A woman re-evaluates her marriage after her husband slaps her in the face in front of a group of people at a party.
BOLLYWOOD: Thappad is a relationship story of Amrita whose seemingly perfect life is shattered by one violent action of her husband.
Is one slap enough to question what a relationship stands for? Should a slap shake up her trust or is a Thappad ‘Bas Itni Si Baat’? It has taken us until 2020 to say this out loud in a movie says a lot about our society, which sanctions all kinds of evil under the guise of our ‘sabhyata’, ‘maryada’: if you are an ‘adarsh bahu’, as Amrita (Pannu) is, it is your job to check your elderly mother-in-law’s blood sugar levels, supervise the kitchen, escort your husband (Gulati) to the car, and hand over his wallet, and packed lunch, as he busily moves off to earn a living. All without demur, all with a smile, and good grace, every single day.
There is a niggling regret for what might have been. Amrita could have been a dancer, professional even, just like her loving father (Mishra) wanted her to be. She has left those dreams behind, just like a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law ought, being content with creating a morning slot of her own–a cup of black tea infused with herbs, and a deep breath at the morning outside– before the day is upon her, with all its demands.
Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad has a one-point agenda: you cannot slap a woman, and expect her to ignore it, and move on. You Can Not.
Thappad resonates, as it is meant to. Because the director shows, without mincing any words (sometimes too many), just how patriarchy is handed down from one generation to another, and women are equally complicit. After that fateful slap, in full view of family and guests, Amrita responds by self-soothing, and when that doesn’t work, by expecting her own family, including a mother (Shah) and brother and his beloved plus the father, to be supportive. No surprise, that it is her mother who talks about the importance of rishtey nibhana, and ‘wohi tumhara ghar hai’.
Those are the most effective parts of the film, in which we are shown just how women are always being told how to feel, how to keep their feelings in check, how not to give into them. It’s not just Amrita who is dealing with ‘sirf ek thappad hi toh tha’, and how the husband who slaps her is ‘only’ taking out his workplace frustration on her. It is also her lawyer (Sarao), and her mother, mother-in-law who have dealt with their own disappointments, and the maid (Ohlyan) who is routinely beaten by her drunken husband.
Domestic abuse is rampant across class and age, and Sinha is sometimes too on the nose as he goes about laying it out. And clearly there is concern about not alienating your viewers, especially when it comes to the unravelling of the relationship between Amrita and her husband: she gives him a long rope, and there are tears at the parting.
Pannu holds the film, but the effort she puts into her performance shows. There is a more welcome edge in the way Sarao comes across, with her own dismissive spouse (Kaul), as well as Ohylan’s spirited ‘kaam-waali’. And in the way all the main characters are given redemptive speeches, some of the sharpness is leached away.
But there is not a shred of doubt that Sinha has made an important, crucial film, which shows up centuries of male entitlement for what it is. And how all it takes, from a woman who just wants self-respect, is a decision to say no, Not Even One Slap.
Thappad movie cast: Taapsee Pannu, Pavail Gulati, Ratna Pathak Shah, Kumud Mishra, Maya Sarao, Tanvi Azmi, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Manav Kaul
Thappad movie director: Anubhav Sinha
Thappad movie ratings: Three and a half stars
Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi | Indian Express