Thappad – A smack to Patriarchy

Celebrations are on in an affluent Delhi household. The man of the moment is living his dreams – being promoted to the London office of his company. His wife -who has dedicated her entire post-marital life in the service of her husband’s dream has somehow managed to organize the bash consisting of over 40 guests on very short notice. In the midst of all the adulation received to her man, she gets the rare moment of expressing her happiness through dance. Grooving to the tunes of Morni (Badhaai Ho), she is also living her childhood dream of dancing. Of course, no one is noticing that, except for her Dad. But she is content.

It’s a scene so perfect, that it almost breaks your heart slowly, knowing what lies ahead. The picture of this happy family is soon going to be shattered in pieces. Its cracks will be bare and will define the lives of Vikram, Amrita, and everyone around them.

Thappad is the third film from Anubhav Sinha’s 2.0 filmography. The “2.0” suggests his 180 degrees turn from the kind of content he used to make prior to these films (Tum Bin, Dus, Cash, Ra.One). Much like the premise of these recent films, he has transformed his craft to the extent that he has now delved into subjects with piercing efficiency, without having himself dealt with the issues he is talking about. A Hindu, upper-caste man is now credited to the most effective films on communalism (Mulk), caste discrimination (Article 15), and gender bias (Thappad).

While Mulk and Article 15 also talked about prevalent societal issues, Thappad‘s premise hits the hardest, because unlike the former, patriarchy is still not widely considered as an issue of concern. Only when it’s the extreme case of domestic violence (the track of housemaid Sunita played by Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), there would be resentment.

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It’s the deep-rooted, subtle and often unspoken form of sexism that Thappad tries to address. The main reason for Amrita’s motivation for a divorce is not the slap. It’s the way Vikram and his family handle the situation post the event. His conversations with Amrita revolves around his justifications for that action and never appears apologetic about it. He is self-centered, lost himself in his quest for career aspirations. So much so, that the leaving of her wife is more of a logistics issue rather than an emotional one. He does value her absence but easily compensates it by increasing her maid’s wages.

All that being said, Vikram is not inherently this person. It’s evident that his upbringing has made him so. Men, in this culture, are not subjected to any domestic commitments apart from a few moral and financial obligations. This onus is then put on women- who then can only dare to have a professional career and carry out the jugglery for her entire life. The sacrifices, the troubles, the “emotional investment” (which Vikram also had, but for his company) that housewives like Amrita go through are never admired, nor respected. For years, housewives are seen as second-class members of the family – including the women themselves.

This bubble of acceptance of the way things are, bursts for Amrita with that slap. And along the course of the story, it does the same for you. That is if you are willing to acknowledge the existence of this bubble in the first place. If not, a divorce for one slap will always seem “unreasonable”.

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Being truly happy and respected is what Amrita sought for. It is what even Vikram wanted from his company. Like Amrita, Vikram too decides to cut off from the entity which doesn’t value his existence. “Go back, everything will be fine”, everyone advised Amrita. Amrita didn’t, but Vikram did, when the company gave him what he wanted. He thought he now finally has it all. But alas, respect was there, but happiness wasn’t. His wife wasn’t just logistic support, after all. He too had to part ways and seek happiness elsewhere.

Thappad is special – not only because of its pitch-perfect craft but more importantly for talking about something that is rarely read, heard, or discussed in this society. It dares you to look within and smash the deep-rooted patriarchy that we have incubated unconsciously.

It’s written with the hope that the Amritas of the world don’t need a slap to wake up to their reality. And their Vikrams would always win her over with happiness and respect.