Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Pavail Gulati
Director: Anubhav Sinha
After Mulk, on the communal discrimination against Muslims in India, Article 15 on the caste divide, and now Thappad, on domestic violence, director Anubhav Sinha may be completing his trilogy of the flawed power dynamics in India’s most vulnerable parts – namely minorities, castes and women.
Gender discrimination, a natural consequence of a traditional society steeped in patriarchy, has had many manifestations, and Thappad challenges the masculine privilege and right that men have enjoyed throughout the ages.
According to Lundy Bancroft author of “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men: “The violent man’s high justice leads him to have unfair and unreasonable expectations so that the relationship revolves around his demands. he gives, does he want a pound back…
You can put all your energy into keeping your partner happy, but if he has this attitude, he will never be happy for long. And he will continue to feel like you’re controlling him because he doesn’t feel like you should limit his behavior or insist that he take his responsibilities.”
The above explanation from Lundy, in a nutshell, is the wisdom that Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) feels early on – after the first time she is beaten by her husband Vikram (Pavail Gulati) in front of family and friends. Should she ignore the incident and accept herself as someone who can be beaten for the affection she receives? Or not? Her dilemma is only exacerbated by the many voices around her – from family and well-wishers before she comes to a decision on the direction in which to steer her life.
Domestic violence is discussed in the film with the many perspectives on the matter. However, this is not a shrill soap or melodrama about Abla Naaris. The writing is clear and simple and centers on whether Amrita should put aside an otherwise happily married life on the sole basis of a single episode of domestic violence. Amrita’s point is well reasoned and it charges not just an individual, but anyone who commits patriarchal malpractice, even to the smallest degree. Women and men are charged equally for the role they play in encouraging such behavior, but what is especially impressive is the gentle denial of male ignorance, denial and ultimately reform. Sinha’s no-prisoner approach spares no one.
Thappad is an exciting soul-searching quest that raises the question over and over until it compels an answer.
Pannu brings to life her painful dilemma – whether it be a mistake or not that her right to be happy and respected conflicts with male privilege in a patriarchal society. She takes a moment to process her humiliation, how it diminishes her self-esteem, then charts her course. It is a decision that everyone feels uncomfortable with because of complicity, indifference or pure chauvinism. Fortunately, there is no shrill chest palpitation; it is a journey of silent self-realization – an important one for herself and for everyone in her circle of influence.
Better known for her feisty performances, Taapsee Pannu is mature and understated and this would arguably be one of her best performances. Ratna Pathak Shah and Kumud Mishra are exceptional. Pavail Gulati makes a competent debut as a male lead. Dia Mirza is perfect for the small but impressive role she plays, as are Tanvi Azmi and Maya Sarao.
What Sinha does particularly well is connecting the dots between different strata of society and the common thread, shockingly, is the discriminatory behavior towards his women. The film evoked mixed reactions from men and women during the screening itself, and is likely to spark another important conversation in India, one that should have happened a long time ago.
In the post-feminist era, where women have to work their way through the choices they’ve made, Thappad strikes just the right note.
Rating: 4/5 stars