Synopsis – Thappad is a story of Amrita whose seemingly perfect life is shattered when her husband slaps her once in a party. But is one slap enough to question what a relationship stands for?
My Take – While commercial blockbusters continue to dominate the box office, a certain set of filmmakers have, thankfully, relegated themselves to telling stories which aim to surprise, shock and charm you with attention-grabbing yarns we haven’t witnessed earlier on the Hindi screen.
Anubhav Sinha, is one such director who despite finding a certain amount of commercial success helming star fueled action flicks like Dus (2005) and Ra.One (2011), swiftly moved to content cinema following the failure of his 2016 romance, Tum Bin 2, a quasi-sequel to his 2001 directorial debut, which retained none of the charm of original. Now daring to push the envelope with each release, with his latest, director Sinha, also completes his trilogy of sorts.
While his 2018 film, Mulk, touched upon religion and Islamophobia, and his 2019 release, Article 15, rampaged against caste system, this year, he challenges gender biases and domestic violence, hereby opening up a thought-processes without losing the cinematic elements that constitute a film. And the resulting outcome is laudable!
Unlike his earlier two politically charged films, this film is not a saga of multiple twists and turns, and instead revolves around a singular slap, something which has already showcased in the trailer, and how it impacts the lead’s dramatic inner journey and every single person in her life.
While some may find the film one sided and biased towards one gender, but in my opinion, it has been designed to make us uncomfortable about our milieu and compels us to introspect about our own complicity in patriarchy, while shining a light on patriarchy and gender-based violence across class divides. Add to that yet another enigmatic performance from the powerhouse known as Taapsee Pannu, this gutsy film truly deserves a standing ovation.
The story follows Amrita (Taapsee Pannu), a housewife, who lives a seemingly perfect life with her husband Vikram (Pavail Gulati). Despite being a talented Indian classical dancer, Amrita willingly chose to devote her life to building a home for them, so Vikram can concentrate on achieving his very ambitious career goals.
With a move to London on the cards, as he is gearing up for a promotion, all is quite well between the couple, that is until Vikram in a feat of anger and frustration at this celebratory party, upon finding that his supposed promotion has been altered, ends up slapping Amrita in front of their families and guests.
While everyone including Vikram calls it off as a one of thing and a drunken mistake, Amrita finds herself psychologically shattered and realizes that she can’t move on from the incident, hereby crumbling their entire world.
Here, director Sinha attempts to peeps into the heart of a woman, resulting in a film that is without doubt one of the finest realistic films made in recent times, as it focuses the viewer’s attention to that segment of society that has seldom been depicted on the Indian screen. This is one of those films that will stick with you for a long time after it ends, as it is expands from being only about domestic violence to other topics like misogyny and duties regarding the household and expectations of women.
Co-written by Sinha and Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul, the film uses Amrita’s treatment as a springboard to dive into the gender wars between men and women. For example, rather than apologizing or attempting to understand Amrita’s altered state of mind, Vikram bangs on about his lost opportunity, while her mother-in-law (Tanvi Azmi) and her own mother (Ratna Pathak Shah) suggest that she cave in, after all, that is what women was born to do. Even Nethra (Maya Sarao), her lawyer, in their first meeting suggests that Amrita should try to work it out.
The film is earnest and succeeds in being engaging throughout, despite its challenging theme. Its awareness of gender goes beyond the obvious. It is significant, for instance, that the leading lady whose stance on intimate partner violence ends up educating and inspiring others is a stay-at-home wife and not a high-profile professional, thus reminding us that both conformism and rebellion could come from any quarters. It is significant too that she is placed in an educated, well-off family in a city rather than a poor or illiterate household in rural India, which would have allowed sections of the audience to pat itself on the back and pretend that such things do not happen among people like us.
But in order to counter that director Sinha also glimpses into other character’s lives and how they are interwoven into the film’s subject matter. This not only fleshes them out but it highlights the seriousness of the subject. Most importantly, unlike its many characters, it also accepts no excuses for its leading man.
It stands out not merely for taking a stand against domestic violence, but because of its call for zero tolerance, and is at its strongest when it suggests that the first instance of violence may not be the last, male entitlement must be challenged, and women must stop selling themselves short, whatever the situation. And while the audience may expend energy on wondering whether Vikram will apologize for his actions, the screenplay does not make that Amrita’s priority, because the assault startles her out of a stupor after which, far from being bothered about how he will now behave, she is off on an inner journey all her own.
The film also beautifully spotlights various shades of men, from the haughty husband to another far more likeable person who is astonished to discover that he, like so many men around us, is a feminist for his daughter but unconsciously patriarchal with his wife. To make this all work, director Sinha incorporates ample emotional baggage that would make you connect with the on-screen characters. The dialogue too deserve special mention, as they seem straight out of real life.
However, the film does stumble occasionally though, especially when it delves into sub plots. Like the one focusing on Nethra, who is bound in her own troubled marriage to Manav Jaisingh (Manav Kaul), a creepy journalist, is clunky at best, and especially when she tries to justify her relationship another man. Even the track involving Amrita’s neighbor Shivani (Dia Mirza) doesn’t fit in and goes nowhere.
Nevertheless, performance wise, the film belongs to Taapsee Pannu all the way, who submits herself fully to the role. She makes Amrita’s smooth transition from smiling self-subordination within a marriage to shock to self-awareness completely believable. She is so immersed in her character that I almost failed to notice how exquisite she looks in the film. Pavail Gulati too is excellent in role, and despite his actions makes his character relatable.
In supporting roles, Ratna Pathak Shah, Tanvi Azmi and Kumud Mishra are terrific, while Dia Mirza‘s efforts are laudable laudable. In other roles, Maya Sarao, Naila Grewal, Siddhant Karnick, Ram Kapoor, Ankur Rathee and Manav Kaul are completely natural. With Geetika Vidya being a major standout in the film. On the whole, ‘Thappad’ is a potent and engrossing film that deserves applause for its commanding story, sharp writing, characters and performances.
Directed – Anubhav Sinha
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 142 minutes