Thappad movie review: Taapsee Pannu drives the film, but the effort she puts into her performance shows.
Thappad movie cast: Taapsee Pannu, Pavail Gulati, Ratna Pathak Shah, Kumud Mishra, Maya Sarao, Tanvi Azmi, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Manav Kaul, Dia Mirza, Naila Grewal, Ram Kapoor
Thappad movie director: Anubhav Sinha
Thappad movie ratings: Three and a half stars
Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad has a one-point agenda: you cannot slap a woman, and expect her to ignore it, and move on. You Can Not.
That it has taken us until 2020 to say this out loud in a movie says a lot about our society, which sanctions all kinds of evil under the guise of our ‘sabhyata’ and ‘maryada’: if you are an ‘adarsh bahu’, as Amrita (Pannu) is, it is your job to check your elderly mother-in-law’s (Azmi) blood sugar levels, supervise the kitchen, escort your husband (Gulati) to the car, and hand over his wallet and packed lunch, as he busily moves off to earn a living. All without demur, all with a smile, and good grace, every single day.
Amrita has made peace with this unending routine, but there is a niggling regret for what might have been. She could have been a dancer, professional even, just like her loving father (Mishra) wanted her to be. She has left those dreams behind, just like a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law ought, being content with creating a morning slot of her own–a cup of black tea infused with herbs, and a deep breath at the morning outside– before the day is upon her, with all its demands.
Thappad resonates, as it is meant to. Because the director shows, without mincing any words (sometimes too many, and too explicatory), just how patriarchy is handed down from one generation to another, and how women are equally complicit. After that fateful slap, in full view of family and guests, Amrita responds by self-soothing, and when that doesn’t work, by expecting her own family, including her mother (Shah) and her brother and his girl-friend (Grewal), plus, of course, her father, to be supportive. No surprise that it is her mother who baulks, and talks about the importance of ‘rishtey nibhana’, and ‘wohi tumhara ghar hai’. After marriage, the ‘maayka’ is no longer the girl’s by right. It is a place where she can visit and stay for a while. A traditional Indian girl in a traditional Indian marriage can never go back home again.
The most effective parts of the film are the ones in which we are shown just how women are always being told how to feel, how to keep their feelings in check, how not to give into them. It’s not just Amrita who is dealing with ‘sirf ke thappad hi toh tha’, and how Vikram (the husband) who slaps her is ‘only’ taking out his workplace frustration on her. The film also pays attention to the other women who are in Amrita’s orbit; how her lawyer (Sarao), and her mother, and mother-in-law have dealt with their own disappointments, and how the maid (Ohlyan), who is routinely beaten by her drunken husband, has learnt to combat it.
Domestic abuse is rampant across class and age, and well-intentioned Sinha is sometimes too on the nose as he goes about laying out this shamefully well-known but never really acknowledged fact. And clearly there is concern about not alienating your viewers, especially when it comes to the unravelling of the relationship between Amrita and her husband: she is made to give him a long rope, and there are tears, on both sides, at the parting. His feel convenient, and hers a sop.
What stands out in all this, is the time Amrita is given to wrap her head around the incident: the first shock, the withdrawal, and then the gradual loss of self-respect, till she can’t stand it anymore: this is a powerful arc, and lends Thappad much of its heft. Pannu drives the film, but the effort she puts into her performance shows. There is more welcome edge in the way Sarao comes across, especially with her own dismissive spouse (Kaul) as she charts her own path. And Ohylan’s spirited ‘kaam-waali’ fairly leaps off the screen. Both these actors, as well as the fresh-faced Grewal, as the girl who stands by the wounded Amrita, leave an impression.
Surprisingly, the skilled Shah is also a tad more effortful than she usually is, taking time to settle into her part, laying just that little extra emphasis on the broad middle-parting in the oiled hair, the shapeless salwar kameez, and the chappals, which makes up her character. But one of the truest moments in the film belongs to her, when she says that she could have also been more, if only she had more support from her loving husband, and Mishra’s shame-faced response, a nod to all those years for taking her for granted, makes it complete.
Azmi is a delight, not putting a single foot wrong, as she finally realises how she, as the conventional ‘saas’, expecting everything from her ‘bahu’, but giving her ‘beta’ as many excuses as he wishes, has contributed to the situation. It is the strongest sequence in the film, and both Pannu and Azmi are excellent in the exchange. And it’s good to see Mirza in a small but interesting role as a single mom, trying to raise her teenage daughter right, and free.
In a film led by its female characters, the men do their job well. In particular, Pavail is credible as the guy who thinks his job is done once he gets the money home, completely oblivious to the hurt he has caused his wife. As far as he, the provider, is concerned, that one slap is not anything that Amrita should take to heart, not really. Nothing, at any rate, serious enough for him to render an apology, which would imply that he is aware that he’s crossed a line, and that it should never happen again. As far as he’s concerned, if ever a situation like this occurs again, when he is done against at the workplace, and if ever Amrita happens to be in front of him, that slap can occur again.
You can see so many men reflected in Vikram, men who are personable and affable, and perfect in so many ways, but who have no empathy. Not bad men per se, but thoughtless and careless, who would be horrified if they were called out as sexist. Vikram just cannot fathom Amrita’s response, and it would have been in character if he had stuck to his beliefs. He’s admitting to his ‘faults’ feels specious and hurried: in fact, all the main characters are not only handed out a flash of awareness of their wrong-doing, they are given redemptive speeches too. And some of the sharpness is leached away, and the impact is diluted.
But there is not a shred of doubt that Sinha has made an important, crucial film, which shows up centuries of male entitlement and damaging sexism for what it is. Thappad bears its message, more essential than ever, on its chin: Women are not property. Wives are not owned. Dreams have no gender, and everyone is allowed to realize them. And how all it takes, from a woman who just wants self-respect, is a decision to say no, Not Even One Slap.