‘Thappad’ movie review: Throwing a punch at patriarchy

A scene from ‘Thappad’   | Photo Credit: Twitter/Taapsee Pannu

There is something about picking up the newpapers and milk bottles from the main doorway and brewing the morning cup of tea, with ginger and lemongrass thrown in and drinking it in a cherished moment of peace in the balcony before the rush of the day gets to consume you. It is a commonplace daily vignette that is interspersed through Thappad, a running thread capturing a different underlying meaning at each juncture in Amrita’s (Taapsee Pannu) life. From the unquestioning contentment in domesticity and keeping her own dreams in the backburner to the uneasiness of being taken for granted in marriage, from the humiliation of the unforeseen slap delivered by an inconsiderate husband in a party to actively questioning one’s own complacency with the role playing in a happy family circus — the morning cuppa tea is a marker in the evolution of Thappad’s protagonist. It’s about how she consolidates within even as the world outside — marriage, relationships, family —comes crashing down. A slow and steady change than an overnight transformation.

  • Director: Anubhav Sinha
  • Starring: Taapsee Pannu, Dia Mirza, Maya Sarrao, Geetika Vidya, Ratna Pathak Shah, Tanvi Azmi, Naila Grewal, Pavail Gulati, Kumud Mishra, Manav Kaul, Ankur Rathee, Sushil Dahiya
  • Storyline: Amrita’s seemingly happy life comes crashing down when her husband slaps her in a party
  • Run time: 142 minutes

The trailer of Thappad had left me with a sense of trepidation. How can a film that has revealed its core in the teaser and the title itself sustain the audience interest for over two hours? What more would there be to it than the usual conflict in the wake of an act of violation? How to build a film around a slap? “Just one” slap at that?

However, writers Anubhav Sinha and Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul do well in turning a solitary slap into larger exploration of male entitlement. They weave a dexterous but concise and economical narrative that, even while focusing on one woman’s life, turns it into the story about every woman. And every man. All of it centred well in a lovely early sequence of women across age groups and societal divides, riding away in to the night in cars and bicycles, some with their men, all with their own stories of patriarchal infringment on the one hand and a soother like orange lolly on the other.

Amrita’s husband Vikram (Pavail Gulati), the one who slaps unthinkingly but is presumably “not such a bad guy”, is not the only one. Much as it is about women who are conditioned to remain quietly at the receiving end of everyday patriarchy (“Bardaasht karna” as a character puts it), it’s also about casual insensitivity of men — “Shit happens. People move on”, says the husband. At times it gets woefully toxic (watch out for Manav Kaul), at others unwitting as in the case of a loving, model father (Kumud Mishra) who could have throttled his wife’s desires even while being the wind beneath the daughter’s wings. It’s these dualities and dilemmas that lend an edge. Slowly, bit by bit, it lays bare the normalisation of male entitlement and holds a mirror to one and all. And, much of the credit for rendering things compelling should also go to the well cast, finely attuned ensemble. There is a range of men — specially Mishra and Gulati in complex turns — but towering over them is the gang of women led ably by the fragile yet steely-resolved Taapsee Pannu. From the ever reliable mother (Ratna Pathak Shah) and mother-in-law (Tanvi Azmi) as the more pliant older order to the younger rebels like the fierce and spirited fiancé of Amrita’s brother (Naila Grewal) and her conflicted lawyer (Maya Sarao) to the house help (Geetika Vidya) —the far from docile insurgent on the margins — its a sorority of much consequence.

It’s at the fag end, in its needless effort to rehabilitate the offenders and turn them abruptly and handily penitent, that the film wobbles but thankfully doesn’t get entirely derailed. On the one hand it holds the more widely palatable but disconcerting possibility of reconciliation, on the other is a simultaneous overriding assurance that it’s not the same Amrita we are leaving the theatre with than the one introduced to us at the start. She has come a long way. Like the woman in the Punjabi poem Mera Pata (My Address) by her namesake icon, Amrita Pritam, referenced in the film: “Te jitthe vee sutantar rooh di jhalak paave, samajhna uh mera ghar hain (Wherever you catch a glimpse of a free soul, regard that as my home).”

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 8:16:18 AM |

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