Thappad
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Director: Anubhav Sinha

Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Pavail Gulati, Kumud Mishra, Ratna Pathak Shah

Thappad is the story of a single slap. A blow to the cheek that Vikram, angry, frustrated, a little drunk, inflicts on his wife Amrita who is attempting to steer him away from an escalating conflict. This is an affluent Delhi home. Vikram is an ambitious, hardworking executive. Amrita is a cheerfully dutiful housewife. They seem snug in their respective roles. But that night brings into sharp focus the inequity of their relationship. It’s almost as if Vikram slaps Amrita awake from a slumber and then it becomes impossible for her to fall back into that façade of domestic tranquility in which she is, without doubt, a second-class citizen.

The beauty is that director Anubhav Sinha, who has co-written the film with Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul, doesn’t tell this story in a strident tone. He doesn’t demonize men or create shrill drama. He simply and quietly reveals the patriarchy, which is embedded so deep into our culture that even women who are independent and successful can’t escape it. So when Amrita seeks legal counsel, even her lawyer Nethra, a woman with a flourishing career, initially advises her to let it go. She asks – just one slap then – implying that it doesn’t seem enough to create such a fuss.

Co-writers Anubhav Sinha and Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikal have created characters with flesh and layering and placed them in situations that hit hard because they ring so true

Women perpetuate the power equations as much as the men do. Vikram and Amrita’s lives are structured around him and his needs. Anubhav establishes this from the first scene in which Vikram is prepping for a meeting and casually ordering Amrita to get his file, get the printer fixed. We see their daily routine – she wakes up early, gets everything in place, runs after him with his wallet and coffee as he gets into his car. The nameplate on their house has only his name on it.  Amrita and her mother-in-law are invisible inhabitants. But until the slap, Amrita doesn’t question any of it. She has found her happiness in being his cheerleader and man Friday.

Anubhav stages the slap with skill. Sound leaks out of the frame. Amrita’s face as she walks away is frozen – like she can’t fully comprehend what has just happened. What happens next is more telling. She walks around like a zombie while family members sagely advise her to get over it. In one scene, Amrita is lying with Vikram in bed but staring at him like she doesn’t know him any more. Thappad’s power comes from these carefully constructed insights. It’s a tightly knit screenplay in which a throwaway line tells you everything you need to know – like when Vikram sees their single, working female neighbor drive by in an expensive car, he derisively asks: Yeh kya karti hai?

Taapsee Pannu plays Amrita with absolute conviction – she has both strength and fragility and she doesn’t hit a false note. You never doubt that the meek and happily submissive Amrita is now taking such a big step

Anubhav and Mrunmayee have created characters with flesh and layering and placed them in situations that hit hard because they ring so true. Irrespective of your gender or your economic status, you will see something of yourself in Thappad – in the way that many of the men are oblivious to things outside themselves or in the way that women make compromises, big and small. They snuff out their dreams because it’s what they’ve been taught to do. The conditioning is across class and generations.

It’s telling that the film puts a housewife front and center. She is the one to break this endless cycle of ‘bardasht karna’ and her courage empowers every woman she comes in contact with – including her mother and mother-in-law. Thappad’s strength is that you invest as much in these supporting characters as you do in Amrita. The persuasive acting lifts the content higher. Taapsee Pannu plays Amrita with absolute conviction – she has both strength and fragility and she doesn’t hit a false note. You never doubt that the meek and happily submissive Amrita is now taking such a big step. Watch out for Tanvi Azmi, wonderful as the long suffering mother-in-law; Kumud Mishra as Amrita’s loving father and Ratna Pathak Shah as her mother. They share one of the film’s best scenes, in which the film shows us that sometimes even the most evolved men can be willfully blind. And newcomer Pavail Gulati holds his own against these veterans. He and Anubhav don’t let Vikram become the villain of the piece. He is just your average entitled Indian man.

Thappad indicts all of us. This film compels us to question our complicity

Thappad suffers from a soft belly – post-interval, the second hour sags for a stretch. But the film recovers its grip in a masterful puja sequence in which Amrita bares her heart.

I can guarantee that this scene will make you cry. Because Thappad isn’t just about Amrita or Vikram. It indicts all of us. This film compels us to question our complicity. Which is the first step to change. I strongly recommend that you see Thappad.

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