I hated Adil Hussain’s character in English Vinglish. He was the kind of husband I never wish anyone had. But I loved him last week on NDTV. I was catching up with a month-old recording of Barkha Dutt’s show, something I often do, in my quest to learn about how Bollywood actresses think. I have diligently watched Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut, Priyanka Chopra, and now Radhika Apte have candid chats with Barkha. But there was something fantastic about this particular episode. It had Adil Hussain admit that he was offended that the controversy wasn’t named after him. The trio – Barkha, Radhika and Adil – were discussing “Radhika Apte’s leaked sex scene” from her latest film, Parched, and Hussain was calling out a simple fact: Hey, I was there too!
That was really how I learnt about Parched, a 2015 Indian drama directed by Leena Yadav, and available to watch on Netflix. So I did. I tucked myself in bed that night and watched it from start to finish. It’s a beautiful film about three women in rural Gujarat and a young child bride and my favourite scene has all of them sitting together to manufacture male-specific insults to scream it out loud. The film is of course about women but it is as much about men. The ones who head the panchayat, the ones who beat and rape their wives, the ones who are too young yet are impatient to become egoistic men, and the ones who unabashedly ogle at a prostitute who dances for them each night inside a tent while treating her like filth outside of it.
The film is of course about women but it is as much about men. The ones who head the panchayat, the ones who beat and rape their wives, the ones who are too young yet are impatient to become egoistic men, and the ones who unabashedly ogle at a prostitute who dances for them each night inside a tent while treating her like filth outside of it.
I have no interest in reproducing the plot here since I really recommend that everyone watch the film. But in such women-centric films I do think there is merit in discussing the other kinds of men too. Like the character, Kishan, who is married to an educated Manipuri woman, and runs the handicrafts collective that all the village women are members of. Or Manoj, who is the prostitute Bijli’s handler of sorts, while being madly in love with her. Yet he expresses his love in the only way he understands that offends Bijli. Then there is Adil Hussain, who Bijli advertises as a “sex god”, who in the so-called controversial scene (that was discussed on NDTV) shows you how beautiful sex can be. And there is a quirky character who calls himself Shahrukh Khan who you only hear on the phone enticing Rani to flirt back. She eventually does.
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I read that Parched was a critically acclaimed film and had a special presentation in the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival yet it had very less impact at the box office in India with its limited screen releases. It’s unfortunate we are not yet ready as a nation to go out and support such a film like we would mindless junk from say Salman Khan.
While writing this, I skimmed through reviews that laud the film for showing women who struggle and emerge as winners and who push hard against that patriarchal wall. I agree. But Parched is the kind of film that doesn’t make you feel bad for any of the women. It’s clear: they will survive. It does, however, make you pity the men for they have no idea what is about to hit them.
Sowmiya Ashok is an independent journalist based in New York. Views expressed are personal. She tweets @sowmiyashok
Feature Image Credit: Business Standard