I remember when this film first came into cinemas I heard people ask each other what they would do if they were in the protagonist’s position. The comment section of the trailer was also torn between people who thought that the character was over-reacting and those who stood in support. This is when I realised that the lines of assault and other abusive relationships seem to be blurry because we tend to witness or hear of them in extremes.
Thappad, is a story about the Amrita- a joyful housewife who really brightens up the screen in the first 20 minutes of the film. Her husband, Vikram is a young businessman trying to make it big in some sort of a corporate setup. This frustration riles him up one night at a party when he realises that although he has been promoted and is being relocated to London, he will not be his own boss. He lashes out at a senior colleague and just as wife tries to pull him out of the situation- he slaps her. The entire film is entered around this one incident and how it then makes her take a stand.
Director Anubhav Sinha ensures that the beginning of the film is light and breezy. He puts a smile on your face with a recurring orange candy and sets a routine for the viewer. Through this we understand the various characters and the entire world of the film- an upper middle class household. These are the moments that we, as an audience, and the characters of the film eventually crave for. They embark on journeys to pull them back from all that strays them from their orange candy eating lives. The direction is beautiful and simple. The actors give genuine, natural performances without ever being over-the-top, which is a big thing considering the overall heaviness of the topic. Special props Taapsee Pannu who emotes, expresses without ever needing to say too much and is a real delight to watch.
What struck me the most about this film is how real it all felt. The rage of the protagonist is subtle, yet portrayed with a certain sternness. The abuser, is unlike the men that we are used to hating on screen; instead, he is concealed- like the men when used to interacting with. On the outside, he is a seemingly good husband- always touches his in-law’s feet, is ambitious and loves his wife. However, fundamentally he still believes in the household ideals that he has seen over generations of his extremely bougie heritage. Through the rest of the film we see what lengths he will go to prove that he is not, in fact, this abusive husband; but, at no point does he think it would have been a better idea to just sit down and understand the plight of his wife.
The supporting cast of this film plays an equally important role in this whole debacle. These characters and living, breathing people with identities that are willing to change and do change over the course of the movie. They are well written and not tropes put in to keep the narrative flowing (Which is very rare in the Bollywood movies that I have seen off late). The film starts of with them and effectively ties all of their tracks together in the end. The journey is one of learning for some of them as they slowly realise that although Amrita’s decision affects them all, they are not entitled to say in the matter. The decision to withdraw oneself from a relationship that has hurt them (in more ways than one) lies solely in that person’s hand. You can give them advice based on your contexts and beliefs but, they are not obligated to listen to you- whether you’re a parent figure worried about society gossip and family structure or a lawyer demanding that monetary compensation is only fair. My personal favourite character was that of Amrita’s father who realises that he might have made a few mistakes back in the day but stands by his daughter, instead of standing up for her heroically.
Thappad teaches us that injustice, of any kind, is not worth sticking around for. You don’t have to play down the level of your abuse just because there is someone out there who has it worse. If you are in a relationship that lacks mutual respect, it is not worth being in. It shows us that although most relationships need compromise to survive, woman do not need to sacrifice their everything to be in them. Indian families have normalised the role of the woman to give up so much more than a career just to have to endure everything that they did not sign up for. So much so that so many of them truly believe that they need to put up with abuse for the sake of their families.This film resonates especially well today where we seem to be evolving to a better world but are not quite there.
What I loved the most about this film was that Thappad attacks a large number of people in our households for their unjust behaviour- not limited to physical abuse. My own father turned to my mother numerous times during the film to ask her if his actions have affected her this way. In fact, a very close friend of mine asked her entire extended family watch the film and saw her grandmother apologise to her mother for parts of their upbringing. The film makes families engage in this dialogue that may go far in actually helping older generations understand a newer point of view. Today, when we are all stuck at home during this lockdown the issue of domestic violence is at its peak. It is important to have cinema that addresses this and Thappad could not have been brought to us at a better time.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.