can rest! There’s a scene at the beginning of the movie, which shows us how Tannishtha through her silence and inactivity serves as a proliferator of male chauvinism. In fact, when her son beats up his wife, she’s a mute witness too. And the movie goes on to show us how such a woman gets liberated.

The moment the film opens with Radhika and Tannishtha getting into a bus, shoving their heads out and relishing the wind, it was clear the film is made by a female director. I enjoyed the conversation snippets that takes us into the world of these women and shows us how blunt and open they can be. The discussion of how bathing in milk makes women white. The use of mobile phone as a vibrator. Radhika remarking how a tap has opened within her ever since she became pregnant, while we can clearly hear her pee. (Is it like the first time we hear a woman pee on screen?) All of it was refreshing.

The movie has some narrative flaws though. The track of Tannishtha’s son and his tiff with the only good guy in the village ends abruptly and meekly. And Radhika’s story arc with her physically abusive husband felt a bit stretched. It was conveniently stretched so that the problems of Radhika and Tannishtha get resolved on the same day and the three women can run away together. The male characters also felt a tad too caricatured. Sumeet Vyas, the only progressive and sensible man in the village is clean-shaven without a moustache, while everyone else either has long moustaches or has rising testosterone levels. Although this could be excused as payback time for all the bubbly female characters unleashed on screen, the question remains whether it’s impossible to portray male characters with sympathy in a woman-centric film. Like how Satyajit Ray did in Mahanagar. But, I guess most filmmakers can’t resist the temptation. Be it Queen or English Vinglish or 36 Vayathinile, the men are portrayed as cardboard villains. It’s easy to hate them.

Parched is fundamentally about mutual respect in a relationship and mutual enjoyment when it comes to sex. While I welcome Parched with open arms, I positively dread the films that are going to follow suit. It’s inevitable. Once a Pizza becomes a hit, then you keep getting horror films one after another, with each one progressively worse than the previous, until you reach something like Sowcarpettai or Aranmanai and you can take it no more. I really do hope I never get to see the Aranmanai-like version of Parched. Ever.

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