Gripping drama


Genre: Drama
Director: Jagmohan Mundhra
Cast: Aishwarya Rai, Miranda Richardson, Naveen Andrews, Nandita Das
Storyline: Recreates the story of an Indian woman, Kiranjit Singh Ahluwalia, who was convicted for killing her abusive husband
Bottomline: You really can get by with a little help from your friendsFor a topic so bleak and depressing, the film `Provoked: A True Story', starring Aishwarya Rai as Kiranjit Singh Ahluwalia, proves to be quite gripping.Part courtroom drama, part kitchen sink realism, it defies the popular Indian sentiment of filmmaking, where melodrama is the key to making a point. Kiranjit's life is high on drama, so director Jagmohan Mundhra prefers to tell it like it is.Naveen Andrews, who is every British Indian filmmaker's golden boy, plays the tarnished, psychotically possessive husband, Deepak. What is interesting is that the film shows us that he does love her, but too much love can be a bad thing.Naveen unfolds the husband's increasingly abusive nature with alarming effectiveness. It starts with a slap, because Kiranjit dances with his friend as he instructs her to. And finally, after years of mental and physical abuse, rape and infidelity, he threatens to burn her eyes out with an iron. This proves to be her breaking point, and she sets fire to him when he's asleep.Aishwarya's performance is passable. Superficially, she does everything right, and at one point, when she is first reunited with her sons in prison, she does it fabulously right. But as the abused Kiranjit, you are aware that this is just an act. Her attempts at broken, Punjabi-accented English fall through, especially when she is reading to her cellmate Ronnie, and lets her clipped, cosmopolitan accent slip.The best part of the film begins when she meets her jail mates. Fitting, because the story goes that it is in jail that she finally finds freedom.Miranda Richardson (remember her as Rita Skeeter in the last Harry Potter film?) is delightful as the gorgeous, tough cellmate who takes the mousy Kiranjit under her wing. It is the most basic, yet successful formula of entertainment, where there is a defeated person who finds camaraderie against a common bully. And finally, in the face of a crisis, the underdog comes through, cheered by onlookers.This happens in the bigger picture too, though perhaps not as effectively.With the help of Radha (Nandita Das) and the organisation she works for an Asian Feminist organisation called the Southhall Black Sisters Kiranjit challenges her conviction for murder. The result is a landmark judgment that changes the face of British law in relation to domestic violence.The film moves at a precise, steady pace, so if you have no patience for details, this is not for you.SUSAN MUTHALALY