May 24, 2007

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Provoked (NR)
Said from Lost learns the hard way not to beat up women in Provoked, the based-on-a-true-story movie about a Punjab woman living in Britain who attempts to burn her abusive husband to death.

Suddenly, a torture-happy former member of the Iraqi Republican Guard seems like a feel-good role.

Kiranjit Ahluwalie (Aishwarya Rai) is found stunned, soot-covered and holding her two young sons while she sits on her back porch by the police when they come to her house after part of it is burned in an incident that also leaves her husband Deepak (Naveen Andrews) with severe burns on his back and legs. His burns are so severe that he can’t do much more than scream in pain until, later at the hospital, he finally lets out a “bitch tried to kill me.” This and a can of petrol found on the bed where the fire started gets a mildly racist detective to aggressively question Kiran and decide that she’s guilty. Kiran is sent to a women’s prison to await trial, where she is too afraid to do much more than open her eyes really wide and flashback on Deepak’s history of demonstrating every last trait of bad husbanding (infidelity, squandering their money, physical and sexual abuse).

Due in part to her own shame (over her bad English and her predicament), Kiran doesn’t testify in her own defense and her mother-in-law lies about the way her son treated Kiran, resulting in Kiran being found guilty. In an odd way, though Kiran misses her sons, she finds a certain kind of freedom in prison, even making friends with Ronnie (Miranda Richardson), a woman in jail for a similar crime. Kiran slowly regains her backbone and, with the help of an Indian activist, decides to appeal her verdict and convince a court that her husband’s ill treatment of her was the reason for her actions.

The real-life case of Kiranjit was apparently key in British law bringing battered woman’s syndrome into consideration of crimes of this kind (according to title cards at the end of the movie). The movie strongly resembles something you would see on the Lifetime channel starring Meredith Baxter but the actresses and movie’s passion for its subject matter help to elevate it above the shlocky level of women-in-peril TV movies. Rai, perhaps best known to American audiences for her role as one of the daughters in Bride and Prejudice, is a compelling actress and even though the movie doesn’t give her much to do she makes the most of what she’s given. Where a Tori Spelling would chew the scenery, Rai daintily nibbles it. C

Directed by Jag Mundhra and written by Carl Austin and Rahila Gupta, Provoked is an hour and 51 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Eros International.