Art & Culture

28 years before Parched: How Rihaee set rural women's sexuality free

Deepa Gahlot
Deepa GahlotSep 26, 2016 | 11:32

28 years before Parched: How Rihaee set rural women's sexuality free

Last week's release, Parched, about the problems faced by rural women in a deeply patriarchal society, is reminiscent of Aruna Raje's 1988 film, Rihaee, made at a time when heroine-centred films were few and far between.

Two of the top stars of that era, Hema Malini and Vinod Khanna, agreed to act in a small budget film; Naseeruddin Shah, Neena Gupta, Ila Arun, were regulars in the art cinema circuit.


Set in a village in Gujarat, where the women are left to fend for themselves while the men go to cities to make a living, the film spoke of the loneliness and sexual frustration of these grass widows.

The only males left behind are children and old men, so when Mansukh (Naseeruddin Shah) returns to the village from Dubai, he has a field day seducing the women. Only Taku (Hema Malini), the hard-working wife of Amarji (Vinod Khanna), a carpenter working in the city, seems to be immune to Mansukh's charms.

It was bold of a female director to speak of the longing of women who have husbands, but are still alone. In rural India, where poverty is unemployment is rampant, there are so many men who are forced to abandon their families.

It is typical of the hypocrisy of a male-dominated society that the men can meet their sexual needs outside of the marriage, but the women are expected to be chaste.

Rihaee's poster. (Photo credit: Google) 

They are also expected to work in the fields and take care of their children and in-laws. Theirs is a strange lot - they are independent, yet tied up to their homes.


Eventually even Taku succumbs to Mansukh and when she finds herself pregnant, refuses to abort the child. She confesses to her husband, who is expectedly shocked and angry, but like his friend Roopji (Mohan Agashe), he cannot bring himself to beat his wife or force her to have an abortion against her will. The hypocritical Roopji, who sleeps around unashamedly but drove his pregnant wife to suicide, calls for a panchayat to punish Taku.

He and the other men are afraid that if Taku is allowed to get away, then all the women will follow suit. They all know that their wives have affairs when they are away, but as long as it is kept under wraps and pregnancies from such liaisons quietly terminated, the maryada of their society can be preserved. It is this duplicity that Takubai challenges, with her stubborn refusal to kill her unborn child.

She is willing to face the village panchayat to be judged, and the men decide to banish her from the village. Then, the women who had tried to get her to get rid of the foetus now stand up for her in a stunning show of female solidarity.


They threaten to leave the village too if Taku is evicted. The older women question the male order that dares punish women for the same "crime" that men get away with.

"If you want us to be Sita, then you must become Ram," they say. One of the women, Motibai, exposes the misdeeds of some the respected village elders - one of them rapes his daughter-in-law; another 70-year-old is about to marry a 13-year-old child.

The flustered men leave Amarji to deal with his "personal matter". When Roopji tries to act tough and throw out Taku, Amarji comes to her defence; then with a look of great dignity and tenderness, takes Taku back into the house, leaving Roopji fuming with rage.

Even if it is a small step, one woman's strength changes the macho attitude of one man, and perhaps that of the entire village.

Like Parched, Aruna Raje's Rihaee tends to veer towards sloganeering, however, it remains one of the handful films about the power of female bonding, disproving the myth that women are their own worst enemy.

Last updated: September 26, 2016 | 11:32
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy