The 2020 drama Thappad by Anubhav Sinha uses the premise of a slap to expose the deeply problematic nature of patriarchal relationships in India. Presenting Taapsee Pannu in the role of Amrita, the movie uses the tool of the sudden disruption of a slap to reveal deep-seated issues in seemingly loving marriage. Sinha consciously manipulates the tone of the film to differentiate in the periods before and after the act of violence. He uses the recurring shots of Amrita's morning routine to signify her descent into miserable realisations about her own marriage. As her world inadvertently revolved around the well-being of her husband and his family, the disruption of the slap, in turn, disrupts her perception of it. The first half captures this realisation setting in through the loss of the usual spring in her step accompanied by the dulled-down background score. With this revelation comes to light a certain bond of similarity with the other women characters. Amrita no longer exists in her happy bubble, distinct from her exhausted mother-in-law, abused maid Sunita or suppressed mother.
The portrayal of her husband Vikram, played by Pavail Gulati, changes from a mostly loving husband with the occasional sexist remark to a supremely entitled, inconsiderate character – a product of the culture he is surrounded by. Sinha uses Vikram as a tool to highlight the intended or unintended entitlement of all other men in the movie. His misbehaviour sparks off conversations between the many couples in the movie, thus bringing out the oppressiveness of his father, the ignorance of his father-in-law and brother-in-law, and the sexually abusive actions of journalist Rohit Jaisingh (the husband of Amrita's lawyer). Similarly, Amrita's decision to leave her marriage gives way to a chain reaction that validates the struggles of the women around her. It even manages to cut through age gaps, evolving the worldviews of the teenager next door as well as the older housewives.
Sinha's characters are not monotonous in nature. They differ in their reactions and the spirit of compromise but are ultimately people who have internalised varying levels of the unequal norms of society in terms of marriage. A beautifully-captured panoramic shot post the slap scene captures the immediate reactions of all major characters. Sinha makes it clear that his story is not about just the protagonist. In a later scene, he places a disappointed Amrita parallel to Sunita played by the talented Geetika Vidya Ohlyan. In a subtle manner, their journeys meet at one place briefly despite class boundaries. Thappad does not, however, claim to level all the experiences. Instead, it acknowledges the socio-economic and familial differences in its characters and forms an intelligent link in their responses to the situation.
Thappad is a tale of the reclamation of power. It provides hope without villainising its characters. This objectivity is a refreshing change from an industry that has ignored if not glorified abuse and vehemently stuck to the male gaze in a vast majority of its films. That said, it is not a perfect film. The introduction of a sudden pregnancy and the attempt to capture a multiplicity of issues weakens the plot in terms of distraction. The ending, too, comes across as a bit too utopian and out of the blue for the premise set earlier. Nonetheless, its subject of a singular slap foregrounds the susceptibility of the gendered marriage to turn abusive. It is not about the intensity but the occurrence of the act that questions the façade of equality. It resists the invisibilisation of this act. Thappad urges its audience to stop looking the other way.