Leena Yadav's "Parched" is a bright jewel of a film, surprisingly funny, fresh and upbeat in the way it takes on the complicated and often dark topic of sexual politics in rural India. The three women at the center of the story find strength in each other. They are wives and mothers and craftswomen. One, Bijli (Surveen Chawla), is a dancer and sometimes sex worker, catering to the erotic appetites of the men in the village, whose sexuality runs rampant, though they expect their women to be docile, pure and subservient. As tradition dictates, these women don't initially contest the patriarchal system.
For Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Lajjo (Radhika Apte) and Bijili, female friendship is the water that quenches their thirst for companionship and affection. While shepherding her son into marriage, Rani, a widow, begins to see how oppressive the traditions of the system can be and quietly rebels against it. Lajjo, beaten by her husband for being barren, is fed up with taking the abuse, and Bijli is tiring of her showgirl lifestyle. As they come to these realizations, "What will people think?" is a question they no longer care about.
Yadav doesn't hold back in portraying the darker side of patriarchy in rural India — most of the men are caught up in a mob of booze-fueled toxic masculinity. Beatings and rapes are commonplace. But the fellowship between the women is heartening, soul-fortifying stuff, as they joke and care for one another, buoying their spirits. Out of the dust rises something vibrant: Warmed by love, strengthened under the weight of oppression, their unity forms the diamond sharp enough to sever the ties that bind them.
In Hindi and English with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes