(2007) Provoked Reviews
Bollywood Hungama Review
In Irish novelist Roddy Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, the battered wife Paula keeps justifying her bruises by saying she as a habit walks into closed doors and hurts herself.
The battered wife Kiranjit in Jagmohan Mundhra’s jolting expose on domestic values never gets a chance to walk in or out of that closed London door where she lives with her brutal husband. She chooses her husband’s death over own exit.
It’s amazing how the true-life Kiranjit Ahluwalia found freedom by setting her brutal husband on fire. In one of the film’s most sensitively delineated dialogues, Kiranjit says to her rather overly benign prison mates, “I’ve never felt freer in my life.”
What sort of trauma would it take for a woman to feel free in prison? Provoked answers the complicated question of domestic disharmony with a deft and direct approach to the question of a woman’s place in the man’s scream of things.
The intermittent flashbacks showing Kiranjit’s spousal nightmare, cut deep and hard into the narrative. Full credit to Aishwarya Rai for plunging deep into a part that she plays straight from her heart. True, at times she looks too pretty to be ravaged. But the vulnerable, fragile little-girl-lost quality in her personality works to great advantage in portraying the spouse-burning victim as a woman scorned beyond endurance. There’re moments in the narrative where Rai melts your heart like an ice-cream cone left out in the sun for too long.
Madhu Ambat’s cinematography is so sweeping in its specificity; it creates a spatial bond between the protagonist’s heart and her hostile-to-compassionate surroundings. Mundhra and Sanjay Mirajkar have edited the harsh material with extreme economy of expression. The film moves mercilessly forward leaving no room for a breather.
Among the unforgettable sequences, count the one where the stern lady constable asks Kiranjit to take off her jewellery and clothes. Kiranjit pleads in hushed anguish, “Never take clothes off in front of husband.”
Aishwarya’s inherent inhibitions give the character a mocking edge. How could this petal-tender woman set her husband on fire? Imagine the levels of torture she must have suffered! Blessedly we are shown only fragments of Kiranjit’s trauma. Director Mundhra makes sure they are enough to make us wince without making our stomachs churn. Cleverly but tenderly formatted as a thriller- in- flashback, Provoked opens with the burning figure of Deepak Ahluwalia (Naveen Andrews) running screaming out of his house.
Mundhra moves smoothly backwards into events leading to this gruesome incident. Female bonding has always been a favourite theme in his films (remember Shabana Azmi and Deepti Naval in Kamla?). In Provoked the bond that develops between Kiranjit and her cell mate Veronica (played by Vanessa Redgrave’s daughter Miranda Richardson with supreme sunniness) is remarkably well-tuned to the sisters’-solidarity theme that forms the narrative’s backbone.
Nandita Das is also in fine form as a spunky ‘sister’ activist holding up a torch for the torched husband’s tortured wife. Every actor in the smallest role gets it right…and bright. Naveen Andrews’s despicable brutality as the husband makes your skin crawl, as it’s meant to.
But the film clearly belongs to Aishwarya. She gets a grip on her character Kiranjit’s predicament with a fluid grace, her large swimming-pool eyes brimming over with untold grief as she pleads with her lawyers, ‘Please let me see my children.’
Children, alas cannot see what Kiranjit goes through. Maybe they should though. Next time they see Mummy with that black eye they’d know she didn’t walk into that door.
Asian dramatic sensibilities bring color and emotion to “Provoked,” a battered-immigrant-wife drama that, in British filmmaking hands, could have been merely a downbeat, right-on trawl. Mixed Indian and Western cast — with Bollywood queen Aishwarya Rai surrounded by stalwarts like Miranda Richardson, Robbie Coltrane and Rebecca Pidgeon — turn the true story of a case that changed British law into an old-style melodrama (in the best sense) complete with a feel-good ending. With strong reviews, solid business looks likely, with some crossover beyond the curry belt. Pic also opens the Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles on April 17.
Largely English-language pic goes out in India in a variety of regional-language versions, but will mainly appeal there to metro auds. Much will depend on Rai’s local pulling power (not necessarily guaranteed in the past), though the current hype surrounding her upcoming marriage to actor Abhishek Bachchan won’t hurt one bit.
Main surprise is that pic was directed by veteran journeyman Jag Mundhra, whose 20-odd-year career has encompassed direct-to-vid soft-porn schlockers (several with “Provoked” co-scripter Carl Austin), as well as occasional, more serious movies (2000’s “Bawandar,” aka “Sandstorm”). Working from a screenplay that adheres pretty closely to the facts, Mundhra delivers a work that plays like a toned-down version of mainstream Indian cinema, with d.p. Madhu Ambat’s saturated lensing and well-composed widescreen visuals bringing a South Asian feel to the U.K.-set material.
Pic gets straight down to business as, on the night of May 9, 1989, British-born Indian Deepak Ahluwalia (Naveen Andrews) is horribly burned in the bedroom of his suburban London home. Kiranjit (Rai), his Punjabi wife and mother of two, is found in shock outside.
Not denying the charge of incinerating her spouse, Kiranjit (who speaks little English) is accused of attempted murder when her prints are found on the gasoline can. Though her body shows evidence of regular beatings, her barrister Miriam (Pidgeon, with a slightly wobbly English accent) says she can’t claim self-defense, as Deepak was asleep at the time. Case is also taken up by sparky Indian-born activist Radha Dalal (Nandita Das).
When Deepak finally dies from his burns, Kiranjit is charged with first-degree murder, brought to trial in December and sentenced to life in prison.
Multiple story strands keep the pic moving without focusing solely on Kiranjit, a gentle, passive soul who tells Radha she feels “free” in jail after years of spousal abuse. Early on, flashbacks to the early years of her marriage start punctuating the narrative. And in a smart dramatic move, the script also sketches Kiranjit’s jailmates in some detail, especially tough but tender cell companion, Veronica “Ronnie” Scott (Richardson), and prison bully Doreen (TV’s Lorraine Bruce).
With Rai dignified in a largely reactive role, it’s the playing by thesps like Richardson and Das, both excellent, that broadens the pic’s emotional palette. As Radha and lawyer Anil Gupta (Raji James), build a case for appeal, and sympathetic ex-cop James O’Connell (Nicholas Irons) gives crucial new evidence, the movie becomes a genuine heartwarmer, with a rousing court perf by Kiranjit’s new barrister (Coltrane).
Main weakness is that, in the flashbacks, Deepak’s role has little backgrounding, and his violent outbursts are given no psychological underpinnings. Picture is more a quality meller, with clearly defined heroes and villains, than a slice of social realism. But for viewers prepared to go with the flow, it works at a gut, movie-movie level.
Technical package is smooth, with a warm score by star Indian composer A.R. Rahman. For the record, Kiranjit Ahluwalia’s case was instrumental in getting U.K. law to recognize battered-wife syndrome.
IBN Live Review
Set in London and based on a real-life story, director Jag Mundhra’s film Provoked stars Aishwarya Rai as a battered Punjabi housewife and mother of two.
Aishwarya plays the role of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, who sets her brutish husband on fire after suffering 10 years of abuse at his hands. Charged with first-degree murder when her husband succumbs to his wounds, Kiranjit is sentenced to life imprisonment.
Despite evidence of repeated abuse, the law doesn’t allow her to claim self-defense as her husband was asleep when Kiranjit set him on fire.
In prison, it’s with the help of a fellow inmate Ronnie, played by veteran British actress Miranda Richardson, that Kiranjit picks up the pieces of her life and learns to stand up to bullies.
Meanwhile, Nandita Das playing a female activist with The Southhall Black Sisters, a support group committed to helping victims of abuse, takes up her cause and persuades Kiranjit to make an appeal.
A little over three years after her arrest, Kiranjit is finally freed by the British judicial system in a landmark case that redefined the word “provocation” in the case of battered women.
Despite its many shortcomings, Provoked is engaging till its very end because it’s such a dramatic story and because it avoids over-sentimentality, a trap that most films of this genre invariably fall into. Thankfully, we’re spared all the Bollywood-style chest-beating and the shameless tugging at heart-strings that most Hindi films of this kind indulge in.
So, even though there are scenes in which Kiranjit begs to be united with her sons, there’s none of that ‘I’ll-die-without-them’ drama. That’s not to say the script is all perfect, in fact it’s far from it actually.
Mundhra wastes too much time setting up those courtroom scenes, and there’s little need to go into the back-stories of every inmate in that prison. Instead it might have helped if the character of Kiranjit’s husband had been more fleshed out.
One moment you see he’s surprising his pregnant wife with their new suburban home. Next thing you know, he’s bashing her up and thrashing her around for no fault of hers.
Also, attributing his violent mood swings and his promiscuous lifestyle to his drinking habit is a little too convenient on the director’s part.
In terms of production value, Provoked comes of looking like one of those filmed-in-your-backyard TV movies, and to be completely honest, Mundhra’s direction is too basic, almost too amateurish to be taken seriously. But because it’s entirely honest and well intended you’re willing to overlook many of these flaws.
Instead, you’re moved by those tender moments between Kiranjit and Ronnie, her protective new friend in prison. You’re stung by the sense of empty loneliness that you see in Kiranjit’s eyes even after she’s released from prison.
In all honesty, Provoked wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for two performances that uplift the film considerably. Miranda Richardson plays Ronnie as a tought-but-tender woman who befriends Kiranjit when she’s falling apart. It’s Richardson who provides some of the film’s most memorable moments, like the one in which she responds to Kiranjit’s bear-hug with a comic line.
Of course, the real star of Provoked is Aishwarya Rai who delivers a performance that is appropriately restrained. I haven’t exactly been a big fan of Aishwarya’s acting, but I’ll say here, she surprises you with what she strums up. It’s a performance that penetrates into your consciousness because she plays it with a slow-burning passion rather than an all-out flourish. This is easily one of her better acting jobs.
The film works because it’s not preachy and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. So I’ll go with three out of five for Jag Mundhra’s Provoked. It’s a sensitive film about domestic abuse. It’s not a great film by any standards but it’s well intended and it goes about its job with sincerity, and sometimes, just sometimes, that’s enough.
Times of India Review
It’s Aishwarya’s film from the word go.
From the very first shot, the actor grabs the role by its horns and shakes it around to sculpt a moving portrayal of a battered woman who happens to chance upon a rare source of inner strength to fight against domestic terror and terrifying traditions that demand silence from a wife, come what may.
Based on the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, who managed to find freedom, dignity and a life of her own after ending ten years of marital abuse with the drastic act of murdering her sleeping husband, Provoked draws its strength from two sources.
First, from the power of real life drama, where the facts itself are so gritty, you simply can’t go wrong with them.
A simple Punjabi girl leaves her village to end up as the wife of a Brit boy (Naveen Andrews), who not only likes a bit on the side but also fails to tame the beast within.
So much so, the beast rises ever so often and throws his pregnant wife down the stairs, holds the hot iron against her face and covers her body with black and blue bruises, whenever she dares to question his wild ways.
And when she is sufficiently provoked, she simply lights up his bed and ends up in the unfriendly prison environs.
Ironically, it is here that the simpleton finds her first true friends, her voice, her identity and her freedom. The story is powerful, yes, but the passion and the pain finds articulation through Aishwarya’s sensitive rendition of the protagonist.
She is ably assisted by her videshi co-stars and finds a sisterhood in Nandita Das and her gang of Asian activists. What holds the story back is the narrative style, which depends too heavily on flashbacks and a slightly lethargic pace.
Watch it for Ash, de-glamourised and quite arty.
Mumbai Mirror Review
Only someone with a deep-frozen soul, or a potential or active woman-beater himself, is unlikely to feel deep compassion for a battered Kiranjit Ahluwalia, the protagonist of this film. She suffers repeated physical, mental and sexual abuse in a marriage of 10 years and two children. Harassed beyond repair, she takes law into her own hands and sets her husband on fire.
The film is based on Ahluwalia’s autobiographical book Circle of Light, which, I am told, is a gruesomely graphic account of unspoken brutalities committed behind culturally isolated confines of a lower middle-class London home.
Mundhra rightly tones down the violence in his adaptation. Yet, even the representative scenes are enough to make you cringe, or at least hear a muted wail.
Young, quiet Ahluwalia, a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant from Punjab , less versed in English, lesser versed in law, is sentenced to life-imprisonment for murder. It isn’t made clear why the detective handling her case is interested in hastily wrapping up the matter; he even forcibly employs foul police evidence for the judgment to be in prosecution’s favour. Proof of a sustained, adequate provocation for murder could allow her a less harsh punishment. Legal aid doesn’t appear to be of much help. A local women’s group does, and later turns the case into a monumental one to redefine what ‘provocation’ stands for in British criminal law.
Meanwhile, Ahluwalia spends time in jail. This is where, as the film’s tag-line puts it appropriately, she finds freedom, beside certain amount of confidence and help from a cell-mate (Richardson; charmingly warm), and thereby her estranged brother, a top solicitor (Robby Coltraine; awesomely dignified).
Rai plays the protagonist impressively straight. As a mainstream actress, better known for her star-appeal or celebrity-gossip than acting skills, her merely green-lighting a subject of this nature should be an object of applause. She remains adequately shorn of hysterics or high-drama. This is also, as it turns out, the film’s greatest virtue, which lets it stand apart from several of its hyperbolic, screechy predecessors (Kalpana Lajmi’s Daman; three back-to-back Hindi versions of the thriller Sleeping With The Enemy…).
However, if the purpose is to initiate debate, as it should be, the exceedingly uneven description of a demure, battered heroine, and a wretched villain, doesn’t assist at all. The husband (Naveen Andrews) appears in short episodes merely to taunt, rape, scare or physically assault his wife, a silent victim.
I can wager a bit, domestic violence isn’t solely a hushed preserve of a psychotically possessive, whore-mongering, drunk, demented husband. It is a lot more common. Were the leading man’s character (or even the despicably, inexplicably quiet mother-in-law) more painstakingly fleshed out, we could get a rounded perspective and a better flash of reality. What we bear instead is a bunch of predictably shallow and one-sided vignettes.
Yet, my earliest memory of a movie by Mundhra is from the super-hormonal years of early teens. We’d sneaked into a friend’s place to watch a beat-up video of a semi-soft-porn obscura called Tropical Heat (aka Tropical Nights). I don’t remember too much of the film, but for our young host’s sister walking in!
From an unpretentious B-thriller maker, Provoked does seem a surprise-catch.
Provoked, as we all know, is a true story, adapted from the autobiography ‘Circle of Light’ (by Rahila Gupta and Kiranjit Ahluwalia). It is the story of Kiranjit’s trauma and triumph, the incredible tale of her abuse and acquittal. It compels each of us to think about the ugly and often unmentioned issue of wife abuse, prevalent both in modern and traditional societies.
The movie begins with A.R. Rahman’s soulful background score; Madhu Ambat’s expressive photography reveals a burning candle, light gradually spreading and the moving candle revealing framed memories of good times. Then the light falls on Deepak Ahluwalia (Naveen Andrews) who is in a drunken stupor; the candle falls on him, setting him aflame. We now see his wife, Kiranjit (Aishwarya Rai). Expectedly, we have to go into flashback mode to know more.
Kiranjit, a docile and submissive lass with a rural Punjabi background, comes to England in 1979 after marrying Deepak. She meekly submits to her alcoholic husband’s increasing brutalities and abuses. He beats her black and blue, cheats, mistreats and abuses her physically, sexually and verbally, even pushing her down the stairs when she is pregnant. Finally, after putting up with this for 10 years, she sets him aflame when he is drunk and he dies.
Kiranjit is imprisoned for suspected murder. Since the trial fails to establish mitigating circumstances or a prolonged background of domestic violence, the jury finds her guilty and she is sentenced to life imprisonment. Kiranjit is actually relieved and begins her life in prison. Her cellmate Veronica Scott (Miranda Richardson) is protective and sympathizes with her. She is spending time in prison for stabbing her husband. Veronica has remarkable influence in and outside prison; her step-brother, Lord Edward Foster (Robbie Coltrane), a highly respected Queen’s counsel, files Kiranjit’s appeal. Her case is also taken up by a group of South Asian social workers headed by Radha (Nandita Das), running a poor non-profit organization called Southall Black Sisters. They publicize her plight, bringing it into the limelight, organizing rallies to gather public support for her freedom.
All these women bring about major changes in her life. She learns English in jail, gets to know sympathetic people who further her cause, and she learns about her own hidden strengths. In 1992, her crime is converted from murder to manslaughter, and British law changes its definition of “Provokation”. The judiciary system (in what came to be known as the breakthrough ‘Regina vs. Ahluvalia’ trial) acquits Kiranjit. She is set free and reunited with her children.
Aishwarya Rai is stunning. Her performance, her expressive eyes, her body language, her dialogue delivery in Punjabi, natural look, behaviour in prison, signs of maturity, joy, fear, apprehension. Do observe her back straightening as her self confidence increases, her eyes looking shocked, grieved, frightened, confused, relieved and determined. She expresses and emotes, displaying frustration, anger, hatred, guilt and glimpses of happiness. This could well be her best performance till date.
Thankfully, the scenes depicting violence are underplayed and not too graphic, the beating scenes brief but effective. In the end, you come out of the theatre feeling more about the issue rather than the person. Provoked has undoubted commercial potential. The script is taut, acting is uniformly good and emotional quotient is extremely high. So Provoked is headed for box office success in India and abroad. Domestic violence, as we know, is a universal issue.
Naveen Andrews leaves a mark, but has little scope to portray his character better. Miranda Richardson is just great. Rebecca Pidgeon (the solicitor who argues her case in crown court and loses) is adequate, while Robbie Coltraine (Miranda’s step-brother) is effective. Steve Mcfadden is the racist detective who interrogates Aishwarya, bullying her to confession; Nicholas Irons is a sympathetic constable and Deborah Moore plays another prison mate.
Overall, a movie you cannot afford to miss, for the plot and for the performances.
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.
“In prison she found freedom” (Pulpmovies.com)
In 1989, after ten years of abuse at the hands of her violent and drunken husband, Kiranjit Ahluwalia (Aishwarya Rai) threw a can of petrol over him as he slept and set fire to him. Not denying the charge of killing her husband, and speaking little English, the devastated Kiranjit is duly charged.
The violent history of Kiranjit’s husband, Deepak (Naveen Andrews) starts to emerge, in flashback, quite soon into the film and quickly becomes apparent to her defence team. However, because of the nature of her crime, she is unable to claim either self-defence or provocation and is convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
And this is really where the story starts.
In prison, the shy and frightened Kiranjit meets Veronica Scott (Miranda Richardson), her cellmate and the first person in a decade to extend a genuine hand of friendship towards her. With the support of Veronica – whose name is abbreviated to Ronnie – Kiranjit slowly starts to build her self-confidence begins to improve her language skills.
And it’s here, in prison, that Kiranjit starts to feel free for the first time in her life.
Meanwhile, the pressure group Southall Black Sisters have heard of her case and, led by the feisty Radha Dalal (Nandita Das), they start to both campaign for her release and to put together an appeal.
Provoked is based on the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia and the film is a serious attempt to address the issue of domestic violence. While it does feel a little worthy at times, the film avoids descending into sentimentality largely due to the stellar performances of the three main characters.
Miranda Richardson, Nandita Das and especially Aishwarya Rai all bring a real humanity to their roles and it’s this humanity that gives the film its powerful emotional punch.
This film is a real departure for Rai who takes on what is probably the most unglamorous role of her career. And, in a remarkable performance, she really does manage to make you forget about her looks and empathise – right from the outset – with her portrayal of a victim slowly starting to live again.
However, for much of the film, Kiranjit is largely reactive character and it’s playing against Richardson and Das that both brings out the best of Rai’s performance. It is also down to Richardson and Das to broaden the scope of the film so that it is able to go beyond being one woman’s story and address domestic violence as a whole.
The real-case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia was a legal landmark that helped create a new defence in court for women suffering from domestic violence. Provoked successfully shows how one woman’s courage helps fuel a national campaign that led to a change in the law.
“One of the Best Films on the Horrors of Domestic Violence”
Based on a true story, “Provoked” tells the story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia who suffered abuse at the hands of her husband for over 10 years. One might initially sigh at another film on this subject matter. Lord knows enough TV movies have been done, but none have been done better than this. How much abuse can a person take before they reach the point where they snap? Before they reach the point where they feel that their life is now on the line?
Aishwarya Rai turns in her best acting performance as well as her most daring one as the abused wife, Kiranjit. Aishwarya Rai tackles a role very different from her Bollywood films. I applaud her willingness to act in a film on such a powerful issue as domestic violence; especially one based on a true story. I’m sure she wanted to help bring this to light.
I often state that you can tell how good an actor/actress is when they can mesmerize you without words. Aishwarya Rai does this beautifully. We can feel her pain, her sadness, and her loneliness with a mere look at her face and her eyes which harbor all the pain that Kiranjit has felt for 10 long years.
The movie itself doesn’t pull its punches. Kiranjit is a woman who barely speaks English. She is the youngest of nine children who is married off to a man she’s never met. What starts out as a dream come true, quickly turns into a nightmare. The abuse from her husband, Deepak, is physical, emotional and sexual. He implores a dominance over Kiranjit that makes us wonder how she ever summoned up the courage to take action. Kiranjit is a small woman whose meekness and submissiveness is like an invitation to Deepak to completely dominate her. The few times she becomes angry at Deepak for his indiscretions, she finds herself being brutally beaten and even threatened.
One night, Kiranjit feels she must do something to save herself. She sets her husband on fire, causing extensive damage from which he eventually dies. Kiranjit, who doesn’t feel compelled to defend herself with her own story, is sentenced to life in prison for murder. There, she meets “Ronnie,” wonderfully played by Miranda Richardson who quickly takes Kiranjit under her wing. Ironically enough, we find that Kiranjit and Ronnie have something in common: both are in prison for killing their husbands.
One might think that the movie quickly turns into a typical women’s prison film. While it has certain typical characteristics, you would be wrong. Rather than seeing her confinement as destroying her life, Kiranjit finds it liberating. For the first time in 10 years, she doesn’t need to worry about her husband abusing her any longer. She finds a certain freedom. And while she quickly finds herself the target of a prison bully, Ronnie is quick to stand up for her. The scene is so much more powerful, because we get the feeling that this is the first time in her entire life that someone else has stepped in to take care of Kiranjit. She finds a circle of friends.
Throughout the course of the movie, a small women’s movement in England decide to help Kiranjit and get her a new trial. They stand up for abused women everywhere, and Kiranjit’s case is their best medium yet for bringing domestic violence out in the open.
The end may be predictable and even stereotypical of so many of these types of films, that I doubt anyone will be surprised. And while I found the ending to be sub-par at best, I felt that the power in the story was in seeing Kiranjit taking care of herself for the first time. She learns to lean on her friends and share her pain and trauma endured over 10 years time.
Movies like this that are done well, are certainly worth seeing and “Provoked” is definitely one of them.
Synopsis: The film tells the true story of London based Kiranjit Ahluwalia (Aishwarya Rai) who after her lonely struggle in an abusive 10-year marriage to Deepak (Naveen Andrews) retaliates by burning her violent husband to death. Convicted for murder, she is sentenced for life imprisonment. Her lawyer fails to get her justice because a shaken Kiranjit refuses to speak in her own defense in the court of law. Radha Dalal (Nandita Das), an activist who runs the Southhall Black Sisters, an NGO that supports the cause of women who have suffered at the hands of their spouses comes out to help Kiranjit.
While in jail as Kiranjit is learning to come to terms with life’s harsh realities, outside the prison walls Radha and her group starts creating awareness amongst people about how Kiranjit was the real victim and not her husband. She gets timely help from a big lawyer Lord Edward Foster (Robbie Coltrane) who is the brother of Kiran’s cell mate Veronica (Miranda Richardson). The constable who had earlier given a false testimony also stands up for Kiran. Finally Kiran gets justice after 3 and half years of imprisonment.
Provoked is inspired by Kiranjit Ahluwalia’s biography Circle of Light by Rahila Gupta, a book which traces her lonely struggle in her abusive marriage and the subsequent events following it. Rahila has also co written the script with Carl Austin and the end result is as absorbing as the book. The deliberate slow pacing and unfolding of events in flash back mode work in the film’s favour. But at times you do feel that the reasons behind Deepak who is initially shown as loving and caring hubby suddenly turning sadistically vicious could have been more elaborate.
Jagmohan Mundhra notorious for his sleazy Hollywood movies in the past, graduates to being a sensitive filmmaker who is adept at handling such an insightful subject. He extracts fine natural performances from his principal cast and delivers a technically competent product.
Aishwarya in a non glamorous avatar gives in her best and comes out with an award winning performance. Some of her scenes such as her first meeting with the kids after being jailed or her awkward initial interactions with the jail inmates and finally her small speech post her freedom clearly exhibit her improved acting prowess. Naveen Andrews in a brief role is convincingly menacing. Nandita Das as the firebrand activist is a pro in handling such roles and delivers yet another good act. Miranda Richardson is extremely likeable. Robbie Coltrane (famous as Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter series) is first-rate.
Provoked is not the right kind of film for movie goers seeking just pure entertainment, but for those who love to see honestly executed realistic films it definitely doesn’t disappoint on any counts. It tells the untold story of perhaps thousands of silently suffering women in India and abroad and are awaiting justice.
Provoked is a real life story of domestic violence that wreaks havoc in the life of Kiranjit Ahluwalia. The fact that it is based on a real life incident itself evokes sympathy as well as empathy. The audiences’ heart goes out to the battered protagonist Kiranjit who is physically and mentally tortured for ten long years by her husband. The film is based on the novel ‘Circle of Life’ but it is less gruesome in its depiction of the gory violent details enacted towards the protagonist. The script is a touching saga of pain, desperation and hope. The screenplay is good in certain parts, but unfortunately there are times where the screenplay could have been much better. The execution by Mundhra too is fare but it is the story and sincerity of the protagonist that makes the film worthwhile. Provoked is definitely a film that touches a chord and is above average.
The story has been conceptualized and directed by Jagmohan Mundhra and the film stars Aishwarya Rai as Kiranjit, Naveen Andrews as Deepak Ahluwalia, Miranda Richardson, Robbie Coltrane, Nandita Das etc. The music and background score has been done by A.R. Rahman and the screenplay has been done by Carl Austin and Rahila Gupta.
Kiranjit is a young nubile Punjabi girl who gets married to London based NRI Deepak Ahluwalia and settles with her husband in London. Unfortunately her life in London with him turns into a nightmare when he starts beating her up frequently. Kiranjit’s dreams are shattered when she learns that her husband is an alcoholic, womanizer and wife beater. She suffers at his hands being sexually assaulted, raped and brutalized for ten long years. She even has two sons with this inhuman man. However one fine day when her self preservation instinct kicks in she sets her husband on fire. Deepak is hospatalised but finally succumbs to his injuries and Kiranjit is charged with first degree murder.
The law does not even consider self defense as her motive and she is given a life sentence by the London judiciary. In jail she finally finds freedom to express herself and befriends the caring and friendly Veronica who is extremely touched by Kiran’s story. Veronica coaxes her step brother, a highly respected lawyer to take up Kiranjit’s case and file an appeal on her behalf. At the same time Kiranjit’s case comes to the notice of a women rights group, the Southall Black sisters. This women’s group organize several protest march on behalf of Kiranjit.
Finally Kiranjit’s case is re-opened and she finds a ray of hope for a better future with her sons. In a landmark case, the London judiciary terminates Kiranjit’s sentence after only three years of prison and the term ‘provocation’ too is redefined in the book of law. Kiranjit is freed and is reunited with her sons and her freedom gives women all over Britain who have been suffering domestic violence in silence a new ray of hope in their lives.
Mundhra’s story is touching and emotional more so as it deals with a real life incident. There are several scenes which make one reach out to the protagonist, the violent scenes manage to create repulse for the husband, Kiran’s fear of being alone in jail, her feeling of being free although in jail, the camaraderie between Ronnie and Kiran in jail etc all these scenes leave an indelible mark. The flashback mode too works in favour of the film creating a suspense like start where one wants to know the reason for Kiran setting her husband ablaze. There is no over the top drama and hysterics in the film in spite of such a sensitive issue. Jagmohan Mundhra makes the audience feel the torture, suffering and plight of the protagonist. His effort along with performances makes the film sincere. Director Jagmohan Mundhra makes you feel for the protagonist but at the same time he keeps the violence depicted in check.
However there are certain flaws as the character of the husband has not been explored in depth, not enough has been depicted about his background. The husband is made to be a one dimensional character. Also the film could have been better edited as some of the proceedings make the film drag towards the end. Cinematography by Madhu is in keeping with the realistic story; music by A.R Rahman is also fine. Dialogues too are effective and create a somber mood.
Nonetheless it is the touching real life story that works in Mundhra’s favour and also Aishwarya Rai’s performance that makes the film worth a watch. Aishwarya Rai as the victim of domestic violence is extremely convincing and delivers an excellent performance. Her innocence as the docile young wife is believable, her vulnerability touches the audience and her facial expressions evoke feelings of compassion and sympathy. Another performance that gives the film a superior quality is that of Miranda Richardson. She is brilliant as the kind, funny and compassionate friend. Naveen Andrews is average, Nandita Das too is okay and the rest o the cast is fair.
Provoked is a film that does manage to touch the audiences heart, but a better screenplay would have taken the film a notch higher. Also it is a film that deals with women centric issues and hence it might only appeal to certain niche segment of audiences. However it is the sincerity of the film that makes it an above average film.
This is a sentiment clearly stated and expressed by those who knew Kiranjit Ahluwalia.
After watching several movies based on true stories like “Erin Brockovich”, “Pursuit of Happyness” and many others, this is another movie which will get you thinking long after you leave the cinema.
“Provoked” is a story based on the real-life accounts of a Punjabi woman named Kiranjit Ahluwalia (Aishwarya Rai). The movie begins with a man jumping out of his bed and down the stairs out of his house in flames. It is later revealed that the man is Deepak (Naveen Andrews), who was set on fire by his own wife, Kiranjit.
The story progresses to Kiranjit’s time of arrest and trial where she is charged with first degree murder. This is where she obtains her ‘freedom’. As the story moves forward, flashbacks of her husband’s abusive acts are revealed. Her cellmate, Veronica Scott a.k.a Ronnie (Miranda Richardson), who was also charged with the murder of her abusive husband, befriends Kiranjit and soon, a tight bond is created.
With the persistence and determination of Radha Dalal (Nandita Das) from the women’s rights organisation called “Black Sisters”, Kiranjit is ready to fight against the unfair murder charge imposed on her and in the end, she earns her complete freedom – from both prison and abuse.
Rai did an excellent job as Kiranjit. She was able relate her feelings to the audience; and that is the pain and confusion she has gone through. The helpless situation she is thrown in when she is first admitted into prison makes one feel sorry for her. Like what the other characters say: “You don’t look like a criminal.” The pain and struggle she goes through and the tears that come from her, easily brings one to tears too.
Richardson, who plays her cellmate, Ronnie, lightens up life in the cell by helping Kiranjit in prison and teaching her English. They both form a special bond which is both heart-warming and a pleasure to see. They seem to be roommates more than cellmates and this can be seen in the scene where they were playing Scrabble. Kiranjit misspells the word ‘shoulder’ as ‘sholder’ and when Ronnie informs her of the missing ‘u’, Kiranjit goes: “U? I need U!” and Ronnie replies: “Yes, you certainly do need me.”
The story is thought-provoking. It shows us the kind of situation battered women is in and the suffering they have to go through. The scenes that picture Kiranjit being abused can send shivers down your spine. The whole story is a mixture of sadness, happiness, suffering and comfort in the end.
“Provoked” is not solely about a woman’s determination to end the abuse she faces but also about a mother’s love for her children and her hopes for them to grow up as responsible men.
Aishwarya Rai is carrying quite a lot of weight on her shoulders these days: She’s been hounded in the press these past few months since becoming engaged to and then marrying her fellow Bollywood sensation, Abhishek Bachchan. She has been acting in a steady clip of new films, including Doug Lefler’s forthcoming “The Last Legion,” featuring Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley, and the Bollywood film “Guru,” which was released earlier this year.
Ms. Rai also works under the pressure of being the “most beautiful woman in the world,” according to Julia Roberts and the international press, acting as a spokesperson for cosmetic companies, and being the face of Bollywood. In essence she’s a true celebrity, but not on our shores — especially for those moviegoers who aren’t familiar with her Bollywood work.
What she may not be, depending on whom you ask, is an especially good actress. But Jag Mundhra’s “Provoked,” released last year in Britain and opening in New York today, answers that question assuredly — Ms. Rai is an excellent actress, and in this film she proves she can take on dramatic roles in English with ease.
Ms. Rai’s first major appearance in American cinemas came in 2004’s “Bride and Prejudice,” directed by Gurinder Chadha (of “Bend It Like Beckham” fame). Similar in theme to such recent films as “Drumline” and “Pride,” which told sentimental stories about minorities succeeding in a unfamiliar environments, “Bride and Prejudice” teemed with flowing red wedding dresses, dancing, and lots of cute winks and glances indicating that a couple was in love. It was the kind of typical “exotic” tripe that is sometimes passed off in the American public eye as a true South Asian experience.
“Provoked,” the true story of a battered Punjabi woman who is jailed in England for murdering her abusive husband (Naveen Andrews of “Lost” fame), is hopefully not considered to be a true South Asian experience (although keeping domestic abuse a secret is much more common on the subcontinent). Ms. Rai’s character, Kiranjit Ahluwalia, is depicted as being quite the opposite of any stereotypical perception that Americans might have about a loving, devoted Indian wife. Kiranjit is shown being beaten, raped, and thrown by her husband. In the beginning of the film, she sits outside her family’s home after burning her husband, who dies from the injuries a few days later. Her round, glowing, glamorous visage is reduced to gauntness, tear- and dirt-streaked and covered in trembling fear. Ms. Rai’s whispering, tinny voice barely rises above a whisper until a halfhour into the movie.
It works, and she works: Ms. Rai’s quietude during the first half of the film, during which her character is convicted of murder and jailed for life, belies the simple power of her acting throughout the rest of the film. Kiranjit decides to work with the Southall Black Sisters, a social organization devoted to helping battered women, to appeal her case. Mr. Mundhra doesn’t lavish any unnecessary spotlights on Ms. Rai. He keeps her dressed plainly in prison-issue clothes or in conservative Indian clothing for most of the film, and her plainspoken dialogue with her lawyers (including Robbie Coltrane) and her cell mates is truly what enlightens the character, especially at the end, when the British courts hand down their decision.
Fans of cheese-filled Bollywood films may find it striking to hear traditional Indian music played against scenes of such violent abuse. Mr. Andrews’s smarmy, simpering acting style cuts deep into his character’s bouts of insanity as he beats and rapes his wife. Mr. Mundhra uses these kinds of moviemaking juxtapositions to his benefit, separating “Provoked” from other, more orthodox and formulaic films in which South Asians are paraded in swaths of color and song. Best of all, Ms. Rai shines through with her understated dialogue and inherent strength as a woman who eventually triumphs over the darkest personal tragedy.
Movie Views Review
Former Miss. World Aishwarya Rai puts aside her Bollywood sari in the heavy European drama Provoked from director Jag Mundhra.
Based on a true story, Provoked tells the story of battered housewife Kiranjit Ahluwalia, who is 1989 killed her abusive husband (Naveen Andrews) by setting him on fire. The film traces her initial trial and subsequent appeal, weaving in flashbacks showing her familial struggles as she tries to cope with the beatings at the hands of her husband.
Despite the label of murderer, Kiranjit is justly built as a hero for battered women around the world. Being sent to prison is one thing. Being sent to prison and hardly speaking the language there is another. An immigrant to the UK, Kiranjit faces further struggles in jail as she tries to learn English to better communicate her story in court and, in turn, through the media.
Rai continues her transformation into a truly worldwide superstar in Provoked, which places established Western stars such as Miranda Richardson, Robbie Coltrane and Andrews alongside a melodramatic narrative traditional to most Bollywood productions save for the out-of-the-blue musical numbers. Shot primarily in English, it’s more accessible to Western audiences than most of Rai’s previous films (Bride and Prejudice being the most notable exception thus far).
Stripped largely of her Cover Girl and beauty queen gloss in order to, presumably, appear more vulnerable and “average”, Rai does an admirable job in the starring role. A veteran of Bollywood, she’s already a master of melodrama. However, in this turn she is convincing in both her weakness and empowerment.
There are some tremendous lessons of courage and justice to be taken from Provoked, however the drama is often so forced that there are times when the film is hard to watch. The dialogue feels as though it’s meant to prove a point first and sound natural second. Secondly, the camera shots and editing very straight forward. While I wouldn’t expect the flash and pop of something from, say, Michael Bay, in a drama such as this, Mundhra provides little in the way of creativity. Rather it’s a point and shoot sort of movie, much like I would expect from a Movie of the Week on network television.
If there’s a small problem with Provoked, it’s that the film shares more than subject matter with the 1984 TV movie The Burning Bed.
Both films tell a harrowing fact-based story of a battered wife who couldn’t take it anymore and set fire to her abusive, violent husband. But for a theatrical release, unfortunately, Provoked has a strangely shallow, made-for-television quality about it. Maybe the director, Jag Mundhra – known mostly for his soft-porn flicks – is simply out of his depth with hard-core reality.
That said, however, the story and performances are powerful enough on their own to give Provoked resonance, regardless of some questionable choices made behind the camera.
In the attention-getting opening scene, Kiranjit Ahluwalia (Aishwarya Rai), a Punjabi housewife, sets fire to her husband, Deepak (Naveen Andrews of Lost), while he sleeps. After she is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, we learn about her 10-year history of physical abuse at Deepak’s hands.
Ironically, jail is where she begins to taste some kind of freedom. Timid and fearful, she nonetheless makes a few buddies, including fellow husband-killer Ronnie Scott (Miranda Richardson). Outside, behind the scenes, an activist group of social workers, the Southall Black Sisters, keeps Kiranjit’s case in the public eye.
The tough but protective Ronnie calls in a favour from her brother – high-priced solicitor Lord Edward Foster (Robbie Coltrane) – who takes on Kiranjit’s appeal at no cost, winning a landmark judgment that redefines the word “provocation” to reduce her murder sentence to manslaughter.
The acting is mostly solid. Bollywood superstar Rai is excellent in the principal role and Andrews, her Bride and Prejudice co-star, makes a suitably detestable antagonist. As for Richardson, she almost steals the movie as the cellmate with a heart of gold. All, unfortunately, are working with a script that fails to give us a look into the souls of the characters.
The issue of cultural taboos regarding domestic violence could have been better explored, the prison scenes might have been made a little less sentimental and the story should have been told in a more emotionally engaging fashion, but make no mistake: This is a piece of history worth knowing. For that alone, it’s worth your time.