I grew up watching a lot of Tamil movies. A common theme in most of them was the normalized act of a man hitting a woman. He has the right to do so, because he’s the father, brother, husband or boyfriend of that wronged woman. Usually, the reasons to hit her will be justified dramatically, with intense background music, to the point where several times, I fell for them.
Despite this trap, I have always had space for thoughts like,
‘What was so wrong about a woman choosing to dress the way she wanted to? Why was speaking up for yourself considered to be an unforgivable action in those movies? Most importantly, how does having a Y-chromosome along with a X allow a man to be in-charge of deciding what is right and wrong in being a woman?’.
What is worse though, is the number of times fellow women in those movies, have supported the man’s act of hitting, as they believed it was the woman’s fault for doing the bare minimum to live for herself as she wished.
Bearing these in mind, imagine the surprise and excitement I experienced when I read the synopsis of Thappad (Hindi, 2020), exploring the journey of a woman, whose life changes overnight, after she is slapped by her husband at a party.
One slap. Just one slap. And her life changes drastically.
Initially, it sounded a little too unrealistic for me to get interested in watching the movie. I mean, all it takes is one slap from the husband, for the wife’s perspective on life to change? What ’bout the hundred over female protagonists I watched on screen; who never questioned the multiple slaps they received in their respective storylines?
In amusement and amazement, I watched the film. While I found it a little slow in the beginning, I could not wait to see how the calm, harmonious lives of the leads turn upside down after Amrita (played by Taapsee Pannu), gets slapped by her husband, Vikram (played by Pavail Gulati). I had expected their relationship to be on the rocks from the beginning. However, the couple shared a sweet and simple bond.
Amrita, a homemaker. Vikram, kind-of-a workaholic.
Their relationship was not perfect. But there was a lot of warmth, love and commitment between them, which made me almost upset at the fact that there was going to be huge trouble in their relationship. And that is where Thappad’s strength lies in.
Take the instance when Amrita gets slapped by Vikram. A party had been arranged in their house. They were not involved in a brawl with each other. Vikram was angry about something unrelated to Amrita. When she sees him losing his control out of anger (while in an argument with his colleague), she steps in to help him calm down. While he tries telling her to step away, he clearly gets more frustrated. The moment he loses control is depicted through the slap Amrita receives.
Everyone around them falls silent for a few moments.
Amrita is taken aback. A few other people mask similar expressions. However, majority of them have this ‘So he has slapped… Shocked to know he’s capable of this, but really, what’s the big deal, just get on with the rest of your life‘ look. These two contrasting outlooks at this incident exists throughout the rest of the movie.
Amrita’s mother, brother, and Vikram’s family members find Amrita’s dilemma on how to live with a man who did not really understand the impact his action had on her, disappointing and ridiculous. On the other hand, the minority of sensible people like Amrita’s father (shoutout to this character) and her brother’s girlfriend, are ridiculed by the idea of Amrita having to forget and move on from the incident.
Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity.Erving Goffman
Meanwhile, Amrita was experiencing conflicting thoughts on how to handle her emotions, and whether she should live with Vikram anymore.
What was really arresting to watch was her confusion on why the slap had stirred up feelings of hurt and betrayal within her, and why she had gotten slapped in the first place. Meanwhile, Vikram knows he was not in the right to slap his wife. Yet, he is unable to digest her retaliation against his behavior.
He tries pacifying the situation by speaking to Amrita gently, tells her parents to knock some sense into her (and move past the ‘unfortunate’ incident), and even goes to the extent of threatening her legally when she files for a divorce.
This was when my favorite scene rolled in. Amrita is pregnant. Vikram is in cloud nine, believing that the baby is going to make Amrita come back to him. But when she remains silent to his celebration, the man loses his control. Because, that is the moment he realizes that their relationship was not going back to the way it was previously. There was almost nothing he could do to change her mind. This leads him to a spiral of resentment.
Amrita, though feeling deeply hurt by his actions, starts to move on, alone.
It was a powerful statement, beautifully depicted on screen. Those countless, toxic glorification of relationships in the movies I had watched were shattered and thrown away when Amrita decided not to live with Vikram, for the sake of their child.
By the end of the movie, she forgives the people who had hurt her emotionally, physically (Vikram in both cases), but ensures that they remember the damage their actions and words had done to her. The same damage which then paved way for her liberation. Liberation which could have been achieved without a slap.
Ultimately, the movie made me feel for all the characters, including misogynistic ones, for they could not open their eyes and see beyond the ignorance clouding them.
There are plenty of other vital and pathbreaking aspects and scenes in the movie which I have not discussed in this post; I might do a future post on those.
It almost feels therapeutic to have written this post. Because some stigmas are so deeply rooted that when they are finally pulled out, it seems so unreal…