This film is a a typical film made for the western audiences who shower awards on it after lapping up all the grime and poverty that is showcased in the movie. It is a well oiled machine; a film maker makes a film showing the horrid life of people in some corner of India, shows it at western film festivals and the awards come tumbling in. This gives the chance to publicise the film in India and earn moolah at the box office. Critics duly write favourable reviews in order to boost earnings of the film. In all this the image of the country takes a beating; India becomes known as the land of poverty stricken people living with all sorts of unimaginable injustices. Forget that Africa is poorer, that the middle east has more violence, that China has more repression; India is shown as the epicentre of the world’s horrors because it has a population that does not care about it’s own image in the world.
So in a rural and semi desert part of the Indian state of Gujarat live three women who form the centre of the story. They live among men who are the worst specimens of humanity-presumably only India produces them according to the director. The director packs all sorts of injustices forced on women by men into two hours of the film-women are beaten, sodomised, raped by their fathers in law, married off at early age, neglected by their husbands who go to prostitutes, forced to marry with persons not of their choosing. One is forced to wonder why such an overload of tyranny is shown in the haste to lap up the awards.
Tannishtha Chatterjee plays Rani, Radhika Apte plays Lajjo and Surveen Chawla plays Bijli. Rani is a widow in her early thirties and marries off her son to find out that his wife has her hair cut off. This angers him and he begins to go to prostitutes and being physically abusive to his wife. Lajjo cannot produce a child and this brings on savage beatings from her husband. The two women have a friendship with the local whore-Bijli. The three women have to live lives restricted by age old customs, but in their private time they talk about sex and relationships. If there is anything remarkable about these women, it is that they are parched—parched for love, parched for kindness and parched for physical intimacy and sex. The scenes between them have a touch of homoeroticism as they are free and intimate with each other caressing each other’s half nude bodies in private, though they don’t actually cross the limit.
Bijli’s profession allows her the freedom to do what she wants and the restrictions on the other two women do not apply to her because she is considered beyond the pale of society. This brings her into contact with a man who can fulfil the dreams of Lajjo of bearing a child and she takes Lajjo to him. And thus is created a passionate rendezvous in the middle of the desert; Lajjo has a night full of passion with this mysterious man in full glory of her nudity and afterwards the three women frolic in their joy fully naked in a lake nearby. The Indian censors have blocked some portions of their bodies in screen, but I was able to get my hands on a whatsapp clip of part of the scene. One must say that Radhika Apte (Lajjo) has a lovely body and she shows it shamelessly on screen without any inhibitions.
But what will be the reaction of Lajjo’s husband on hearing of the pregnancy caused by the passionate encounter? It can well be imagined. And what about Rani’s daughter in law-the girl who has been abandoned by her husband because she has cut hair? When her story comes tumbling out, then Rani shows a humanity that can be seen only in works of fiction like films. But the violent reaction of her son is another matter altogether. Bijli secretly hopes that her pimp loves her and will bring her out of her miserable life, even as another younger girl now threatens to upsurp her position as town whore. But like all men in the film he is a hypocrite.
As the three women find themselves at the receiving end of increasing physical brutality, they realise that they have reached the crossroads of life. And the three decide to shake off their past and their relationships and begin a new journey together. But this ending is too filmy and belies the claim of the film to be an art film; it is more fit for a commercial film.
Acting is good by everyone and music and photography is good. Only two men in the film (lover of Rani’s daughter in law and another who brings jobs for the women in the village and marries a woman from the state of Manipur in the north east) are good and message of the film is that rural Indian men are bad bad bad; of course , none of the bad men belong to India’s minorities-the film is a politically correct film after all and political correctness requires that no blame should be put on minorities. The director has some directorial talent and I wished that it had not been wasted on maligning the already bad name of the country-a name made bad by a slew of such so called ‘art’ films made in the past .