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May 2007


By Kam Williams


Studio: Eros International
Director: Raj Mundrha
Screenwriter: Carl Austin, Rahila Gupta
Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Naveen Andrews, Miranda Richardson, Rebecca Pidgeon, Robbie Coltrane
In English and Bengali with subtitles.
Running time: 113 minutes


Courtroom Drama Puts Battered Housewife on Trial for Setting Abusive Hubby on Fire

When Kiranjit Ahluwalia (Aishwarya Rai) immigrated to London for an arranged marriage in the late Seventies, she had no idea that her family had inadvertently picked out an alcoholic (Naveen Andrews) who would slap her silly for no reason at all. Initially, because she had been raised in an East Indian culture where females were expected to be deferential to their spouses, the unfortunate woman quietly accepted the treatment without retaliation, and even had a couple of kids with the creep.

Finally fed up after a decade, she doused him with gasoline one night while he slept. The wife beater woke up and ran out of the house screaming, ending up in the hospital where he would eventually succumb to the burns which covered his body. In short order, Kiranjit, who spoke very little English, was arrested, tried for murder, convicted and sentenced to life in a rush to judgment which never entertained the idea that killing could have been provoked. Lucky for her, the case caught the attention of a woman’s rights group and of her cellmate’s (Miranda Richardson) estranged brother (Robbie Coltrane), a barrister who was willing to handle her appeal on a pro bono basis.
That quest for publicity and for a new trial which transpired while Kiranjit was rotting behind bars is the subject of Provoked, a courtroom drama loosely based on Ms. Ahluwalia’s actual ordeal. The film has been catching flak from a couple of the activists who had been involved in the effort to overturn the conviction because it takes considerable license with the facts as recounted in the victim’s autobiography, Circle of Light.

Apparently, Kiranjit was a factory worker, not a housewife, as portrayed in the movie. Secondly, the screenplay employs American, rather than British, legal jargon. Thirdly, the two aforementioned feminists have been compressed into one character in the picture. However, unless you’re already previously familiar with the details of the story, none of these slight alterations is likely to diminish your ability to appreciate or
applaud the significance of a landmark decision which established Battered Women’s Syndrome as a defense. At least in England, relief for an abused wife is just a Molotov cocktail away.