Thappad – Taut screenplay and fabulous acting make for a potent watch

The subject, the breaking point, the story, and the climax everything is summed up in the title. Yet, Anubhav Sinha and the entire cast weave an engaging story to break down the point of ‘zero tolerance’ in a potent narrative.

The film begins with snapshots of 4 different women in the middle of their interpretations of ‘love’. Slowly these converge into the central story of one house, one incident.

The central character Amrita is an almost ideal housewife whose only self-admitted imperfection is that she can’t cook. A few scenes into their normal, happy, non-oppressive marriage only hints at the imbalances of the relationship. One evening, a resounding slap in a loud party of mute spectators wakes her up from the entitlement she has been submitting to over the years. It’s a physical cumulative of all the verbal & emotional pats in this conservative setup of companionship. The multiple visits to this wife’s morning routine have a pleasant rhythm, a rhythm which is disturbed, almost muted after that evening.

The lack of any hysterical drama brings out the hard hitting nuances of the subject, the underrated importance of ‘respect’ in a relationship.

There is a scene in which Amrita’s neighbour (Dia Mirza) drives by in a new car,  her husband reacts to this with surprise  – ” isne fir nayi car leli, karti kya hai ye”  and she casually replies ‘mehnat’ . This scene for me among others was a very subtle but much needed ‘Thappad’ on the omnipresent misogyny and the sense of entitlement that men are blinded by. The film makes its point multiple times, in a quiet but a firm tone.

While the focus remains on Amrita, the film explores the existence of such inequality across class and ages, leaving everybody uncomfortable and rubbishing the myth that ’this does not happen among people like us’.  It even spotlights on men of different quarters. While the main guy is shown as a clear jerk, there is also a likable and supposedly evolved father who is sensitive to his daughter’s suffering but is surprised to realize his own unconscious patriarchy to his wife.

Tapsee Pannu submits herself to Amu. You feel empathetic to her  journey of pain and self awareness only through her eyes, just an empty gaze almost throughout. One monologue towards the end of the film makes up of for multiple instances where you want to hold and shake her politeness off.

Pavail Gupta as Vikram is quite a revelation as an actor. His character is tricky, he is not a one dimensional jerk, he is  product of a culture that normalizes chauvinism. You hate him very gradually and you still have hope for him. He shines in an ensemble of seasoned actors.

The supporting cast of Kumud Mishra, Ratna Pathak Shah, Tanvi Azmi , Maya Sarao (lawyer Netra Jaising) and Geetika Vidya (who plays a domestic help) contribute as much as the lead cast in holding the film together. Also, Dia Mirza is extremely pleasant on screen, we need to see more of her.

There are some avoidable extensions though. The feisty lawyer and her realization of a broken marriage seemed forced. In fact, the closure of each woman’s story is sort of a very ‘Bollywood ending’ in a film which otherwise skillfully escapes standard formats.

With a taut screenplay, consistent pace and fabulous acting  Thappad is earnest and engaging throughout despite a tough subject at hand.

Although the film makes its point with much needed subtlety, here is my submission to the writers/directors –  Why must the only ‘woke’ female character submit to the cliches of independent women (smoking)?  Why are the characters kept black and white? What if the daughter-in-law wasn’t so perfect to wake up to the first ring of alarm everyday, make just the perfect bed tea, run with the  lunchbox etc. ?What if the husband was a bit less insensitive, had stepped in the kitchen once in a while.  Would the damage be more acceptable in that case?

Cutting Rating – 3/5


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