Leena Yadav’s Parched, produced by Ajay Devgn, which recently won the inaugural Impact Award at the prestigious Stockholm Film Festival, is the story of four village women who emancipate themselves from years of patriarchal traditions. The film also premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year and received an overwhelming reaction, even getting a second screening.
The director was very clear about the kind of sets she wanted for the film and found her production designer in Amardeep Behl, who created an entire village for her in Jaisalmer.
Behl, who began his search towards the end of 2013 to meet the filmmaker’s expectations, says, “We were looking for a place with a certain timeless quality and thought Kutch would be perfect. But a lot has changed there after the 2001 earthquake. Also, some of the permissions didn’t work out and we had no option but to scout for another remote location.”
Finally, they zeroed in on a small village called ‘Mangal Singh Ki Dhani’ next to the sand dunes in Jaisalmer. “There were only two houses with habitants and a few abandoned ones. It took us almost four months to conceptualise and construct it,” adds Behl, who then put together the organic village renamed ‘Ujhaas’ for the film, with six houses made of wood, mud and dry grass and 10 makeshift ones made with metal sheets, a few shops, a moneylender’s house, a place for the panchayat to meet, a school and a bus stop.
He further reveals, “Rajasthan is hot during the day and cold at night. That was the only challenge to work there.” They received some help from the locals while putting the set together. “My construction team from Mumbai and the locals worked in complete harmony. We didn’t want to disrupt the natural state, so their inputs were valuable. It also helped them make some money.”
With the commotion of work, the Parched team got a lot of attention from the nearby villages, but nobody ever interfered with their work. “People and their cattle went about their daily lives; it was beautiful to see man and animal coexist,” Behl says.
When asked him if the budget was an issue, he says, “We never had money troubles and managed to work within the budget we were allotted without having to compromise on our vision. And we’re really happy with the final output.”
So, what happened to the village he created, after the shoot was completed? “The locals moved into some of the houses, the rest are waiting to be occupied,” he smiles.