By Mekhala Chattopadhyay
Directed by Anubhav Sinha and co-written and Mrunmayee Lagoo and Sinha himself, Thappad presents a thread of connections between the lived realities and silences of women in this society plagued by the aftermath of patriarchal conditioning. These silences speak so loud at times that you will find it uncomfortable enough which will shake your inner being. These silences are like little gaps between the door and its hinges, peeping out with questions which are seldom asked with an open door. These silences act like the operating system on which the movie depends and keeps working – Taapsee, Pavail, Geetika, Ratna Pathak, Maya Sarao and all others give flawless performances. It is the story of Amrita, whose world and happy marriage breaks apart with one slap that her husband hurls at her, in a heated moment of despair. Along with her, it is the story of all other women who are spending their lives patching up pieces of their broken dreams, desires and loves.
A lot has already been written or told about the movie. From being tremendously appreciated to being trolled for making an issue out of a little event, it has had its share. The fact that a movie can be so nuanced in treatment of its subject is in itself quite an achievement. Even beyond that, the film grows with each moment and with each passing scene.
Thappad feels like poetry, which might not have the most beautiful of moments, but a poem with all the silences weaved together as a unit, manifesting in the brilliant performance of Taapsee. It is a poem, enough to rattle some of your bones and wriggle out of your solid membranes of complicity and look into your face, with a silence, unheard but visible. It is a poem which depends less on establishing the fact that is life but the routine that it is. It shows Amrita (played by Taapsee) as the one figure who revels in the glory of that routine. It shows her dedication towards that routine. It is this routine that will stay with you, even after the movie ends. The routine of complicity and submission to larger patterns of disrespect gets deftly portrayed in the movie. It is, thus, also a dark reminder of the fact that the patterns are so real that you would step on them every single second but turn it under the rug just to let it go. And the pattern grows into humongous proportions, with each passing moment.
There are two scenes which stand out as little stanzas in the poem that Anubhav and Mrunmayee has created. One of them is the opening scene of the film. As each character gets engrossed in the pattern that they have created with the symbolism of the orange ice cream speaking out in favour of the pattern, the first person to cause a ripple in the stagnant waters is the maid, Sunita (played by Geetika Vidya), throwing off her ice cream aimed at her abusive husband. This little act of courage of asking questions about her marriage to her husband makes her the first voice which openly criticizes the institution of marriage that provides the license to do all sorts of unfair things. As she throws the ice cream towards her husband, who sets on his way back home, leaving her behind, the scene embodies the estrangement between the two. Belonging to a different class, it becomes even more conspicuous. This little act sets the tone for the next part of the movie, long before Amrita realizes that there is little or no difference between Sunita’s suffering and her’s. Thus, when Sunita tells her about the night incident, it appears ‘normal’ to her, so much so that she calls her ‘nautanki’ and moves on along with her chores.
After the slap, the film only speaks through abyssal silences. These silences do not represent submission but portray chaos and shattering of long-held beliefs. As Amrita tries to make sense of the situation, the little monsters of discontent emerge like bubbles on the surface, moment by moment. These bubbles have accumulated over years and are ready to burst. The lid to the closed container has suddenly been thrown apart. Even here, in the process of analyzing the situation, the scene where she tries to change the bed cover, attains a different level of urgency. She knew the pattern. She knew how to act, according to the set pattern. Something kept choking her. She couldn’t pull the cover off without breaking the lamp that was kept beside it. This jerk establishes a peak point in the story. The lamp of illusory happiness has to break in order to remove the cover over the (in)significant things. As she falls to the ground, and keeps her head on the bed and cries, her face bears the pain of an entire lifetime of being under the cover of significant things. Her breaking down is an emotion surreally captured by Taapsee. She becomes better with each passing scene.
These two scenes expose a strange connection, maybe a coincidence. The thread of this connection lies deeper, within the patriarchal set-up. In this set-up, the woman is the most insignificant piece of ornament that a society wears. Sinha exposes this and brings back the woman from being a trophy to an individual and human form. From here, the plot quickly escalates. These scenes expose a lot of the problems that our society burdens us with. This connection would find a thread hanging within your home, within your workplace or even within your heart. The writers of this film have alerted us to keep a close look at those membranes. This is where the movie achieves its aim of thinking and questioning all that is, and all that has been.
There should also be a special mention of the poem that Amrita’s father recites at the end of the movie. The poem has another Amrita with a simple ambition: “Aur mera bhi ek asmaan ho.” This ambition, as simple it might appear to be, is the rarest. The desire to be a human and an individual is all that she wants, from life, from people, from her marriage and from all other spaces. There could not have been a better end to the movie. This desire will connect Amrita with all others who want to have a little part of their skies to remain with them, through life, so that she can always return to that sky which she can call her’s.
Thappad is a poem, enough to remain within your room and your mind, slowly and stealthily building a sky of its own.
Mekhala Chattopadhyay is a research student in the department of English Literature at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. Her academic interests fall mostly in the field of cultural studies, memory and ethnomusicology. She has published stories, poems and film reviews in Café Dissensus Blog, Hakara Bilingual Magazine, The Volcano, and The Sunflower Collective. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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