The contrast and balance make Thappad a well crafted art without losing the profundity and emotional essence

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When Netra Jaisingh indulges in a clandestine affair with a younger man, the morally critical audience raises an eyebrow. Though the character gradually justifies its actions and convinces the viewer much like Thomas Hardy’s tragic heroine, Eustacia Vye who believed in fidelity for love and not for fidelity’s sake.

When I was asked- how was Thappad? I could only say that it is profound. It moves a woman, makes her weep and makes her rethink her decisions. My friend beside me whispered in my ears, ‘I will watch this movie whenever I feel like getting married.’

Watching Thappad made me reflect on the unacknowledged sacrifices of women around me of all age groups and all social stratus. The character of Amrita, the perfect housewife, is interestingly real. The modern housewife herself choosing to manage the household and take care of her husband’s parents made me question norms around me.

Who created this image of the modern housewife? A Marxist feminist would view this as an economic injustice to the woman for her unpaid work, which is in practice untrue for there is a division of labor; the man earns the bread and maintains the wife for her domestic labor. On taking note the modern housewife can also fit in the shape of a maid who is treated with respect that a human deserves (in a decent household) and is coerced to complete duties. The point being made is not about how a maid or a wife must be treated but are the duties of both same? The woman suffers from a crisis where she loses her individuality, where her dreams are aligned with her husband’s and devotes her life to the cause of her man’s, and often by choice with no complaints.

I have met many women for whom the idea of a happy life involves being a wife and a daughter-in-law and perfecting that role. Though radical feminists will argue and stress on liberation from these duties which practically and even ideally is unsuited for an Indian society. Just as a woman cannot cease being a daughter or a sister, similarly she cannot liberate herself from being a wife or a mother. Yet does a girl need to give up on her career to become a full time daughter?

What Thappad does is clever, it balances the characters. If on one hand there is an ambitious hot headed man like Vikram, on the other hand there is another man like Amrita’s father. Though the movie ends with two strained relationships and discovery of the self in liberation, it also highlights the tightening of loose ends in two other relationships, Amrita’s parents and her brother’s with Swati. Focusing on relationships, it does not neglect the single mother who suffers the loss of a loving and wonderful husband and finds solace alone, making her independent living. In sharp contrast, there is Shivani, the house help who earns the bread and gets beaten up by the drunkard husband.

Similarly this concept of a modern housewife who is educated and eligible for a job but chooses to become a housewife has stemmed from years of cinema and television where the concept of the ‘adarsh bahu’ developed and the love of a male patriarch cherished while he is elevated to a pedestal. The concept of ‘pati parmeshwar’ and excusing the man for all mistakes on the virtue of his being a man sometimes takes very refined forms and the same is challenged and shattered in the film. The discrepancies in the institution of marriage and sexual division of labor are themes that subtly run underneath the film. A woman’s quest for her own self is absent.

Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad reminded me of Noah Baumbach’s  Marriage Story that stars Scarlet Johansson who finds herself similarly overshadowed by the husband in the marriage, but unlike the Indian film, she did not need a slap to realize that.

A very strong message that comes out as a slap on the audience’s face is that a woman needs a slap to realize that there is something inherently wrong in her relationship. The relationship between Amrita and Vikram would have worked just as smoothly had he not found Amrita in a hot situation. Besides the apparent message, it also satirizes gender roles implicitly.

What Thappad does is clever, it balances the characters. If on one hand there is an ambitious hot headed man like Vikram, on the other hand there is another man like Amrita’s father. Though the movie ends with two strained relationships and discovery of the self in liberation, it also highlights the tightening of loose ends in two other relationships, Amrita’s parents and her brother’s with Swati. Focusing on relationships, it does not neglect the single mother who suffers the loss of a loving and wonderful husband and finds solace alone, making her independent living. In sharp contrast, there is Shivani, the house help who earns the bread and gets beaten up by the drunkard husband.

A fresh and poignant film that neither demonizes nor glorifies, presents real life characters than caricatures of a misogynist or a feminist. It makes a man introspect where he is wrong in a relationship and a woman reflect where she allows the wrongs. The contrast and balance make this film a well crafted art without losing the profundity and emotional essence.

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