Zero, one, two, three, four, five… how many slaps justify the end of a marriage? Whichever numerical digit you picked or didn’t pick after watching Thappad, if introspection is your thing, you will feel guilty for being a part of a system that feeds patriarchy, enabling men and women to diminish a woman’s status.
Thappad does a fine job of meticulously and neatly unpacking layers of permissiveness, hypocrisy and privilege which runs through Indian society and its people. How all of us casually, unknowingly, knowingly chip away a woman’s respect with words, sentences, action, inaction, behaviours, interactions and deathly silence. How the tolerance level for failing men is way higher than women and why they get away with worse and beyond, without many murmurs.
Marie Shear defined feminism as the radical notion that women are people. The writers don’t let this window of opportunity slip even for a nanosecond to prove it right. They even place the blame for the one slap where it belongs, which by itself is a monumental step, with the man. Yes, you heard that right! Not his work, not his mood, not his whim, not his fancy, not his mental illness, not the woman. Him. We live and perpetrate inequities to such an extent that even questioning bad behaviour or inhumane treatment becomes an extreme act or rebellion, when really it’s a justified fight for a little space, voice, breath, expression of emotion, and most importantly, respect.
The movie starts simply, Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) frantically stretches herself to manage the home front while her husband Vikram (Pawail Gulati) races up the corporate ladder, losing her own identity and desires in the process. At a party meant to celebrate his success, Vikram involuntarily slaps Amrita in front of guests forcing her to introspect and examine her place in the marriage. Is she happy, is she respected? The answer seems to be painfully obvious even though Vikram himself fails to comprehend the real issue. As in real life, not one person questions the man on the slap but some of them do expect that Amrita should let that pass.
Breaking the mould of the Hindi cinema heroine with gusto is Amrita, who refuses to play the sacrificial lamb or be bullied into a happy ending. She takes her time and space to question the routine of her marriage. She rightly asks: why did he feel comfortable enough to deliver that slap in the first place? Such a relief to see a determined woman in the face of opposition by people around her, starting from her mother Sandhya (Ratna Pathak Shah), mother-in-law (Tanvi Azmi), brother Karan (Ankur Rathi), even her own lawyer Nethra (Maya Sarao) before she takes up her case. Supports include her father Sachin (Kumud Mishra), maid Sunita (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), sister-in-law Swati (Naina Grewal) and neighbours Sania (Gracy Goswami) and Shivani (Dia Mirza).
I loved the subtle ways in which the writers bring out the vagaries of everyday existence and our own blind spots. That moment when the progressive father realises he has been an ignorant husband is a hallmark scene. The dilemma of the lawyer who benefits from her in-laws repute, lives within an abusive relationship even as she fights for women’s rights. The maid who has no one fighting for her, the way she battles her own violent husband with spirit. The moves in the legal chess game, as the story progresses, with a delightful cameo by Ram Kapoor who plays Vikram’s lawyer Pramad. Many, many such satisfying moments to cherish in a balanced, exceptional movie.
It is a must-watch not only for its message but for some stellar, well-rounded performances from an ensemble cast. Taapsee Pannu delivers her career best performance, supported strongly by Geetika Vidya Ohlyan (the Soni actress, outstanding, once more), Maya Sarao (effective), Pavail Gulati (excellent, he dishes his final scene sincerely), Dia Mirza (graceful), Ratna Pathak Shah (layered), Tanvi Azmi (natural), Kumud Mishra (superb) and Ram Kapoor (entertaining).
Hat tip to Anubhav Sinha (co-writer, director) and Mrunmayee Lagoo (co-writer) who deliver a living, breathing master stroke, conveying a crucial message with the balance, love and dignity it deserves. Every character is layered, living a dichotomous existence, highlighting our systemic and collective responsibility effectively.
Thappad is subtle yet strong in its message, devoid of unnecessary drama, yet sends the message loud and clear that we jointly tolerate, contribute and benefit from patriarchy. The spunky female fights the good fight and no justification is offered for privileged male behaviour. This slap is designed to fight patriarchy and it does.
rating: 5 out 5
Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.
Thappad (2020). Director: Anubhav Sinha. Writers: Mrunmayee Lagoo, Anubhav Sinha. Players: Taapsee Pannu, Pavail Gulati, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Maya Sarao, Dia Mirza, Ratna Pathak Shah, Tanvi Azmi, Kumud Mishra and Ram Kapoor. Music: Anurag Saikia, Mangesh Dhakde. Theatrical release: Benaras Media Works, T-Series.