Susan Kouguell is an award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker, and chairperson of the screenplay and post-production consulting company, Su-City Pictures East. She is the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself). Follow Susan on Twitter: @SKouguell
In a recent phone conversation with writer director Leena Yadav, we discussed her new feature film, Parched, which opens theatrically via Wolfe Releasing on June 17th in Los Angeles (Laemmle Music Hall), New York (AMC Empire 25) and the Bay Area (Cine Grand in Fremont and Camera 12 in San Jose). This contemporary drama follows the lives of three Indian women who question the ancient traditions that hold them in servitude.
Ms. Yadav tackles the themes of gender roles, patriarchy, conditioning, and abuse with clarity and unapologetically.
With a budget just over 2.5 million dollars, Yadav describes Parched as an “absolutely independent passion project.” Shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Russell Carpenter (Titanic), the film’s visual sensibility adds another layer of both beauty and painful depth to the parched desert landscape and rich characters.
Leena Yadav On New Feature Film Parched…
Yadav: “Russell has an amazing eye for detail. I love the way he uses light and shade in every frame. A director – cinematographer relationship on shoots is almost like a husband wife relationship – high expectations and low tolerance!”
Set in a remote rural desert community of North West India – widowed Rani, her vivacious best friend, Lajjo, and the exotic dancer Bijli – talk about men, sex and life, as they struggle under the oppressive rules of their traditional village ways. But when Rani is tasked to find a teenage bride for her entitled fifteen-year-old son, they begin to question this status quo that favors men, sends child brides to abusive husbands, and ostracizes women for being educated and opinionated. One fateful night, the women come together and take a bold step that will change the trajectory of their lives forever.
About Writer and Director Leena Yadav
Yadav: “I was raised to judge and treat people as human beings above and beyond their gender, religion, or caste.”
Born in Mhow, India, Leena Yadav is one of a vanguard of prominent female directors working in India. She began her career as a successful editor on commercials and an assistant director for television, and then went on to direct for more than 300 hours of television, including hit fiction shows and India’s first reality TV show. She made her directorial debut with Shabd (2005), which she also wrote and edited – and which bravely explores the psychology of love, marriage, creativity and freedom. She wrote and directed Teen Patti (2010), starring two legends of cinema – Amitabh Bachchan and Academy Award Winner, Sir Ben Kingsley. Parched is Yadavi’s third feature film.
The Screenplay Process
Yadav: “While I was writing the screenplay, I was suddenly struck with the idea that what I’m writing about is happening right here in my backyard in Bombay. Everyone wants to believe that these problems and these kinds of judgments are happening elsewhere. We like to live in denial. The script process became so interesting for me when I was writing in Bombay and I sent it out to my friends across the world just to get feedback. No one reacted to it like a script; they all wrote back, sharing stories about their own circumstances. We all started feeling the universality of the subject.
The writing process continued when I went location scouting for villages. We visited over 30 villages in and around Bhuj, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. I was refused permission from a lot of villagers because people were saying, if women like you are here than our women will become corrupt, looking at you, seeing a woman who is empowered, who is in charge of herself. They did not approve of a team led by a woman (myself) who wore pants, didn’t cover her head and spoke openly to men. That gave me more juice (ideas) again and I came back home and I wrote more.
It was interesting with the younger generation of men in the villages – the current decision-makers, who had the biggest problem with a liberated woman team leader. One said to me, “If women like you enter our village, our women will get corrupted.” From this experience, I got the character of Gulab, Rani’s son. Gulab has been raised in a patriarchal world, where misogyny is the ‘norm’. He is as much a product of this world as he becomes its propagator. In that sense, Gulab too is a victim. The men who are his elders have bequeathed to him anger and aggression as survival tools. He has been raised believing that women are objects of lust and possession.”
We discussed the controversial climax of the film and agreed not to give any details away in this interview.
Yadav: “When I was working on the script and I thought: What is the big revelation that can happen? What is the big change? The answer for me was very simple. Each character would be questioning her circumstances. For me, that was the big resolution; their rebellion.
The small steps – that is what I always tell the audience. If a few people can start questioning their conditioning – like falling into the traps of boys don’t cry, girls don’t do this or that – then we can stop being so accepting of this conditioning.
We give so much lip-service to so many things. The whole thing with patriarchy is confusing because some of the greatest supporters of the patriarchy are women. The moment we get engaged in the gender blame game, we’re not going anywhere. We have to sit down together and talk this out.
The victims here in this film are also men because of their conditioning. You can see their anger whether it’s a man’s confused sexuality or an impotent husband unable to have children. Anger comes from all kinds of suppression.”
Awards for Parched
With its world premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, the film has garnered awards and critical acclaim at numerous festivals worldwide, including the Stockholm International Film Festival (received the first ever Impact Award to “support[s] headstrong filmmakers who are not afraid to bring up burning topics in contemporary society” judged, designed and presented by the legend Ai Weiwei); Best of the Fest at the Palm Springs International Film Festival; Festival 2 Valenciennes (France): Prix du Jury for Best Film and Best Actress; Toulouse Indian Film Festival: Audience Award for best film; IFFLA 2016: Audience Award for Best Film and Best Actress; and Festival de Cinema des 5 Continents, Ferney France: Youth Jury Award for Best Film and Special Jury Mention.
The film will be released via Wolfe Video on August 9th on DVD/ VOD, across all digital platforms, including iTunes, Vimeo On Demand, and WolfeOnDemand.com, and will also be available same date on DVD via Wolfe Video and many major retailers.
Yadav’s Closing Words about ‘Parched’
Yadav: “’Parched’ is my reaction to a misogynistic society that treats women as objects of sex, where their greatest role is to serve men. Giving my women characters a voice that observes, absorbs and reacts was what drove me to write this drama about ordinary women who are driven to extraordinary ends.”
Sign up for Susan’s webinar!
Developing the Premise for Your Documentary
Wednesday, June 22nd 1:00PM PT (4PM ET)
- This tutorial is for writers and filmmakers interested in developing a documentary.
- During this tutorial, you will get the tools necessary to develop a solid premise for your documentary.
- Get the tools you need to implement your ideas regardless of your project’s length.
Check out all of Susan’s Upcoming Classes!
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting: Give your Script a Solid Foundation – Starts June 30th
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting, Accelerated
Writing the Family Feature Film
Writing the Family Feature, Accelerated – Starts June 16th
Writing the Documentary
Writing the Documentary, Accelerated
Writing the Animated Feature – Starts June 30th
Advanced Film Rewriting
World Building: Crafting Screenplays Readers Can Step Into