Through the medium of cinema, we have been served with real life biographies of several historical figures. But a biographical account of a person not from a bygone era and who is very much alive could make an interesting view especially since you could relate to the character and their conflict. Provoked, based on the real life story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, clicks with you for that very reason.
Kiranjit (Aishwarya) is a simple, traditional girl from Punjab who is married off to an NRI, Deepak Ahluwalia (Naveen Andrews). Post marriage, Kiranjit turns a victim of domestic violence from her husband. After ten years of torture, she finally looses her cool one night and sets her husband on fire. She is arrested and even loses her case until a prison inmate (Miranda Richardson) comes to her rescue by appointing her lawyer brother (Robbie Coltrane) to handle her case. With the help of a local Asian social workers group in UK, the Southall Black Sisters headed by Radha (Nandita Das), she finally wins her case and is set free after more than 3 years of custody.
There have been several movies tackling the issue of injustice to woman and Provoked isn't much apart. But the treatment of the subject doesn't make the film look grave or arduous. That's because it's not just a social drama but has a lot of courtroom conflict, prison escapade and a story about hope to narrate. And the screenplay is sketched such that each theme cuts in with the other. For instance the domestic violence inflicted on Kiranjit isn't shown in one single stretch in the film but comes out through regular flashback installments when she is in prison, thereby not making the impact of the agony shown, very intense.
Provoked is that kind of a film where you know the end but what still makes you sit till the end is how the film reaches to its end. A lot of detailing has been worked out to recreate the courtroom drama, as it would have been in the real case. In fact this was the case that redefined the legal definition of 'provocation' in the British law. Thankfully the motive behind Deepak traumatizing his wife is clearly attributed to his male chauvinism and is not reasoned with other formulaic issues like dowry.
Aishwarya takes on an impressive Punjabi accent for her character of Kiranjit. But the way in which she picks up English language and a foreign accent inside jail appears quite far-fetched. Also to exploit the glamorous side of Aishwarya Rai, her character is given a complete makeover inside the prison with a new hairdo, added makeup and a revised wardrobe. The transformation of her character is least convincing. The non-chronological editing pattern of the film constantly boomeranging between the past and the present, though reduces the brutal effect, tends to get a little confusing.
Aishwarya (despite carrying a disgusted look on her face throughout the film, in accordance with her character) is poignant and much emotive than her plastic doll performance in Dhoom 2. The much-underrated Naveen Andrews looks menacing as the sadistic dominating husband. Nandita Das tends to get a little theatrical at times.
Director Jagmohan Mundhra, often tagged as a soft-porn filmmaker for the erotic content in his films, perhaps was sufficiently provoked this time to clean his image with a sincere film. And he succeeds in his attempt!
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