Parched is the story of three women set in a Rajasthani village called Ujhaas. Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Lajjo (Radhika Apte) and Bijli (Surveen Chawla) take bold steps to change the trajectory of their lives for the better.
The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival 2015 was extremely well received and marked the director Leena Yadav’s third cinematic outing. Collaborating with Yadav on this project is Academy Award winning cinematographer (Titanic) Russell Carpenter, and Academy Award nominated editor ( The Descendants) Kevin Tent. It was also honoured at the 14th annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) and Stockholm’s Inaugural Impact Award at the Stockholm Film Festiva in 2015.
We had a quick chat with Leena Yadav, whose past films include Shabd, which starred Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and Teen Patti (another Big B starer), about Parched, feminism in films and her creative inspirations.
All about Parched
About her inspiration for making the film, Yadav says, "I really wanted to have and see, lots of frank conversations between women, which we rarely (and I can’t even say rarely); but very, very rarely get to see between women on screen."
All of Yadav's films are backed with rigorous research. Shabd's research process included interviews with professors from IIT and Standford.
How did she go about digging up information for Parched? Yadav tells us that she started with talking to women in villages about their stories. "It was eye-opening to know that the stories happening back in the village were similar to stories that I heard in Mumbai. We as human beings like to believe the problem is happening elsewhere. We think it is happening in the village, the West thinks it is happening in the East — but the fact is that these stories about women facing oppression are everywhere," she says.
"So I acknowledged that and continued having conversations with friends and people in Mumbai, then sent my first draft to people across the world. I tried to expand on the conversation about oppression and realised that something so micro, happening in villages has a resonance worldwide. I had people in America come up to me and tell me that they could relate to the story of oppression, and that was really eye opening. I wanted the audience to connect to the story I had, feel that it was something everyone can relate to."
Yadav elaborates on why she chose a rural setting for her film this time: "There was no particular special reason about setting the film in a rural setting, but it so happened that conversations around sex are so much more honest in the villages than in the cities, where we think we are more progressive."
Of how she finalised the cast, Yadav says, "I just choose the people who really fit the role and there is no dearth of talent in our country. I think I landed up with the most committed and brave set of actors for this film."
She also tells us about the scenes featuring Radhika Apte which were leaked on the internet, saying that she would rather not comment on it. "It is a very beautiful scene. It is a part of my film and I am very proud of it. If people want to highlight it that tells me how shortsighted those people are and that is not something that I want to underline or give value to," says Yadav. "Even using the term ‘leak’ perpetuates something that I don’t support."
Women and Cinema
Does Yadav think women-films are a new phenomenon?
Not really. She says, "There are great filmmkars like Mehboob Khan (who made Mother India) and V Shantaram (Navrang, 1959 and Pinjara, 1972) who have made great, relevant films for their time and social scenarios. It’s not like they have ever stopped making these films, it’s just that it has been very, very difficult making these films. "
"These films don’t fit into a particular formula structure. Also why should these films be bracketed as 'women-centric films'. Do you call any of the normal Bollywood films 'male-oriented films'? That’s never a tag, so why use it here?" she adds, "It’s a film, a story, you either connect to it or you don’t."
She tells us how difficult it was to get producers for Parched, it being a film that doesn't fit into Bollywood's usual formulae. "We (Aseem Bajaj and I) pulled together all our savings to raise funds for the film." But that's when Ajay Devgn came along and agreed to produce the film. "The whole journey started because of him. Then there was Gulab Singh Tanver and Rohan Jagdale who financed the film, and it was great because they supported the vision of what the film was trying to do. They were not people who were interested in ‘achha kisko liya hai’ and ‘box office pe kya hua’."
About her journey in filmmaking
Yadav tells us about which directors inspired her to become a filmmaker. "There's not one person in particular; there are lots of directors whose work I love. It's more of an amalgamation of a lot of films that affect you as an individual. Filmmaking, at one level, is a very personal journey; it's like writing a book. Just because I read thousand books that doesn’t mean I am influenced by thousand books. Ultimately you take all that in and what comes out is a very individual voice."
Is it hard being a film maker whose gender is a minority in the field?
"I think to be a filmmaker, man or woman, is equally difficult for both. And I am sure we individually face a lot of challenges. It is a difficult journey but if you are burning with passion to do it, you should go ahead. And gender doesn’t really matter. To me Parched is not a woman-oriented film. I don’t believe in giving films tags. It's a story, and a beautiful story at that," she says as she signs off.
Watch the trailer of Parched here: