There were two reasons why I had decided to catch this film, and they are the beautiful Aishwarya Rai and composer extraordinaire A. R. Rahman. Provoked is based on the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, whose autobiographical book "Circle of Light" forms the basis of this movie. However, its textbook delivery style resulted in a film that's quite plain, despite its powerful potential in examining domestic violence against women.
Rai plays the protagonist Kiranjit, a Punjabi woman instructed by culture and social norms to be the dutiful wife to Deepak Ahluwalia (Naveen Andrews), who whisks her off to London. Kiranjit doesn't know what she's in for as it's an arranged marriage, and soon enough the true colours of her spouse start to show - the drinking, the womanizing, and the verbal, physical, emotional abuses. For 10 years she tolerated and suffered, until one night she snapped and gave her husband his just desserts. We're talking about the law here, and so she gets sent to the slammer.
Then on it's split down a few paths. Along one path, iIt's like Prison on Fire, where glimpses of the harsh realities of the world inside with criminals start to harden Kiranjit to fend for herself, along with the making of new friends and "sisters". On another path, the courtroom drama which was pivotal, given that it's a landmark case which debated upon the fine definition of provocation, somehow got delivered quite blandly, no doubt because attention was drawn toward the very British courtroom with its wigs and polite legal language. And finally, the path of melodrama and flashbacks, used ad nauseam here in telling the abuse that Kiranjit had to endure.
I'm gonna be biased here to say that Aishwarya Rai's performance is probably the best thing in the movie. As in Mistress of Spice, those eyes can speak a thousand words with just a flicker, a movement, or a blink. And she can do unglam too, sans thick makeup and making prison garb fashionable. As an abused woman, you can't help but feel sorry for her, and very much root for her to get herself out of her plight, using whatever means possible. Nothing too breakthrough, but she's as effective as can be.
Unfortunately, bad acting plagued most of the supporting cast. Naveen Andrews as the husband Deepak only managed to look snarling, but is never menacing enough, and the rest seemed to have been sleepwalking, in part being let down by the lack of meat in these roles, being in true one dimensional fashion. Only Miranda Richardson's fellow jailbird and cellmate Veronica Scott offered some balance in the acting department opposite Rai.
Veteran director Jag Muhdhra seemed to have a bad outing trying to polish the film into the gem it should be, and certain scenes were badly edited that they seemed to be pasted side by side without much thought to gel them together smoothly. It seemed to have dwelled too much in the beginning, and felt hurried toward the end. It also lacked details of the rationale, and failed to pound deeper into the heart of the subject. Rather, what we got was a brief introduction and explanation of the topic, followed by a very quick, superficial resolution, leaving us wanting more. A. R. Rahman's score seemed to have disappeared into the background at times, though when it's on, you can always ensure a treat for the ears.
Perhaps that's the point, of enticing the audience to pick up the book to read first hand the plight of someone being abused, and the challenges faced in being a mother from within a cell, battling innate customs and expectations to come out from within a shell and into the open, not only to try and save oneself, but to be a beacon of hope for many others in the same boat.
Straight to the point, no frills storytelling, recommended for the curious and for those who want a launching point into a hot subject of abusive relationships.