In one of the scenes, Ratna Pathak Shah, tells her husband Kumud Mishra, that women need to have a higher tolerance if they want to keep their houses together, even if it means that they might have to give up on their personal dreams and aspiration. On asking if he ever stopped her from pursuing her dreams, a vulnerable Ratna Pathak replies that her mother told her that, who was told by her mother and so on. This is enough to give us a sense of understanding of the kind of patriarchy that is embedded within our society wherein it’s a given that all women are equipped to do is to run the house and take care of the family and have babies while the men go out and save the world.
After Mulk (2018), and Article 15 (2019), writer-director Anubhav Sinha, along with Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul is back with yet another woke, but still informed and sensitive piece Thappad. A film about one slap, which has no consequence to occur other than just male frustration and ego, and what transpires after that unfortunate event. However, the beauty of this film is that the director, very consciously decides to tell it without a harsh tonality. It does not demonise men, but creates the environment of normalcy because that’s how society has been with patriarchy, normal and ignorant.
The film opens up with 4 different stories, all of them either with or around men, with one common element, an orange popsicle. However, those glimpses are enough to tell us a few character traits prominent in men, their insecurity, their toxicity, and maybe once a while if one is lucky, their sweet and caring tendency. We cut Vikram (Pavail Gulati) and Amrita (Taapsee Pannu), an affluent couple from Delhi. From the very introduction of these two characters, the director establishes how both their lives are structured around him and his needs while all Amrita is expected to do is make sure that his goals don’t suffer. We see their daily routine wherein she gets up early, spends some time with herself over some tea, gets everything in order, runs behind her husband with his wallet and coffee till he gets in the car. She even shuts off his alarm because even that somehow, he isn’t equipped to do himself.
It’s all about Vikram. His dreams, his goals, his favourite colour blue. Vikram is ambitious and hardworking, while his wife Amrita is warm, caring and supportive. When we see these visuals of the daily routine again and again, we notice how dependant Vikram is, but that dependency takes a negative stance. Vikram is due a promotion that will take them to London. In a party thrown to celebrate the news, Vikram gets a call which reveals to him that his dream may not come true. Amrita tries to calm down an angry, frustrated and rather immature Vikram but since men cannot be told what to do, he slaps her in the heat of the moment. And this for her, changes everything she once stood by.
The director stages the slap with utmost diligence thanks to a tight knit screenplay that understands its beats and intensity well. Taapsee’s character that very next day wears white clothes as if she is mourning. She has lost a part of herself, and more than that, she had somehow lost her husband she once loved so much. Her white outfit symbolises this sense of unknown wherein she doesn’t know how to react, and the man has no power or sensibility to say sorry out loud, but rather continues to make it about him and his lost opportunity.
Anubhav and Mrunmayee put a housewife in the centre of this endless cycle of patriarchy and gender parity while putting her into situations which not just make it difficult for her, but also make the audience empathise with her thanks to the volume of truth with which it is showcased.
Another thing that Anubhav does really well is that he suggests how first instance of violence may not be the last and how male cannot and should not be entitled to get away by doing things like this. He very smartly uses gender parity wherein it is the older women of the house who tell Amrita who forget it or live with it, while her own father is the one who supports her cause and understands the intensity of those actions against his daughter.
Not just the lead characters, but also the cast around them do a phenomenally convincing job in playing their parts and carrying on the narrative. Tanvi Azmi as the long-suffering mother-in-law is just wonderful to watch on screen while Ratna Pathak’s character just puts a smile on our faces. However, the males dominate this narrative. Kumud Mishra plays a frail, vulnerable but liberal father who is just a joy to watch while Pavail Gulati pulling off a chauvinistic Vikram is just a test of hard work. Though, the film is indeed taken away by Taapsee Pannu, who delivers yet another, and maybe one of her best performances in recent times. She exhibits both valor and strength as well as vulnerability and fragility with utter ease and conviction and is just so promising to watch on screen.
Mulk tackled islamophobia, Article 15 tackled discrimination of caste, and now Thappad, talks about the problem of gender inequality and patriarchy. With all his films, Sinha has tried to tackle prevalent social issues embedded in our country, and especially now when the country is turned upside down itself. However, with this film, since it is not said in a tone that is strident or glorifying, which adds onto the graveness of the situation and doesn’t hamper the impact of reality.