Chhapaak (2020) Review!!

Synopsis – The trials and triumphs of Malti, an acid attack survivor. From the investigation of the attack to the court proceedings, the medical treatment to the emotional healing.

My Take – There are some crimes which take place so frequently that it makes you question about your faith in humans as a race. As specially in current times, when education and modernization has become such a staple in society, that crimes such as rape and acid attacks have become, unfortunately, so common all around, especially in my home country, India, that it is appalling.

Do this perpetrators even think for once how their one act of heinous offense can destroy another life?

With her latest film, director Meghna Gulzaar (Raazi, Talwar), goes brings the story of Laxmi Aggarwal, an acid attack survivor, whose life was ruined just because she turned down the advances of a much older suitor. But, instead of cowering in fear and shame, which most victims understandably of any kind of violence tend to veer towards, fought back hard, refused to stay hidden, and began to speak for herself, and others in the same circumstances. A long and hard fight which eventually led to the framing of a new section for this crime specifically.

While the subject of the film may be considered sensitive and explosive for a big screen adaption, here, director Meghna Gulzar interprets the events in remarkable style and form and makes it a cinematic experience that haunts you even after the film has concluded.

In this monumental task she is ably supported by first time producer and lead actress, Deepika Padukone, who not just delivers a powerhouse performance, but once again makes a case that she is not only just an immensely gorgeous looking actress, but an immensely talented one too. Together they do complete justice to the spirit of the story.

The story follows Malti (Deepika Padukone), a 19 year old belonging to an underprivileged family, whose life is turned upside down when a Bashir Shaikh (Vishal Dahiya) aka Babbu, a family friend much older than her, attacks her with acid after she doesn’t reciprocate his romantic advances. While it takes a while for her find her holding, including the pain of going through seven surgeries, Malti, with the support of her father’s employer Shiraz (Payal Nair), and her lawyer Archana (Madhurjeet Sarghi) decides to legally fight against her attacker, while also becoming economically independent.

In order to do so she starts working for an NGO, where comes across other victims of Acid attacks as well, and forms a bond with Amol (Vikrant Massey), the founder of the campaign. However, it is Malti`s game-changing PIL in the Supreme Court of India, which petitioned to ban acid sale, which acted a triumph of her unshakeable human spirit.

While a lot of films have been attempted on real-life incidents, this film stands out as it focuses the viewer’s attention to that segment of society that has seldom been depicted on the Indian screen. Without a doubt, director Meghna Gulzar and writer Atika Chohan deserve kudos for choosing a thorny and contentious story to interpret on celluloid. Director Gulzar, in particular, deserves a few extra marks for handling the material with aplomb, as her prowess and competence is visible all through the film.

Since the film is based on a real story, she has kept the characters and the locations real and that’s what makes the goings-on very identifiable, besides bestowing an authentic feel to the film. Interestingly, the film is presented in a nonlinear form, peppered with uneven flashbacks, the narrative structure does add a layer of freshness to the film. The film aims to educate us on how emotionally aggravating the vile act of acid throwing is on a woman and her family. It delves comfortably into bumpy territories, briefly examining the social and societal standpoints with responsibility.

Here, the struggles of Malti steers the film away from melodrama and gives the audience a powerful message, in the form of Malti’s fight against the odds with her determined smiles, the pain in her eyes and her unbeatable spirit to live her life on her own terms.

The pace is slow, but then that’s what a film of this kind needs. The two-hour-long runtime makes sure that the film doesn’t tire you, but a longer duration wouldn’t have been bad. Take the scene where Malti looks at her face in the mirror for the first time after she’s attacked. It’s a crucial scene and had to sustain for a few extra seconds, but the film immediately cuts to another scene. This is one film where those extra minutes would have created a deeper impact. The film manages to show a mirror to the society.

It is a rare film that will make you cry but at the same time scaffold you with the strength to raise your voice against injustice and why one must never compromise on self-respect. As a film-watching experience, it is flawless. There’s absolutely no compromise at the level of storytelling.

While the film’s ability to convey the message is spot-on because the film leaves you deeply disturbed and angered, the screenplay’s pattern is such that our interest levels dip every now and then. Adding to the woes is Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s lackluster songs act as mood-killers in scenes that could have been stellar otherwise.

The film also does not flesh out some of its key supporting characters well, including those of the attacker, Basheer Shaikh, who is not given even a single line to utter until the last act of the film for some reason. Not that him speaking would change the nature for the dastardly act but the way the film distances its antagonist and his family feels bizarre. There is even a tiny and eerie scene where Basheer’s burkha-clad mother approaches Malti’s brother with an invite to her evil son’s wedding.

Nevertheless, keeping all the anomalies aside, I loved how the film highlighted the social side of acid attack and how there are people relentlessly working towards the cause.

As I mentioned above, this is Deepika Padukone‘s show all the way. Here she has done an excellent job of portraying the excruciating pain of Malti. The scene which sees her screaming after seeing her face in the mirror is heart breaking. Her performance never goes to that theatrical way of acting and that helps the film a lot in being rooted in reality.

Another actor who delivers a first-rate performance is Vikrant Massey. He sinks his teeth into the character, giving it the much-required pragmatism that it necessitates. Sure, the film belongs to Deepika, but not once does Massey dither from his position or seems inferior. The chemistry between the two is also captured very beautifully. In supporting roles, Madhurjeet Sarghi, Payal Nair, Anand Tiwari, Vaibhavi Upadhyaya, Vishal Dahiya and Ankit Bisht are also good. On the whole, ‘Chhapaak’ is a genuinely hard-hitting and gut-wrenching film that is aggravating, emotion-charged and deserves a watch especially for Deepika‘s astonishing performance.

Directed – Meghna Gulzar

Starring – Deepika Padukone, Vikrant Massey, Vishal Dahiya

Rated – NR

Run Time – 120 minutes

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