Will it be too dramatic if we said Thappad is a slap on face of the rubbish Kabir Singh tried to pass off as ‘love’? Well then, it is the sort of drama we deserve to indulge in. For everyone who tried to reason that nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies hitting a woman you are in love with, Thappad is like an oasis of sanity in the frustrating chaos that Bollywood can be. For everyone who whined that love, after all, is kabhi khushi, kabhi thappad, Taapsee Pannu’s film is an essential lesson on how to tell a woman from a coffee mug.
Thappad’s premise is simple and is evident in the trailer itself when Pannu’s character, Amrita, says, ‘Nahin mar sakta’. Yes, Kabir Singh and co, we are looking at you. A slap is a slap is a slap, no matter how many Arijit Singh songs you stuff us with.
Amrita (played by Pannu) and Vikram (played Pavail Gulati), had an arranged marriage, but there’s nothing obviously oppressive about their life in the first few scenes. Till you start noticing how Amrita arranges her life almost with desperate neatness around Vikram’s. She wakes up early, but pulls the curtains tightly together so that Vikram isn’t woken up by the sun, she checks his mother’s blood sugar, she makes tea, and then carries breakfast to her husband in bed.
As Vikram hurries to his Mercedes in a posh neighbourhood lined with lavish bungalows, Amrita follows him, smiling, carrying his purse, folders and a thermos filled with coffee. Vikram, in the same cycle, wakes up, grumbles about his work, talks about his work, asks Amrita to get him his folders, switch on the geyser, and then rushes out.
Vikram has a life, Amrita happens to be in it. Amrita’s life is Vikram, in an almost logistical sort of way.
Then one day, while a party is on at their house, Vikram comes to know that he has been shortchanged over a promotion at work. He gets into a fight with a colleague and when Amrita tries to restrain him, he turns around and slaps her.
The rest of the film revolves around Amrita refusing to accept that the slap meant nothing, while most people around her, including her own mother, tries to convince her to move on. The slap, Amrita says, implies that her husband felt entitled he could slap her and that was not right.
Apart from the central plot, Sinha’s film strikes at the myth of what a ‘abuser’ looks like. From a celebrated journalist who rapes his wife, and a daily wage worker who hits his wife to Vikram, a seemingly ‘nice’ man who vents his anger by hitting his wife in public, Thappad dismantles the myth that domestic violence is restricted to a certain class or that a wife beater looks like a filmi thug.
It also breaks the myth that women with privilege cannot be victims of abuse ― Amrita is educated, comes from an educated and affluent family. The journalist’s wife, Netra, is a powerful, celebrated lawyer who quietly lives with the fact of her husband forcing himself on her. There is no perfect victim, there is no ideal perpetrator and Thappad establishes it with quiet confidence, and not hysterical drama.
Thappad’s biggest triumph is it doesn’t create cartoonish villains you forget the moment you walk out of the theatre. It creates people exactly like the ones you know and asks you to believe that they are capable of dehumanising a woman in ways you probably don’t expect them to, thanks to your privilege blinkers.
And Thappad is kind to women. The mothers — played by Ratna Pathak Shah and Tanvi Azmi — insist that Amrita resolve the couple’s ‘issues’ and get back together, but the film takes time to explore where their conditioning comes from. From being told constantly, that home is where they belong, Sinha’s film explains.
In a startling, tender moment, Amrita’s father — shown as the more progressive of her parents and who supports her daughter throughout — is questioning his wife’s constant nagging about reconciling with a man who hit their daughter. That’s what women do, his wife argues.
But has he ever asked her to adjust, forget her dreams and her identity in their marriage, the father — a kind, progressive, intelligent man — asks his wife.
But he also did not ask her if she did have any dreams, did he, the mother retorts.
Patriarchal conditioning, the film shows, grows in the most unlikeliest of places, and in the most unlikeliest of people.
For a film that has no plot twists, Thappad doesn’t lose pace even for a moment. Apart from a taut screenplay, the film is held together by fabulous acting.
Pannu is restrained and at times, does most of the talking without speaking a single dialogue. From the hesitation in her voice when she first puts her foot down, to the confident calm with which she deals with her husband later as things get worse, Pannu is spectacular. Pavail Gulati plays the role of an entitled, ‘busybody’ husband to perfection. The support cast comprising Kumud Mishra (Amrita’s father), Maya Sarao (lawyer Netra Jaising) and Geetika Vidya (who plays a domestic help) contribute as much as the lead cast in holding the film together.