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Is Thappad Really A Feminist Movie, Or The Same Disappointing Gaslighting?

Posted: March 2, 2020

Thappad, the newest ‘feminist’ movie is getting praise for calling hidden domestic violence that is so normalised in marriages. But it is really the feminist wonder it is considered?

Taapsee Pannu’s new movie Thappad is being praised everywhere for its depiction of the hidden domestic violence that might come out inadvertently in the form of a thappad (slap). Something far too prevalent in a patriarchal society like ours – if not a thappad, it might come out in other ways like emotional abuse, financial abuse, gaslighting, etc.

But the premise remains the same – domestic abuse that is largely normalised. “Aise hi hota hai!” (This is how it is!)

But is the movie, for which the director Anubhav Sinha, and Taapsee Pannu playing the central character, and the rest, are garnering such praise, truly what it seems to be? Read on.

*MAJOR SPOILERS ALERT

The ‘good’ bahu

I’ve been thinking of the scene where Taapsee Pannu discovers she’s pregnant and rushes to visit her husband, then estranged from her, to whom she’s seen breaking the ‘good news,’ entering an apartment she left on her own free will, touching her mother-in-law’s feet, dutifully. The same woman who’s earlier seen telling her to swallow back her hurt and humiliation, after her beau, in an angry, drunken stupor, and, after being deprived of a lofty London promotion, slaps her hard, in front of a roomful of guests, including the woman’s parents, brother, and, his girlfriend and her in-laws and her spouse’s office top management.

That was the point, Thappad ended for me. “Mein tumhari bacche ki Ma banne wali hoon!” (I am pregnant with your child)

I sneered to myself, in my dark. Barf!! Circa, 2020? Really?

How else could Anubhav Sinha get multiplex viewers and their double-standard wali conscience to ‘feel for the character,’ after all? A pregnant, obedient, good wife who had been wronged by the man who was the sperm donor? The father? The patriarch? The moral police? The protector, and, guardian?

Mai Baap? Pati Parmeshwar? Patidev?

Feminism Lite, AGAIN?

Yesterday evening, the same guy friend who had recommended Thappad, said it worked for him because he originally belonged to a rural background, where his father would probably look at a woman, married returning late as something not ‘sanskari.’

That he would watch it with his parents.

I belong to an upper middle class, Bengali family, but I saw my single, widowed mother, being left out of family functions, as her shadow was considered inauspicious.

I have wondered why her parents, loving as they were towards me, never got her remarried, considering how young she was and why my grandfather treated her like his possession – admonishing her if she returned late? Was it protectiveness or punishment, really? Why was her whole life about service and duty and sacrifice? Is that what a woman who returns to her maternal home, following the fracture of a marriage, (Ma’s was a love marriage, that her mother had initially disagreed to), undergoes and is made to feel?

Why couldn’t Pannu play dirty?

If she could have the courage to tell the husband for whose love she chose to become a housewife and give up dance (I like how the creative and performing arts is always perceived as a threat in mainstream Bollywood. Remember journalist, advertising, model. Think slut) as a career, that she didn’t love him anymore, could she not cut him out of her child’s life? Why does she attend a puja, his mother, arranges for an unborn child, and why she is not really angry, ever?

Why does she weep in the last scene and confess, holding her mother-in-law’s wrinkled palms, that she never thought, growing up, that she would be a “bahu in such a bade ghar”! (a daughter in law in such a rich household)!

Why is she just hurt…. Does being hurt supercede being outraged?

What if Pannu hadn’t conceived? Or had chosen to abort this child? Or was having an affair, like her lawyer, a woman who is depicted as a brilliant, grey character, sneaking out of a loveless, dead marriage? A marriage where her worth depended on boiling aloe vera leaves into the tea concoction every morning, and packing a tiffin dabba and stuff an aloo parantha into the mouth of her corporate honcho husband?

The problem with Indian ‘sanskaar’

What if Pannu had slapped a domestic abuse case from the word go, instead of pussy footing around an incident that violated her space and rights and human dignity? Why did she continue being docile and meek? Why did she never question how her husband had always treated her like a glorified maid, even as the comparisons are made, through the film?

What about showing her restart her career?
What about her dressing, not so sanskari?
What about her leaving her hair open?
Having a drink, instead of being reduced to a chai-wali?

I ask if Indian film-makers, including ones like Anubhav Sinha, lauded as making ‘brave socially conscious’ films, are actually eager to please mainstream producers and studios where feminism is actually so little, and, the great, Indian middle classes? Who circulate and share porn and rape videos, but cannot stand their women talking back, screaming in protest, slapping back a man, or dragging his sorry ass to court and claiming inheritance or alimony or wanting him and his family behind bars?

Why are the parents also so bloody thanda, throughout?

Allowing the son-in-law to waltz in and out of their family home? Try and bribe the daughter, with a diamond bracelet? Why they are shown as so middle class, as opposed to the affluent in-laws with all the right connections? Why does the brother ride a bike, while, everyone else, an Audi or Benz?

Disappointing

I had many problems with Thappad, but, mostly because it is being advertised and marketed in the national media as India’s answer to Kabir Singh.

Which, it isn’t.

Tapsee Pannu looks pale as hell (I sorely missed her Manmarziyan spunk), through the film. Also, finally, when she does slap a Section 498 (A) on her husband, there is no drama around it.

Thappad lacks a climax.

To me, it’s high point, was only when Pannu’s lawyer, played ever so brilliantly by Maya Sarao, calls her lover with whom she has a fling, minutes after she stomps off on her rich, media mogul husband, to call off their clandestine affair, because she wants happiness, as a whole, and not to steal a moment with a younger man, in his car.

Like Panga, when I process Thappad, I realise it’s just a run-of-the-mill movie packaged as the real deal. And the reason we may be applauding it is not its brilliance or brawn, but because we are all so used to commercial, big budget trash, mostly.

Today as I write this, Thappad seems too simplistic. Dull. And, hackneyed, to the point of being sad, given its trailer garnered millions of views at its launch a few months back and given the alarming rates of domestic abuse in India.

The way I felt about Lunchbox. Or Queen.

The woman who dares to be brave.
The director who wants to tell a different ending.
But, isn’t telling it.
Or, can’t.

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About the Author: Sreemoyee Piu Kundu is the best selling writer of Sita’s Curse, You’ve Got The Wrong Girl, Faraway Music, Cut: The Death and Life of a Theatre Activist, and Status Single, and a columnist on gender and sexuality.

What is Domestic Violence & How to report domestic Violence - घरेलु हिंसा से बचाव (in Hindi)

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