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The thought behind, and the fine detailing that this reviewer finds in every scene of Thappad makes the experience of watching it extraordinary, for these 10 plus reasons…
I’ve never met a spoiler that ruined a good movie for me. I generally study the director’s intent and interviews before I watch a movie and it makes the experience better for me. But since people prefer to know if there are going to be spoilers, my guess is, yes there are. This is perhaps a better “post-watch” read.
So, *SPOILERS ALERT
It Adults the audience – takes its time, but NEVER wastes time. It has a sense of self-belief in the power of its script and writing and that’s inspiring to watch.
Culture comment: In a country that’s known for infantilizing – our kids, our men, our women, our citizenry – all of which leads to different kinds of dysfunctionality and dumbing down, here’s a film that has the guts to believe in the intelligence and adultness of its audience. It steers away from clichés, over-explaining and doubles down on subtle but impactful storytelling.
The challenge with that is that a lot of the detailing could get missed by the average Indian who can see a 30-second Saffola muesli commercial, 3 times, and at the end of it claim they just saw a Kellogg’s ad.
Ads are forced to tell all they need to tell, cue things like class and aspirations and persuade people to think and feel differently. Most people are rarely aware of all the content that’s packed into a 30-second commercial. The clothes the model wears, the colors in the home, the way her husband looks at her – all of this (in a good ad) tells deep, belief-changing stories about who they are and why we should care. This movie is detailed like good ads are.
For instance, the coffee cup – has its own story arc. It represents the doting care and attention from Vikram’s wife (Tapsee’s Amrita) that’s not appreciated by him, then when his mom (Tanvi Azmi’s Sulakshana) gives it to him – he hates how it’s made but doesn’t still appreciate the effort of either woman who does so much for him, there’s just an entitled grimace that it’s not the EXACT way he likes it, followed by a branded coffee cup because he believes money fixes problems in his male-centric, upper class world. In another home, that’s more middle class, Amrita’s mom (Ratna Pathak Shah’s Sandhya) does the same thing for her son, Karan, even though this is a mildly more progressive home. There’s just a glance from Amrita noting the similarity and the broader state of “moms indulging their sons to the point of helplessness.” It’s easy to miss but the entire running time of 2 hr 25 mins is packed with layered cues and commentary.
This doesn’t happen without an obsessive amount of care, thinking, scripting and staging. The slap for instance took 7 takes and involved actual slapping. Pavail Gulati (Vikram), bless his soul, apparently struggled with the idea and would make it too weak or if he did hit her “right”, the camera didn’t “make it seem like a real slap” and he had to slap her again. Both the slap and the walk afterward are crafted to really make the viewer feel the transition from the perfect life that was depicted before.
Culture comment: We see slaps all the time – we hear of them even more and we are in general a “slapping culture.” Check social media comments and video titles like “Javed Akhtar gives one slap to Musharaff in this video.” To have that one slap be the pivotal point around the movie, gender dynamic conversations, housewives and marriage etc – takes some doing and this movie does all that.
It has a mild Love Actually feel of 10 connected couple-dynamic stories and the ice-candy scene connecting the key women. (I counted 10 and could be wrong.) But it’s not just the pivotal Amu-Vikram “every willing housewife vs every want-to-be-good-but-kinda-really-not” husband pair that we learn about here. There’s the innocent optimism of a young crush, the nostalgia of a perfect-but-dead husband, the less visible cracks in an old marriage, the evident break in a weathered marriage, the silent and compliant wife in Vikram’s sister-in-law, the loud and stressed pain of the maid’s marriage, the loveless rigidity of a high class marriage, the emotional non-affair, the fiery evolution of an equal-dynamic modern romance etc. Scripts struggle with a supporting cast with stunted storylines, but not this one. It definitely breaks that painful mold.
One hateful trope that people often believe to be true is the cliché “women are the worst enemy of women.” Thankfully this movie attempts to undo centuries of damage around that. The daughter-in-law, mother-in-law, mom scene toward the end and also the relationships between two female neighbors, mom and daughter (Dia Mirza’s Shivani and Sania) and a strong favorite – Amrita and her brother’s girlfriend, Swati (#SILGoals) finally shows screen relationships catching up to the reality of what many women know and strive for in today’s world.
Not one wrong note of acting. I read a lot of praise of Geetika Vidya’s portrayal of the childlike but abused maid, Sunita. It’s perhaps a reaction to something feeling so different in terms of class and personal familiarity. The way I saw it – everyone from Pavail Gulati (poor man simply doesn’t get enough recognition as he fades into the dominant aura of Sinha-Pannu) to Amrita’s father (an adorable Kumud Mishra) and of course Taapsee Pannu did a phenomenal job of making this real, not preachy or stereotypical and immensely moving and relatable.
As someone who studies the socio-dynamics of Indians, I’ve rarely seen a movie that does a better job of capturing the story and struggles of women and the society around them as well as this one.
Sinha said in an interview, “Women are the canvas, never the color. They are the lemonade, not the vodka.” He said this to explain how women are expected to mold themselves around a man’s world and needs with little thought to who they are and what they really want and therefore get dealt a lousy hand.
The judgment of women driving or having an expensive car comes from his own experiences where he noted that women were rarely given “the steering wheel of life” because those sorts of decisions are often made by men for them. While many women feel they made the choice to be a housewife (and he emphatically conveys this about Amrita and never makes her seem less for it,) his personal views seem to be that a non-earning woman who makes the home her domain will always suffer for it. It’s these views that are reflected in Vikram from the start of the movie.
A lot of the reviews talked about how “it’s even the good men who hold misogynistic views and they need to recalibrate” – but to me, it seemed patently obvious from the start that he was a problematic man. A man (especially a young one) who blames his wife for the printer not working, looks down upon women in general and is in all ways an intractable man-child who doesn’t know how to open a sealed pack of tea, is coming with clear warning labels that he will never be a mensch of a husband. Sucharita Tyagi called out his “mantrums” (beautiful word) but his ethical derailment as the movie progresses is not a surprise. It’s reality. The point at which Amrita tells him, “If I’d seen this version of you before, I’d never have loved you.” This is unfortunately all too common for women who tend to miss these obvious traits that are loud and clear in their partners. Right from the start.
There is no doubt at all that a whopping reason to love this movie is Anubhav Sushila Sinha. (Sushila = mom’s name)
Unfortunately, he doesn’t speak as much about his process as I would like him to. But he shows an understanding of people, human pain and the craft of writing and directing that makes me uber happy he exists. While I’m sure there are men who may feel vilified by the movie (doesn’t take much to offend the average Indian), he makes sure to have enough redeeming male characters – a (dead) James, Amrita’s father and “willing to reboot” brother, the boss who calls out Vikram and says in no uncertain terms that he was wrong. It takes a man in a position of power to get that message, eventually, across to a husband who forever simply failed to get the point of “all the drama.” The tagline “Bas itni si baat?” is also brilliant because Sinha wanted to establish that it may seem innocuous and it will for many, but honestly, we all need to recalibrate. For many women, it’s a question worth asking ourselves. My mom walked out of the theater thinking of how her entire generation was forced to subscribe to the “don’t rock the boat, just move on and make it work” theory. Which is clear evidence of unadulterated Sinha-power.
He calls the long monologue at the end, by Amrita, “The Karan Johar Scene.” The pooja, the fashion finery, the dialogue-baazi etc. He apparently struggled with whether it should be there at all considering all that had to be said had already been said many times over. They shot two versions of it – a “cheesier one” and the one we see now. Luckily, many of his director friends encouraged him to keep it. For most people who may not necessarily get the subtle cues strewn all over the movie (Ram Kapoor, the lawyer, consciously calls her Mrs.Saberwal in a divorce meeting to establish a lack of her own identity and the male power of his client), the clothes worn, the words said and the glances cast, this “hit you over the head with summary of the movie” – centered around the three women was critical to ensure that more of us were on the same page. The power, empathy and credibility the three of them bring to the scene, with the men mutely watching on – is crafted in superior glory.
I can’t recall a single song from the movie but am grateful the music doesn’t overpower the movie. However, on BGM – something Indian movies often assault our senses with and ruin a good scene, this movie gets that right. The walk post the slap is especially well done.
I was a little nervous about how it would end since we’ve been raised on a recommended diet of predictably happy endings to keep societal peace and norms. Especially if not Malayalam or art cinema. Thankfully it works beautifully –all 10 couple stories. Toward the end, a penitent and presumably rectified Vikram finally apologizes to her – he says “Main tujhe kamaoonga.” It is said to convey to her that he needs to earn her back, perhaps to deserve her love. But the language is still mercantile and one of money. It seemed to indicate that for some men, the sort that were raised with money, privilege and to value established codes over all else, the transition is a hard one to make. The semantics are extremely different from how Karan wants to “reboot” for Swati. I don’t know if that was Sinha’s intent, but it’s a story that often plays out in real India.
10+ reasons because honestly, it feels like if I saw this a few times more (and I will) there would be so much more to discover, love and cathartically cry about. I definitely did not feel this way about Article 15 and have not yet seen Mulk, but I am super grateful Thappad exists. For those considering watching it in the theater, do catch it while the conversations around it are still fresh. The last Hindi movie I watched in a theater was Dangal. I don’t often willingly walk into a theater with all of the loudness, and phone light blasting, the fear of being assaulted if you don’t stand up for the anthem while you’re in a wheelchair, late entries, food smell assaults of the Indian theater experience because it ruins movies for me.
For this, I’m glad I made that journey.
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