‘ Parched’ is a movie set in a rural village situated in the middle of a desert in Rajasthan (India). Appropriately titled, it portrays four women whose lives have been parched by an ‘exceedingly’ patriarchal structure of the society. I use ‘exceedingly’ because my own struggles to survive in a patriarchal society seem so miniscule in front of their everyday challenges. While centering the plot on these rural women, the movie touches upon issues like early marriage, violence against women, objectification of women, sexual harassment, and marital rape. There is also a display of male dominance, the presence of which manifests female powerlessness in different forms through the four lead characters: Rani, Lajjo, Bijli and Janki.
At some level, none of them fit the norms of the society they are living in. Rani is a widow, Lajjo thinks she is a barren woman, Bijli is a prostitute and Janki is in love with a boy who is not her husband. The movie is about their constant undertakings to be accepted by the man in their lives: Rani by her son, Lajjo and Janki by their husbands, and Bijli by her agent/dance partner.
Rani is portrayed as someone who has outgrown the atrocities against her to still find a respectable place for her family in the village. While on one hand she is fulfilling male stereotypical roles in that society, she is also shown as powerless in front of her teenage son who at one point raises his hand on her and steals money from her. This powerlessness in front of her son causes her to pour out her frustrations on her daughter-in-law Janki, who is still a teenager. Over the course of time when she sees her son treat Janki the same way her husband used to treat her, she decides to break this cycle of violence. After her son leaves home, she lets her daughter-in-law go with the boy she was in love with. She also helps set Lajjo free from her abusive husband who eventually gets charred to death while he was thrashing Lajjo. Eventually, Bijli also after being brutally raped decides to leave the life she was living. Towards the end of the movie, the three of them: Rani, Lajjo and Bijli flee from the village to make lives on their own terms.
These three women are economically independent. They were working and earning for themselves, and in Rani’s case was also the only earning member of the family. Despite that, they were suffering in their own ways because of the cultural censorship and the fear of being ousted from the society. However, there are subtle nuances in the movie that portray these women as disengaging themselves from the traditional rules to do the right thing, for e.g. when Rani lets Janki go away with the boy she was in love with or when Bijli sets Lajjo up with a man so she can have a baby regardless of her impotent husband. It is Rani and Bijli who are at complete opposite ends of the individual versus societal spectrum. Rani is driven by the rules to remain in the community, while Bijli is a fearless person who makes her own rules. Lajjo is someone who falls in between and is not very opinionated.
But we see a different side of her when her husband is burning and she makes no attempt to save him. The three of them running away symbolizes the unshackling of women to be able to live a life of dignity. The movie touches the lives of these rural women in a very astute manner. It takes us close to the practices that are still prevalent in several parts of India, while also highlighting the plight of women who live in such male driven societies. Even though it fails to provide a realistic solutions to their problems, it ends with a very powerful message of individualism, empowerment and women’s emancipation when Rani says “Ee baar mein maarhe dil ki sunoongi” (this time I will listen to my heart)
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