Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Naveen Andrews, Miranda Richardson, Robbie Coltrane, Nandita Das and Steve McFadden
Director: Jag Mundhra
Warning: This review is fairly in depth and does contain movie spoilers. Read at your own discretion.
In Prison she found freedom. After a turbulent fight, her sentence was changed from murder to manslaughter. But even years after, an abusive relationship, always leaves you with scars even when you have escaped it. ‘Provoked’ stars Bollywood’s Beauty, Aishwarya Rai in an intense and certainly difficult role. The English-spoken Britain-based film tells the true story of a Punjabi woman, Kiranjit Ahluwalia [Aishwarya Rai], who falls into an arranged marriage with Deepak Ahluwalia (Naveen Andrews). Shortly after, the abuse begins and the story beings the night Kiranjit decided to re-write her fate.
Instantly, the movie plunges into the story, from the very first frame. We see Kiranjit walking through her house with a candle, her happy family pictures plastered on the house walls. It’s pitch dark—the night of the murder. As soon as the film beings, you are immediately put into Kiranjit’s shoes. The door creaks and Kiranjit quickly pours the mixture of petrol, oil and sugar. Yes, sugar, as it sticks to the victim, allowing the fire to penetrate straight to the bone without being put out fast. Suddenly, the setting reverts to an unaware Kiranjit’s interrogation by APC O’Connell. The film follows Kiranjit’s journey through prison, with flashbacks of her abusive life embedded into the story.
An innocent Kiranjit, afraid to speak, a stranger to the English language, is soon convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Yes, Kiranjit murdered her husband. But the real question is, what brought her to such an extent that ‘murder’ was her only hope for freedom? Kiranjit’s mother-in-law, stubborn and blinded by her son’s death, failed to tell the jury about the abusive situation that used to play out in front of her eyes. One scene in particular shows when Kiranjit is cooking with her mother-in-law and Deepak bursts in cursing. He grabs Kiranjit and begins to strangle her against the wall while his mother begs him to stop. Despite this, Kiranjit’s mother-in-law denied ever witnessing abuse towards Kiranjit. Another person called to the witness box was PC O’Connell, who was present at the night of the murder. Although he seemed to understand Kiranjit, he too presented false information to the court which gave the jury another reason to prosecute Kiranjit. Also, the film shows very well how Kiranjit found her freedom in prison. She left her husband’s cage and was thrown into the cage of the British judiciary system. Yet, this for Kiranjit, was the closest to freedom she had ever known. In prison is also where she makes a friend, Veronica (Miranda Richardson). Veronica helps Kiranjit to learn English and also stands up for her against fellow inmates. Into the picture comes the Southall Black Sisters, particularly Radha (Nandita Das) who fights for Kiranjit’s justice. Putting aside their debts and financial problems, they brought on a case most decided to ignore. With the help of Lord Edward Foster (Robbie Coltrane), they demand justice for Kiranjit and help her fight for what she believes in.
The film grabs you from start to finish. As a young girl, I was immediately drawn into the movie. You feel as if you are Kiranjit. The film is very well told. It captures the emotions of the main character incredibly as well as depicts the unfair judgment that society tends to have. Also, how people from a different background, especially women, are misjudged and not always understood properly. One note-worthy scene is when Kiranjit is asked to take off her jewelry and clothes at a prison, including her mangalsutra, a sacred necklace for married women, and her Kara, a traditional Sikh bracelet. She is made to strip her Punjabi clothes for prison rags, right in front of the officer. A woman, who has never even undressed in front of her husband by choice, was told to ‘take off her clothes’. To Kiranjit, this symbolized a loss of faith and dignity. Another immensely interesting scene is that of Kiranjit’s first lunch, when she is served beef which her religion forbids her to eat. Here, we are introduced to another flashback involving Deepak’s first act of abuse—an act that would be the beginning to a brutal 10 years. Another scene I liked and although it didn’t contain physical abuse, showed another horrible side to Deepak. His verbal abuse towards Kiranjit shows the audience that it doesn’t take a fist to hurt a person and their feelings. Kiranjit buys a wool jacket and decides to wear it on the evening her husband, Deepak, plans to take her out to a cinema. He cringes at seeing his wife in a wool jacket and screams at her to ‘Stop dressing like a white woman’.
Though there are many amazing scenes, one wishes that there were more scenes to show Deepak’s abusive nature so that the viewer understood why Kiranjit did what she did. The film focuses more on Kiranjit’s story after the murder rather than the reasoning behind it. Yes, it is a sensitive subject, but essentially the film required these scenes for more impact. One scene in particular that should have been shown was the rape scene because it would help us to understand Kiranjit’s motivation for murdering Deepak.
In the jury’s eyes, this wasn’t a case of self-defense. What is quite interesting about the story is that Kiranjit never really intended to murder her husband. She simply wanted to set his feet on fire so that he couldn’t run after her, but once he woke up, she screams and pours it all over him, quickly lighting him on fire. Truly, this is a shocking film that captures the life of an amazing woman, despite the seemingly wrong actions. It’s a film that would have any emotional person in tears.
The film has a strong message. It tells the audience that domestic abuse still exists and society seems to turn a blind eye to this topic of discussion. It is a big issue that must be dealt with. The main plea is that woman shouldn’t suffer in silence.
Aishwarya Rai; the star of the show. Even that statement is an understatement to describe how excellent Aishwarya’s portrayal of Kiranjit is. The facial expressions, the Punjabi accent, the tears and the screams; everything was amazing. Aishwarya has certainly impressed. After Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas, Raincoat, Chokher Bali, Umrao Jaan and Guru, Provoked ranks among the best of Aishwarya Rai. Aishwarya grabs you, she makes the audience get into the character’s shoes and helps us to feel what Kiranjit felt. This, really, is what I believe makes the film; the ability to capture the audience.
Also, Naveen Andrews’s famously known for playing Sayid on the smash hit TV Drama ‘Lost’ does a great job. He portrays the role of a disgusting and alcoholic Deepak very impressively. Playing an ex-Iraqi torturer, he puts those abusive acting skills into action in ‘Provoked’ and really makes you hate him after watching the film.
A few other people who have done a fantastic job are Miranda Richardson and Nandita Das. They both play the role of the two women who helped gaining Kiranjit’s freedom back. However, some of the smaller characters seemed quite amateur.
Not all credit can go to the stars of the film. Jag Mundhra the director of ‘Provoked’ has amazingly put the film together. Known for his erotic and sexual films, Jag totally moves away from all that and put together a fantastic piece of work. He has captured how Kiranjit found her freedom in prison.
One of the disappointments of the film is that there weren’t enough abuse scenes to help the viewer understand Kiranjit’s actions. Also, the film is a bit slow-paced. The director concentrated more on the appeal of Kiranjit rather than on her abuse. The film is also quite short, and a bit of meat to the story would only have made the story stronger and to the point.
Overall, I personally enjoyed the movie a lot. I recommend this film to anyone. It isn’t a light movie. The film puts across a strong moral that woman shouldn’t suffer in silence. The film is sure to get into your heart and mind and leave you with a thought that there are woman still suffering. It’s a film to make you emotional and frustrated at the same time. Watch it for Aishwarya’s superb performance! This film makes you want to change the views of society on woman and Jag certainly has achieved what he set out to do.
It is certainly well made and should be watched.
Bear in mind, the film contains strong language, nudity [some scenes] and violence. It is rated as a 15 in UK and PG-13 in America and Europe.