The highlight of Chhapaak is a scene in the second half when Malti (Deepika Padukone) and another acid attack survivor are in a supermarket and Malti says to her friend, “tum sarkar thodi ho jo tumse darr lagega”. Having said that, this scene would’ve been totally irrelevant had the country not been in a state of mess at present. Chhapaak is not a political film, even though it has some ambitions on the political side. But majorly, Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak aims to be an emotional drama about Malti’s healing – about how she went on from living a normal life to being a victim and going back to the normalcies of life once again.
Based on the real life story of Laxmi Agarwal, the story is genius in itself. And, the trailer of the film promised us an emotional, disturbing film. The film is just the contrary. What seemed like a heavy, ‘oh my god I can’t breathe’ kinda moment in the trailer, goes about in passing in the film. You’d think the scene when the acid is actually thrown on Malti would be the best scene in the film, but it comes and goes and you don’t feel bad for her. Perhaps because the damage is already done, you’re already too bored and just want to go home. Before the end credits roll, statistics show that the number of cases of acid attack violence have only increased in India since 2013 and you’re supposed to feel bad about it, as you did in Pink, but you don’t. I was in fact glad that the film was over.
Why Chhapaak fails to make its mark is perhaps because this story didn’t need pace and all Gulzar has known, with her previous films – Talvar and Raazi – is pace. The only genius of the film is that it doesn’t delve into questioning why the attacker threw acid on Malti. But rather focusses on her healing, and eventually her victory. But neither her healing, nor her victory tug at us. Not a single scene in the film is heartwarming or overwhelming. It’s all mediocre at best. The trailer promises too much and the film fails to deliver.
Gulzar and her co-writer Atika Chohan have huge and correct ambitions. Their story angle is great, their messaging is in the right place, they have a decent actor to play with but there’s too much fault in the telling. The chronology in which the scenes play out is not confusing, but you fail to figure out the reason as to why it is so. The ‘chhapaak’ scene comes towards the end of the film and as I pointed out earlier, it’s a little too late to show either sympathy or empathy.
But what’s most flawed in the film is Deepika Padukone’s performance. Padukone is gifted with one of the most expressive pair of eyes. Chhapaak was an opportunity to make correct use of them, but she doesn’t. With so much prosthetics and makeup at play, it is difficult for Padukone to use much of facial expressions. So all she can do is express through her eyes, and she doesn’t deliver. I felt the pain in her voice, in her eyes more in Padmaavat, even Piku, than in Chhapaak. As an actor, this is one of Padukone’s least performed roles.
The film has wonderful moments – when acid is thrown on Malti, when she first sees her scarred face, when her PIL is heard and acid sale is regulated in India, and more – but none of these moments shine. The blame falls on, both, the storytelling and Padukone’s shortcomings as an actor, at least in this film.
Laxmi’s story is that of courage, hope, ambition, honesty, determination and more. Malti’s story too is everything. But Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak is none of these things. The film establishes only two things. First, that Vikrant Massey is a phenomenal actor. That he is wasted in Amol is a different story altogether. Second, it informs us about the heinous crime that acid attack is and how it doesn’t have a separate clause in the Indian Constitution. Very skilfully Gulzar explains to us that the punishment for throwing acid at someone is the same as throwing hot tea.
All in all, I wouldn’t have complained so much had the trailer not promised an emotional rollercoaster ride or if the film had another leading lady, perhaps Kangana Ranaut. Because what this film needed was not just to look the part, but more.
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