Indian Marriage Story:
Rating: Three stars
The drama in Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad takes off from the scene in which a wife is slapped by her husband at a party at their home; the problem, however, is not “just a slap” but the deeper layers of patriarchy, and the built in iniquities in a traditional marriage.
As Amrita (Taapsee Pannu—another strong performance) says at one point, after explaining to her lawyer that she chose to be a housewife, it was not forced on her, “maybe I turned myself into the kind of woman who can be slapped.”
Till that point, there is no indication of any strain in her marriage with Vikram (Pavail Gulati—a very impressive debut); there is the morning routine of her making tea and breakfast, waking him up with his bed tea, checking on her mother-in-law’s (Tanvi Azmi) blood sugar, and supervising the domestic help Sunita (Geetika Vidya). Except for one dance teaching session next door, Sinha does not show what she does all day—no ‘desperate housewife’ signals. The couple is never seen having a routine conversational exchange. She seems happy, but somewhere in her mind is the regret, that she ignored her talent for dance.
Vikram is like millions of Indian men, so spoilt by mothers, sisters, wives and maids, that they cannot even make themselves a cup of tea. But, because he is a successful professional and can afford to give his family a comfortable life, his position as the one who expects—and gets—a smooth home life is never in question. Or perhaps, the division of his and her roles is automatically set in this kind of marriage. When he slaps Amrita, nobody tells him to apologise, everyone pontificates at her—including her own mother (Ratna Pathak Shah). The mother-in-law, who for some unexplained reason has left her husband and marital home, tells her it is a “ghar ki baat” and she must attend to the guests, who have witnessed her humiliation.
Amrita goes to spend time at her parents’ home– her father (Kumud Mishra) is supportive, but her brother thinks she is overreacting. When she refuses to return, Vikram files for restitution of conjugal rights, and she demands a divorce. Her lawyer, Netra (Maya Sarao) putting up with a stifling marriage to maintain her social position, warns her that divorce can get ugly. (The scenes of negotiations are very reminiscent of 2019 Hollywood film Marriage Story.) When Vikram’s lawyer (Ram Kapoor) enters the picture, it does get unpleasant, more so when Amrita finds herself pregnant. (Unfortunately, the standard ‘punishment’ for a recalcitrant woman.)
The message of Sinha’s film (co-scripted by Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul) is clear—a woman gets to decide whether she wants to forgive, or prefers to fight for her self-worth. But the route to it is unnecessarily circuitous, with characters—like the neighbour (Dia Mirza), who serves no purpose, or the stereotype of the working class woman, who puts up with domestic violence, because she has no choice. The film does have many powerful lines, most of which are in the promo.
Rather conveniently, Sinha goes for a sort of happy—though open-ended– climax to the story. Thappad raises a few valid questions but leaves so many unanswered. There is also a simplistic series of epiphanies that hit the other characters in the film who are involved with Amrita’s troubles, as if one couple’s divorce is such a rare occurrence that it shakes the foundations of other lives. Most films about women who walk out of bad marriages do not go into the aftermath, or ask : How will the newly single woman support herself and her child? How will she survive with dignity in a society so skewed against women? Maybe Thappad needs a sequel. One must also note the tokenism of the director and every male technician adding his mother’s name before his surname in the opening credits. Is it temporary or permanent?