The much-awaited Chhapaak has finally released and the trailer as well as promos, have left us with goosebumps.
After a two-year break in Bollywood, Deepika Padukone, is back on our screens, this time in a never-seen-before role as the acid attack survivor – Malti.
Based on the real-life survivor Laxmi Agarwal, this Meghna Gulzar directorial follows Malti’s life over the years from her attack.
Viewers journey with her through her rehabilitation, her facial surgeries, her legal battle against her attacker and her constant struggle to become economically independent.
In this time, she also joins a campaign against Acid violence and comes across other victims of Acid attacks as well.
Here she also meets Amol (Vikrant Massey), the founder of the campaign. An emotional attachment forms between the two – an inexplicable bond, free from conforms of the society.
But it is Malti’s game-changing PIL in the Supreme Court of India, with her lawyer Archana Bajaj that inspires the Judiciary to amend to the laws on acid violence in 2013.
Acid attack is granted its own legal section in the Indian Penal Code (Section 326 A, IPC) and the sale of acid is also regulated in the country, as a result of Malti’s PIL.
All these narratives intertwined, make Chhapaak a gritty investigative piece – interspersed with a compelling courtroom drama and woven together around a deeply emotional core.
Meghna chooses a non-linear narrative style and it is effective. Given the long legal battle and justice struggle in real-life, traditional storytelling would’ve made it difficult for the audience to consume.
Showing Malti’s life prior to the attacks through flashbacks help in maintaining the viewer’s attention, as well as making it visually appealing.
Highlighting a sensitive subject like acid attack and its impact on survivors is a tough challenge for a filmmaker as it can either be drowned in melodrama or statistics.
Thankfully, Gulzar balances the horrific nature of the crime and emotional quotients in a matured and subtle way.
In fact, scenes of the main protagonist screaming in agony and having to deal with the repercussions of society are simple yet effective.
Scenes where Malti and another survivor light-heartedly talk about getting their surgery done to a face they wish they could have, project hope and dealing with one’s circumstances.
Despite facing such a grim chapter of their life, such shots demonstrate how the survivors live as victors rather than victims – which is the perfect motif to convey.
At the same time though, when we see statistics of acid attacks happening even now – recently being 2019 – it leaves us with lumps in our throats as well as sheer anger.
When it comes to humanising the setting and locations, the filmmaker scores once again.
In Talvar, Raazi and Chhapaak, the cities/countries are like spectators, who observe such conflict and heinous crimes, but are yet silenced by the hustle and bustle of others.
So in that respect, this movie acts as a loud outcry against acid attacks and in such a way, that it sticks within the viewers’ minds long after the credits roll.
The technical aspects are effective, be it the crisp editing or crystal clear cinematography.
But the real trump card is Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music, which Meghna brilliantly incorporates into the film.
Firstly, the ‘Chhapaak Title Track’ is hauntingly rhythmic. Arijit Singh’s voice is delightful to listen to yet the stark lyrics express the brutal impact of an acid attack.
It is theatrical with the way this song is divided and embedded into various situations of the movie, almost making the tune into a narrator and war-chant.
‘Nok Jhok’ is also a melodious and endearing love song, which neatly complements the lead couple’s romance. This too is used appropriately in the film.
On that note, it’s great that the love angle develops steadily, showing how the male counterpart becomes the female’s pillar of strength
When it comes to the strong factors of Chhapaak, Deepika Padukone surrenders herself to the role and plays the character with such consistency and sensitivity.
Even during the sequences of Malti in her younger days, Padukone is so convincing and gets every nuance right… This is undoubtedly her best work (as an actor) yet and a fantastic film to debut as a producer.
As such, her performance is so compelling that we as viewers travel with her on this journey.
Vikrant Massey as the ‘silent lover’ Amol is equally formidable. His character is like a soothing voice to the pain and agony of the survivors. He shines gloriously.
A special mention goes to Madhurjeet Sarghi (as the lawyer Archana Bajaj) and Payal Nair (as Shiraz – the benefactor of Malti), who in supporting roles are also confident forces of talent.
The ‘antagonist’ Vishal Dahiya (as Basheer Shaikh) has an equally strong (though instrumental) presence.
His character shows that such perpetrators are not stereotypical ‘villains’ but a product of toxic masculinity and misogyny… The people whose acid is in the mind.
Generally, the movie works well. In my view, there are no negative points per se, although the first-half take time in developing setting up the movie’s main body.
However, when it comes to the second-half, Gulzar adds soul into the film in which everything picks up and becomes more of an engaging watch.
This movie is not made with the intention of getting high box-office collections, but ultimately it will do.
Unlike some other pretentious movies, we’ve seen lately, this carries the subject throughout the film in a balanced and humane manner.
Meghna Gulzar’s greatest strength is her grip of reality and showcasing the story in a non-linear manner. I feel that this really has exhibited her calibre as a filmmaker.
Whilst the pace is unhurried, it is nonetheless captivating. Deepika Padukone has given her career’s best performance and has put her soul into this role. Hats off to both her and Meghna.
Overall, Chhapaak is a cinematic salute to the unwavering triumphant spirit amidst a continued onslaught of merciless crimes in India and beyond.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)