Thappad: Taapsee Pannu is a storm in the silences

In one of the most subtle, yet striking scenes in Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad, Maya Sarao’s Nethra is reading out a news of conflict from the newspaper to her paralysed father-in-law, and she ends her reading with, “the kind of world we leave for our children,” also asking us what kind of world would we want to leave for the generations to come?

When I first watched the trailer of Thappad, I was a little sceptical of how would Sinha tell the story of “just one slap” in 2 hours 22 minutes, especially when even the title of the film gives away most of the storyline. But writers Anubhav Sinha and Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul weave a tight and gripping story about this one woman, which, very soon into the film, we realise is the story of every woman, and every man. Thappad is not just about one slap. The greater narrative of this film revolves around male entitlement. Throughout the film, we wait for Vikram (Pavail Gulati) to say sorry for the slap, but it doesn’t come until the end. And that’s what Thappad is about – the domesticity of women (even though it’s a chosen life), the entitlement of men and how the story of one woman is the story of everyone around her.

In a brilliant opening sequence, Sinha introduces his entire ensembles, with men and women from different age groups and different social backgrounds. He blends their life under the umbrella of one common patriarchy. Each of the women are burdened by it while the men seek entitlement off it. Sinha masterfully adds an orange lolly to this sequence, showing that both – the burden and entitlement – are part of our normal. When Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) comes into the picture, she’s making tea, and happily so. Through the film, this cup of tea becomes an important part of her life and also her character development. When one night, at a party her husband slaps her, the morning tea stops being a happy part of her routine.

Amrita’s struggle and her petition aren’t about her husband slapping her in front of everybody. It’s the slap that bothers her. She claims she’s not happy anymore, that she doesn’t love Vikram anymore. Even though the women in her life (her mother (Ratna Pathak Shah), mother-in-law (Tanvi Azmi), lawyer (Maya Sarao) – all of whom who have been or are being suppressed by patriarchy – ask her to forget the incident and “move on”, she just cannot put herself to do so. There’s a strong mention of a Punjabi poem (Mera Pata) by Amrita Pritam which explains the name of Pannu’s character-

“Te jitthe vee sutantar rooh di jhalak paave, samajhna uh mera ghar hain (Wherever you catch a glimpse of a free soul, regard that as my home).”

My favourite scene in the film is a scene between Amrita’s parents, where Pathak Shah explains to Kumud Mishra that women have to let go of certain things for the goodwill of her family and home. A model like father who gave her daughter the spirit to fly, is taken aback. He doesn’t understand that he is indeed a part of the entire male entitlement bandwagon, that he is indeed a byproduct of patriarchy, much like Vikram.

The film takes a dip in the second half, but not much is lost and while most of the credit goes to the writing, it is the performances, lead by Taapsee Pannu, that make this film a genius in itself. Watch out for Kumud Mishra as Amrita’s father, Pathak Shah and Azmi. They’re all proven actors and here too they bring only their best to the table. Debutante Pavail Gulati keeps his own among a bunch of experienced actors. Other actors – Maya Sarao, Naila Grewal and Geetika Vidya – remain in the borders of the narrative, but each one of them are powerful, both as characters and as actors. There’s also Dil Mirza, who plays a short role but in a very structured way. I’ve not seen her perform as she does in Thappad.

But floating above them all is Taapsee Pannu. She plays Amrita with complete conviction. There’s a lot of silence in this character, and she beautifully captures that while delivering a strikingly nuanced performance. Over the years, Taapsee Pannu has mastered her art and proved to us that she is one of the best actresses we have. In Sinha’s Thappad, she goes even beyond what she has done in the past. This is undoubtedly her career best performance, mainly because of the way in which she masters her silences.

Women make sacrifices. Women always make sacrifices and they make these sacrifices for the men in their lives, just like Amrita.

There’s absolutely no difference between Amrita and every other housewife. And there is nothing wrong in choosing the life of a homemaker. But what’s wrong, as Tanvi Azmi points us in the film, are the men. They need to be taught and then appreciate the role of women in their lives. Every morning Amrita wakes up, collects milk, makes the tea – first for herself – and drinks it on the balcony in the peace of the rising sun. That is her calm. Why can’t we make that moment the everyday of women? How entitled (and ignorant) are we?

More than the thappad, what’s core to this film are the horrors of normalisation of male entitlement, the dualities of these men, and the dilemmas that women experience. Before the end credits roll, Amrita makes her last cup of tea and you know that this is a different Amrita than who you met when you saw her first. Between those two cups, you know a lot has changed, and then you wonder how much actually will…

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