Parched, a film directed by Leena Yadav, and produced by Ajay Devgn and Assem Bajaj (cinematographer and Yadav's husband), follows the journey of the liberation of four women from a small, drought-affected village in Gujarat.
The film stars Radhika Apte, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Surveen Chawla, and Lehar Khan, and has its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
But accolades apart (the film has been doing the rounds of many festivals and has won several awards), it has not been easy for Yadav to make a film about women, starring women. It has not seen an Indian release since 2015.
Having Ajay Devgn as producer, though, has certainly helped them take their film to London Indian Film Festival, Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, Toronto International Film Festival and finally a partial theatrical release in the US, around the bay area.
— Team Ajay Devgn (@TeamAjayDevgn) July 14, 2016
— Indian Film Festival (@LoveLIFF) July 20, 2016
— India in Melbourne (@cgimelbourne) August 12, 2016
And yet, inspite of all this, it took the most regressively sexist thing for Leena Yadav's film to trend in India: a supposed leak of Radhika Apte's a nude video from the film.
Happy Independence Day, indeed.
Needless to say, there's a lot more to the film then this. It all started with a conversation between Yadav and actress Tannishtha Chatterjee about rural women in Gujarat.
In this Rediff interview, Yadav explains, "What I found was that women there talk freely about sex. I said let's blast everybody's pants off and make 'Sex in the Village.' We think we are very progressive, but actually we are so much more careful and have so many more boundaries. I traveled to Kutch where I had random conversations with women. This film has been a process of discovering for me. I now realise that societies have learned to cover things up. So at one level, they might think they are progressive, but at a base level, nothing has changed and that is so scary."
The film has been shot by Russell Carpenter of Titanic fame, and Yadav explains how t helped to have a foreign eye on the film, because as Indians, sometimes we forget to see the beauty around us.
"I sent the script to Russell’s partner to read and she reacted really beautifully, then Russell really reacted so beautifully and said, “We need to make this film.” That’s how it started. Since I wanted to reach out to a global audience, I did want another perspective because sometimes cinema gets restricted just in the terms of the grammar," she says, in this interview with The Movable Fest, during its TIFF premiere.
Bajaj and Yadav invested everything they had in Parched. From scouting for locations, to having endless conversation with locals in Rajasthan (where the film is shot) to intermittently shoot the film depending on their next funding, they've seen it all.
However, in this Variety inteview, Yadav says it was worth it. "Once in a lifetime I had to do something like this, but it’s very difficult. I can only do this again after five or 10 years.”
The distributors of Parched, Seville International, has sold the film to several territories in France, Mexico, Colombia and Russia. But the film has still no takers in India. Yadav says she's in talks with distributors and hopes to see a release soon.
Watch the trailer of Parched here: