Movie Name: Thappad
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Kumud Mishra, Ratna Pathak Shah, Tanvi Azmi
Director: Anubhav SInha
Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) confines herself in a corner of the house, contemplating on what just happened. Hours before this, the same house was bustling with guests dancing to popular Punjabi tracks. And all that maddening noise just drowned under the deafening silence of a slap.
She storms into the living room, takes the pallu around her waist and secures it at the side, picks her hair up and fastens in a tight, messy bun, and starts to noisily move the furniture in the room back to their original place. The camera pans close and we see beads of sweat forming on her face in the dim light. The only sound in that scene is of the sweet jingling of the bangles and the harsh push-and-pull of the sofa.
Somethings can go back to how they were, somethings cannot.
Thappad is a simple story of an upper-middle-class couple based in Delhi. The wife is questioning if it is okay for her husband to slap her, even if it is a one-off case. But Thappad doesn’t leave it to just a question. At the core of the story is a human being’s ego, gender irrelevant here. Anubhav Sinha lends a certain subtlety to the film that a film like this needed. And given how lost subtlety is in Hindi cinema (Bollywood, essentially), Thappad hits you like that very slap that snapped Taapsee’s Amrita back into consciousness.
The start-credits of the film are particularly memorable. Weaved almost like the last episode of Modern Love, Anubhav weaves stories of different women – the mother, the mother-in-law, the maid, the neighbour, the neighbour’s 13-year-old daughter, the brother’s girlfriend and Amrita – and their idea of love at different ages and stages of their life. And then, all these stories converge into one house, where Amrita is brewing her first cup of tea of the morning with a sprig of lemongrass cut from her kitchen window and a generous pinch of crushed ginger.
Anubhav Sinha completes a trilogy, of sorts, touching upon religion, caste and gender with Mulk (2018), Article 15 (2019) and now Thappad. Two of these three have been in collaboration with Taapsee, and the ease that this director-actor duo shares, shows on screen.
Taapsee, a self-proclaimed director’s actor, does her part well, following a Pied Piper-esque Sinha. She portrays rage and helplessness all at once through her eyes alone. The permanently plastered frown on her forehead may seem a tad overdone at times, but that’s essentially what Amrita’s life has come to – a crushing feeling of despair, not because she’s losing a husband but because even her husband doesn’t understand her, clouds her. How can she not frown?
Pavail Gulati is quite the revelation, who manages to stand out in an ensemble cast comprising some of the best actors India has today, and despite the script being Taapsee-driven.
Like so many films in this cluster of content-driven cinema (no, that’s not an apt name. Let’s call them ‘real’ cinema), the supporting cast excel. Kumud Mishra (Amrita’s father) is the man who stood up for his daughter when the society said beti hai, beta nahin. Ratna Pathak Shah (Amrita’s mother) is prickly and rough around the edges, but you know why she is the way she is when you realise shaadi mein compromise unhone bhi kiye hai, despite a seemingly understanding husband.
Tanvi Azmi (Amrita’s mother-in-law) fights for her identity within a loveless marriage, hoping she’s more than a wife and a mother and that someone will hold her hand and tell her that. Dia Mirza (Amrita’s neighbour) is a widow still madly in love because no man can ever match up to the man she lost.
Maya Sarao (Amrita’s divorce lawyer) is a tough divorce attorney fighting for the woman’s right on the outside, but struggles to come to terms with the fact that ‘agar rishta jodke rakhna pade to toota hua hai’ on the inside. And Geetika Vidya Ohlyan (Amrita’s house help), stuck between fighting for basic self-respect and getting regularly beaten up by her husband, accepts et al as fate, simply because ‘agar bade gharon mein ho sakta hai toh main kya hoon’?
Naila Grewal (Amrita’s brother’s girlfriend/future sister-in-law) is woke, aware and strongly sides with the right, especially when she’s literally the first one to back Amrita, but finds herself up against a wall at the realisation that the man she’s with, doesn’t understand where and why it hurts.
Towards the climax, Taapsee is given the mammoth responsibility of a monologue, with her entire family as audience around her. It’s her baby shower and she’s in her husband’s house only for the pooja, even as the divorce papers are being filed and stamped behind the camera. You cry. And also realise how monologues are actually done, as opposed to the Kartik Aaryan way.
The downside of Thappad, however, is that in the process of establishing Amrita’s hurt, it ends up making her come across as whiny. The strength that Amrita shows through her actions, we wish was beaming through her face and eyes, too. We wonder if that’s something Anubhav consciously wanted, or if his vision was lost in translation.
“Iss baar kamaunga tujhe,” says Vikram in the last scene. The camera pans out with visuals of two cars driving away in opposite directions. Even though it might appear a bit wishful, we thought it was apt. Did Anubhav just reduce love to a currency? No, he didn’t. But earn it, you must.
We’re going with 3.5 stars out of 5. (Minus .5 for that whininess).
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