Pick Of The Week: Thappad
Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad is about all the things we let slide because we've been taught that it's okay to do so. In fact, it’s not just okay; it’s how things have been for generations. Is it time to wake up yet? What does it take for the alarm to finally go off?
As Indians, syrupy dialogues like “what will people say” or “girls must learn to adjust” or “it’s for your own good,” are embedded so deep in your subconscious that it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly when it was you first heard them. It could have been as a child – from your mother or grandmother, as your brother got the last remaining Gulab Jamun, or maybe from a ‘kind’ aunt or neighbour as you debate a new job at a 'marriageable age.' So impossibly entrenched are these benign voices, that it seems they are the stuff of magic - appearing in the most unexpected of places, conjured by unfamiliar sources, and disappearing at will – just when you need them the most, in matters of social justice.
For Amrita, the sweet and contented heroine of Thappad, they resurface suddenly and unexpectedly, at a party, morphing into a single sharp ringing slap, placed across her face, in front of peers and loved ones, by her otherwise loving husband, Vikram. He is stressed and upset you see. He’s up in arms for his promotion at the office you see. It couldn’t be helped you see. But Amu must forgive him! It was just this one time, and he’s already so embarrassed by it - after all, what must all their friends, their families think of him now? This incident is Amrita’s wake up call and for the remainder of the film, despite being from an upper-middle class Delhi environment, we watch her first justify, then convince and finally fight for the only thing she wants out of her marriage – mutual respect.
Taapsee Pannu as Amrita is a revelation. She brings depth and compassion to her character. Watching her go about the daily chores of a housewife is delightful and you revel in the charming ordinariness of Amrita’s life because you believe she is truly happy. At the same time seeing her transform into a deeply pained but firm and eventually, proud version of herself is an uplifting experience. Pannu never loses sight of Amrita’s simplicity and shows restraint through the most claustrophobic of scenes. Her loving, doting parents – surprisingly the meatiest characters in the film, epitomising the best and worst in all Indian parents - are played with warmth and heart by stalwarts Kumud Mishra and Ratna Pathak Shah. They are aided by a formidable host of supporting actors. Soni’s Geetika Vidya Ohlyan as the effervescent house help Sunita, and Maya Sarao as Amrita’s high profile lawyer Nethra give layered performances, the different classes their characters represent perforating the monolithic weight that social expectation puts on the shoulders of the middle class. Diya Mirza is aptly cast as Shivani, the progressive single mother neighbour while newcomer Pavail Gulati holds his own admirably as Amrita's husband, Vikram.
Despite the large cast, none of the supporting characters are futile. Each serves the purpose of adding a new perspective to Amrita’s particular conundrum, without compromising on their own stories. In fact, without the well fleshed out supporting cast the extent to which patriarchy lives amidst us would have never hit home. In a refreshing move from Bollywood, Thappad resists the urge to tie together all its loose ends conveniently. Rather, screenwriters Anubhav Sinha and Mrunmayee Lagoo embrace the messiness of their characters’ lives, and produce a detailed and tightly knit script, one that patiently allows its conflicts to unfold and eventually dissolves into an unsettled and simmering, but optimistic truce.
After Article 15 and Mulk, a resurrected Anubhav Sinha 2.0 is quickly earning the nickname “cinemayi activist”. He wouldn’t be the first in the history of Indian films of course, the parallel cinema movement having portrayed themes light years ahead of their time. But he seems to have cracked Bollywood’s hallowed code of entertaining but 'content' films. While Thappad does not openly shun familiar B-town tropes, their place in the film is restricted to a surface level. You only see very faint glimpses of the “shaadi ke baad ladki paraayi ho gayi parents" in Ratna Pathak Shah’s Sandhyaji, while Tanvi Azmi’s Sulakshana (Vikram’s mother) is not your typical “evil mother-in-law,” but is herself a victim of the status quo, reeling from years of societal pressure and conditioning. More than rejecting them, Sinha’s skill lies in the fact that he peers beyond the stereotype to deconstruct the “whys” behind their existence. We see them in shades of grey, as they exist in real life, their internal conflicts vocalised in sensitive scenes offset by hard hitting but relatable dialogue.
“This film is not really about domestic violence at all. It is more about men and women and the unequal roles they play in relationships,” says Sinha. And to that end, Thappad calls out society's deeply ingrained patriarchy effectively, one normalised behaviour at a time. But the film is not an indictment of Vikram. Despite the glaring “bade ghar ka self-centred Delhi boy” trope, you won't walk out hating him. For that matter, it is not really an indictment of the male sex either. It is an indictment of our collective inaction and resulting complicity in perpetuating the unequal gender norms that plague our society. There are no villains, except complacency. And it is from this starting point that Thappad becomes a springboard for a much larger, essential debate – “bas ek thappad… par kya woh maar sakta hai?”
Running successfully in theatres, this Women's Day Thappad is an important watch for everyone - we guarantee that both men and women will find something relatable in this film.