By Nafis Haider
In one word, Anubhav Sinha’s film Thappad is iconoclastic. This is the first movie which has talked about the implicit patriarchal and misogynist behavior deeply ingrained in Indian society, in both men and women. At a time when Bollywood is busy making commercial movies with pure objectification of women in “item songs” and depiction of the female actors as a subject to be conquered as in Karan Johar and Bhansali’s cinema, Thappad comes as a shock for giving womanhood its due position as a subject.
Sinha’s film delves into the details. From the beginning, symbolism is highly manifested. The director has skillfully connected all the characters of the movie in the beginning by an orange ice cream symbolizing good times. The close single shot where Amrita, the main protagonist played wonderfully by Taapsee Pannu, tells her story during the child shower puja makes the drama real, expressing the hitherto realized yet concealed emotions of Amrita against the hypocrisy of people around her. The movie continuously tries to symbolize the gravity of the situation.
Thappad nevertheless misses the entirety of the Indian populace. The focus of the movie is on the elite class, with big houses, wealthy families and the protagonist’s goal of moving to London. The movie never talks about the condition of the lower substrata of Indian society. While Amrita is able to move to her loving and supporting father and get all the love and care during pregnancy marshalling all the resources to fight against the patriarchy of her husband, the housemaid Sunita (played by Geetika Vidya) is not able to do so.
The movie fails to present the difference between the choice-making capacities of the two struggling wives: one from elite class who remains the main protagonist and the other who is a subaltern housemaid. The more important question is how material conditions affect the issue raised in the film. The housemaid is unable to protest against her husband’s atrocities, while Amrita is supported by a loving family. She is able to go ahead and file a case, whereas the housemaid has to suffer. When the housemaid says to herself, “Sabhi martein hain” (Everyone beats), this statement tries to bring on equal footing the suffering of two unequal social classes. The movie presents a problem in Indian society from a reductionist perspective without going to the root cause of the problem. This upper class elitist depiction as well as the propagation of liberal ideas without understanding the social context is devastating to the Indian social ambience.
There has been a growing trend in Indian cinema of depicting life from a completely Eurocentric perspective, with people going on a journey to find themselves as in Imtiaz Ali’s movies. Such movies have created a prejudice against ordinary life and common people. Thappad fares no different. The particular singularization of one aspect of female life belonging to a rich and elite family cannot describe the reality of India.
As I see, Indian cinema speaks only through the lens of upper class, rich families. This trend is not new. Karan Johar makes movies which are purely based on ultra-rich families whose only preoccupation seems to be love and romantic relationships. Cinema holds the responsibility of depicting the larger society as Indian society is beset with a multitude of issues. However, these movies try to sideline other important issues and sell elitism and individualistic lifestyle.
If we look back at the psychology of the audience that comes from the middle class, and contextualize Thappad in the Indian society, the movie appears to be dwelling on a utopia in which the domestic affair seems to concern only the couple. This presents a world where women are empowered enough to push the limits and go all the way to reclaim their status and individuality. But we need to scratch the surface. Why is only the upper class shown as the agent of modernity? How does the lower strata of Indian society deal with change? Thappad does not try to answer any of these questions. The movie is about the depiction of a tragedy rather than the questioning of patriarchy.
Nafis Haider studies Political Science at Aligarh Muslim University.
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