Thappad: A slap on the sleeping conscience 

If a woman validates a slap stamped on her face by her spouse with chalta hai attitude, it amounts to losing respect for self, losing love for the slapper. And this is what Thappad pushes forth

Photo Courtesy: Social Media
Photo Courtesy: Social Media

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

If a woman validates a slap stamped on her face by her spouse with chalta hai attitude, it amounts to losing respect for self and losing love for the slapper. And this is what Thappad, written and directed by Anubhav Sinha pushes forth.

Welcome to a world of films that makes you think from the point of view of a woman undergoing mental agony by “just a slap”. The one who causes it neither realises it nor acknowledges, not because he is intrinsically bad but because he is brought up with a deep-seated acceptance of the patriarchal system. So he neither realises his mistake nor apologises for it.

It's a story of a typical Indian upper-middle-class family, well-heeled and apparently happy, as here, women take charge of home and men. An ideal situation for a young girl Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) who was not as much career conscious but certainly wanted to pursue her passion, dance.

But a rich handsome husband Vikram (Pavail Gulati) who has all his goals set, -- from a luxurious job in America to colours of curtain in new home, to children with gaps, et al. As his dream of going to the US shatters while he is partying on his prospective travel, he picks up a fight with his colleague who voted him out. While fiery exchanges happen between them, Amrita tries to take him away forcefully from the fight. Uncontrollable in anger, he stamps a tight slap on her -- watched by scores of people in the party!

From this moment onwards, Amrita’s struggle to weigh herself vis-a-vis the slap and the position in that home, she always called her own, begins.

She can see how her mother-in-law and parents and friends defend this tight slap as “ it is just a slap; it's ok, no big deal; it happens, a woman who has to keep the whole family united, has to bear many such slaps, a slap is wrong, your reaction to it is unreasonable, what will people say if you leave house on such a small thing etc burdens the victim, she resolves to fight it, by leaving the husband forever, even if she is on a family way.

Notably, the film clearly reveals how patriarchy, deep seeded among women too, treats “just a slap” as no big deal”, even legally, seeking divorce for “just a slap” does not qualify for a case, unless the petitioner adds charges of domestic violence to it, which in this case Amrita doesn't want. So, what's the solution?

Sinha finds an easy way out. The lady lawyer Netra Jaisingh, herself a victim of patriarchy, understands that she is also a woman along with a law student, slaps section Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code ---outraging a woman’s modesty of a woman, a non-bailable offence on Vikram.

How ‘just a slap’ and a reaction of Amrita to it, reveals so many skeletons falling out of the closets of the husband apparently a good man -- the good man who never realises his emotional and physical dependence on his wife, seizes wife’s bank accounts, labels her a maniac, neither acknowledges nor regrets the slap, forget saying a meaningful “sorry”.

Unfortunately, it's the same thing with all men she has lived all her life with -- her father, her brother, and her in-laws. Her mother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law find that slap tolerable to save a family’s honour! The question Sinha asks is, what about the slapped woman’s honour, her respect and her right to say it is wrong and a refusal to tolerate it!

Where Sinha traps audiences’ attention is the sound of silence.

Ace cinematographer Soumik Mukherjee’s camera pans the quietude in slow motion when Amrita is slapped! Covering insult on her cheeks with her palm, she moves like a dead body from the party on the ground floor to her room up the long staircase. Her feeling of shock to wonder, to grief, to humiliation; as a woman, as a spouse, as daughter-in-law and host, a sense of worthlessness in private and in public, draws inquisitiveness. The silence of the scene echoes; it stills the heart, and mind!

For a man who slaps and doesn’t know how to apologise meaningfully, attempts to make her realise he is tired of her “overreaction” --- from asking her to slap back, to bringing her jewellery to reinforce how stressed he is due to his office politics.

He is unable to see through Amrita’s reapproaching, wondering, yearning, brooding and disappointed eyes -- in expectation of that one meaningful, heartfelt “I am sorry!”

Of late, Sinha has been using his mother Sushila’s name to his own. He calls himself Anubhav Sushila Sinha. I wonder if it has to do something with his past. If it is, then perhaps, that makes him a super-sensitive male director who can think like a female too.

The film is relevant in our film world that largely treats heroines as a product. This film underlines and shouts out the pride with which most women in India could say what they felt when slapped by their spouses or in-laws. It shames men who escape on the pretext of “I don’t know how to say sorry”.

It questions parents who teach daughters to tolerate and sons to “take it easy”. It warns gen-next to behave.

The actors' mark sheet read full marks. Though Taapsee is promoted more than her co-actors. that I feel was a bit unjustified. Taapsee is immensely hardworking, a director’s darling, gives it 100 per cent. It's her film. Pavail convinces as a super busy husband with set goals, almost emotionless corporate honcho, a metro man who keeps the family happy and wealthy with his forward-moving convictions. Pavail is an immensely powerful actor, leaving not a single scene he does, demanding more, exactly like his Haryanvi maid in the film, Gitika Vidya. I was amazed to see this new, fresh face on screen, carefree, free-flowing actor. This Haryanvi speaker is a delight to watch. Maya Sarao, Kumud Mishra as Amrita’s father and Manav Kaul as Netra’s husband, Naila Grewal and Ankur Rathee fit in like they had a tailor-made role for them.

It's a pleasure to watch them perform so effortlessly. Senior actors like Tanvi Azmi (Vikram’s mother) and Ratna Pathak (Amrita’s mother) have less for a challenge in the film. One must thank its casting directors Karan Mailly and Nandini Shrikent for that ensemble.

You go home with this velvety, sob song Aik Tukda Dhoop Ka penned by Shakeel Azmi, sung by Raghav Chaitnya on music scored by Anurag Saikia.

Sinha plays escapist too. He shows Amrita like an epitome of perfection, she commits no mistake as a caregiver, she is moneyed and she has a family back up. This raises a question, the women who are not “perfect housewives', and moneyed, or minus a family backing like Amrita’s, can they be slapped? If so, where do they go, unable to afford rich lawyers? Netra bids goodbye to her male friend on pretext of beginning afresh, which leaves him high and dry, betrayed, a 16-year-old’s mom Shivani (Diya Mirza) is fine, with her boyfriend as daughter's prospective groom; a new-age outlook among educated, single moms.

In all this, Sinha doesn’t balance it with a male/males who suffer in a family where matriarchy rules, though he balances it out by showing a perfect man in Shivani’s husband. So when he dies, Shivani is happy in his memories than marrying a man like Vikram.

Thappad raises stinging questions -- worthy of debate, the quiet and often willful acceptance of slaps that women treat as Chalta hai. This message in the film, loud and clear though not in raised decibels, may not be grilled so easily in a typical patriarchal society like ours. It may take another at least half a decade before Sinha thinks of making a film on mental agony of males in matriarchal spaces in India. The patriarchy is too big to address the lesser evil for now. Many have tried defending this Thappad as befitting reply to Kabir Singh’s thappad that he stamps on his beloved, for not being able to muster up the courage to convince her parents of marriage. Sorry, this case is different.

The film may lose halls this week but the echo of the Thappad will stay.

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