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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Thappad Movie Review: The Bollywood We Want & Need

After tackling social issues in films like Mulk and Article 15, director Anubhav Sinha returns with Thappad.

The movie aims to be a societal slap to alert the women who continue to labour under injustices by hiding under some justification either self-made or dictated by society.

It is probably their wakeup call as the fight is rarely between a man and a woman, the fight is mostly between one and oneself and that’s the fight that the film hopes to demonstrate.

Amrita (Taapsee Pannu), a quintessential housewife is happily married to Vikram (Pavail Gulati), an ambitious man. She loves him dearly. His success is her success and his failure is her failure.

She believes that this is a choice that she has made for herself and is happily willing to put herself second to him… She also believes that Vikram loves her dearly and her happiness means as much to him.

But when one day, Vikram, who as previously mentioned to be ambitious, a positive quality for a man hits his loving wife in front of their whole world, one hard slap across her face, when his ambition is threatened and his position questioned?

Amrita feels betrayed and shocked but what shocks her more is that almost no one else, including Vikram, believes that what he did is a serious act of betrayal towards her.

The slap itself while a reality for Amrita becomes a metaphor for other problems being faced by a host of women connected to Amrita’s life like:

Her mother (Ratna Pathak Shah), her brother’s fiancé, her neighbour who is a single mother and a successful corporate woman, her maid and finally her lawyer who is also a women’s rights activist.

While Amrita goes onto fight her husband and his family, her own family, but most importantly herself to exercise her right to choose, it forces these other women towards change too.

They all, in their own way, take a step forward for themselves and see the difference between having a choice and having the strength to make the choice.

The slap itself can be interpreted in various waits a fight against their own regressive mental conditioning for others it’s a fight against the society’s ‘norms’.

For some, it’s a moral conflict between standing their ground vs. supporting their man for others its a grave issue like domestic abuse and marital rape.

Either way, the film sparks a thought-provoking debate to which no concrete answer can be drawn.

Anubhav Sinha, at an unhurried speed, develops this storyline. The entire set up is established, where we see a housewife fulfilling her routine chores. During the Pre-slap, she is happy and post it, we see her as more pensive and upset.

Sinha allows time for the atmosphere and characters to be built-up, which allows the viewer to comprehend the main premise – especially when it comes to the affectionate and optimistic portions.

The movie is smartly, realistically and maturely written.  To pen such a piece of storytelling that too in a balanced yet sensitive way is difficult but kudos to Anubhav and writer Mrunmayee Lagoo for their non-preachy attempt.

The story focuses on the suppression of women (as well as domestic violence).

As well as Amrita and Vikram’s story, also we witness how other sub-characters face similar circumstances across various classes, providing a subtle yet hard-hitting social commentary.

Topping up the eye-opening premise and narrative are the performances. Taapsee Pannu, firstly, is in her element. Her powerful screen presence and fineness bring the character to life.

Not once does she ever overdo the emotional scenes or get carried away with the sentimentality in order to shine. Her precise nuances make her an undisputed powerful performer.

Debutant Pavail Gulati is confident. He too is subtle in his part and ensures his performance is well-measured.

The character is also very well-written, as it showcases that men who raise hands on their wives are not stereotypical ‘monsters’ – but a product of generational ignorance.

In supporting roles, Dia Mirza, Ratna Pathak Shah, Kumud Mishra, Manav Kaul, Ram Kapoor and Maya Sarao are brilliant in their respective parts. All of the actors contribute to the narrative effectively.

Generally, there are no major flaws in the film. In fact, there are hardly any. However, the pace is slow and it requires patience. Having said that though, our attention is maintained from the start.

The film arrives at a very timely occasion in the industry. Given that there is the prominence of social films, this too ranks amongst the most compelling yet stimulating realistic films.

With an onus on woman empowerment and females taking centre stage, this work is also significant to this trend.

In addition, given that previous successful Hindi films glorified misogyny and violence in love stories, Thappad acts as a major wakeup call to society.

Taapsee Pannu carries the movie strongly on her shoulders and is perhaps the best actor to essay such a pivotal role.

For me, she is a superstar and one of the finest representatives of womanhood and feminism in contemporary Bollywood.

As for Anubhav, he has reinvented himself well as a filmmaker. His ventures to evoke social and moral awakening is a winning move.

Thappad is truly the need of the hour and a well-crafted piece of cinema. This might just prove to be one of the best films this year!

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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