The best thing about Parched is that it dispels any notions you might have about rural Indian women being prudes. Rani, Lajjo and Bijli are raunchier than most women you meet at your local Starbucks.  They love talking about sex.  In fact Bijli is a sex worker – her sales pitch is that a night with her will bring an earthquake in your bed.

The story is set in a fictional village in Gujarat.  These women are bound by centuries of rigid tradition.  Here girls are married at 14.  One married into the neighbouring village is routinely raped by her father-in-law and brother-in-law.  She comes home but is forced by the elders to return to her sasuraal.  Lajjo’s husband beats her mercilessly because she can’t bear children. Rani is a 32-year-old widow steeped in debt and unable to handle her headstrong, arrogant son.  Each day brings fresh misery but these feisty women manage to steal moments of happiness. They find slivers of joy and cheer with each other.

Director Leena Yadav who has also written the story has etched these women with great affection and compassion.  This sisterhood has a depth and strength that doesn’t crack – even when Rani’s son approaches Bijli with a bundle of notes.  The actresses playing the parts – Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte and Surveen Chawla – deliver heartfelt performances.  They are defiantly strong and desperately sad.

And yet their pain didn’t pierce me in the way that Pink did last week.  There are moments here of genuine intimacy between the women.  Their bond and love is authentic.  But the larger narrative is inert and clunky – Parched feels like a film written to make larger points.  The events don’t flow organically and a few threads are just left hanging.  Leena hints at a sexual intimacy between Rani and Lajjo but then it’s never addressed again. And none of the male characters are even remotely interesting.  Most of them are abusive, alcoholic, sexual predators.  Adil Hussain pops in to do a Brad Pitt from Thelma and Louise – basically provide one night of great sex but the situation is utterly unconvincing.

Parched gets bogged down by its own good intentions. But these spirited female characters will stay with you.  So will the luscious cinematography by Oscar winner Russell Carpenter.

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