With Thappad, Anubhav Sinha returns with yet another relevant film in his filmography. And no doubt, it is a much needed mainstream Hindi film dealing with an issue which is not just about a slap in the heat of the moment but one that questions the very foundation of our attitude and conditioning towards domestic violence, patriarchy and what is normal in a relationship, for generations altogether. While Sinha dares to question the ‘normal’, sadly however, Thappad crumbles under the pressures of its own making lacking the punch and depth of his previous two cinematic outings, Mulk and Article 15.
Thappad sees Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) as an upper middle-class housewife living with her husband, Vikram (Pavail Gulati), and mother-in-law (Tanvi Azmi). She leads a life of comfort that revolves completely around her husband. All seems normal within the household until one day in a fit of rage, Vikram slaps Amrita in a party. Shocked beyond words, this slap becomes a catalyst thereafter for Amrita to introspect and question her marriage and relationship with Vikram. With a mother (Ratna Pathak Shah) and a mother-in-law who both tell her it’s no big deal and to forget it, Amrita nevertheless fights a tough and often lonely battle filing for divorce even as she comes to terms with what she she expects from her life and her man.
At a running time of over 140 minutes, Thappad, for all its noble intentions and some admittedly pretty strong and perceptive moments, suffers from a drab and laborious narrative flow, especially in the second half of the film. Its prolonged procedural drama might well have suited the telling of a criminal case far better rather than the civil case we see. But the bigger problem with the film – and this is often the case with issue-based films – is that they end up becoming victims of their own agenda. Sinha, in his effort to universalize the issue of patriarchy and violence against women, utilises a set of characters of different age groups and varied social strata that are unfortunately are peppered with clichés galore and don’t help the story s well as they should. The supporting women characters like Amrita’s lawyer, her maid Savita (Geetika Vidya), her sister in law, her neighborhood friend, Shivani (Dia Mirza), while giving Amrita perspective but also introspecting their own relationships with their respective men, could have done with less stereotyping and better fleshing out of their characters. As could their partners.
For all her earnestness, Taapsee, as Amrita, is fine enough but there are bits where her performance is a bit labored and sketchy. She falters a bit in dealing with the razor thin line her character walks on, one torn between acceptance and assertion. Ratna Pathak Shah as her mother is also a tad unconvincing as a woman who thinks that a daughter’s real home is that of her husband. The real standout performances are by Geetika Vidya as the abused maid, Tanvi Azmi as Amrita’s mother-in-law torn between the norm and realisation and Kumud Mishra as Amrita’s supportive father, whose egalitarianism is questioned by his wife and he is gracious enough to accept it quietly. Pavail Gulati is competent enough though Manav Kaul is wasted in a thankless role.
On the technical side, the music by Anurag Saikia leaves no impression at all. Soumik Mukherjee’s cinematography is decent but Yash Ramchandani’s choppy editing leaves much to be desired, telling on the length and the narrative flow of the story. Having said that, Thappad nevertheless has its fair share of moments as it raises and argues some very relevant and often taken for granted questions. All in all, though the film is a mixed bag, it definitely deserves a theatrical watch for the issue it deals with and yet again marks Anubhav Sinha out as an important filmmaker of our troubled times.
Hindi, Drama, Color