It is natural for a creative artiste in cinema to think that more of anything good is better. While that may be so in some cases, in the predominant majority of cases, less is more.
At 2.22 hours, “Thappad” thus becomes a bit of a drag at more places than one. As it is, the story revolves around an angry slap that should not have happened. Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) and husband Vikram (Pavail Gulati) are celebrating his incipient promotion to London when he receives bad news and loses his control and tries roughing up a colleague. Amrita tries to prevent him from becoming violent and receives a resounding slap.
So far they have been a loving couple, but for Amrita now, it’s the end of her bond with her husband. Soon, though pregnant (as she discovers), she files for divorce. Naturally, all this leaves everyone from her loving parents (Kumud Mishra and Ratna Pathak Shah) and brother (Ankur Rathee) to Vikram’s family led by his diabetes-afflicted mother (Tanvi Azmi) aghast. Their neighboring widow Shivani (Dia Mirza) whose daughter (Gracy Bitin Goswami) is being tutored in Kathak by Amruta, is also shocked.
Several parallel tracks run in the film. Vikram’s mother lives away from his father; Shivani’s late husband had been an ideal one; Amruta’s domestic servant Sunita (Geetika Vidya) is silently suffering from her husband’s ( a good actor) excesses; Amruta’s future lawyer Netra (Maya Sarao) has issues with her self-obsessed husband (Manav Kaul); and Amruta’s brother cannot see eye-to-eye with his girl Swati (Naila Grewal), who is Netra’s assistant. We also come to know that Amruta would have liked to make a career in Kathak but was weaned off any such ideas by her mother, who had herself sacrificed a career as a radio singer after marriage.
Note, however, that Amruta and her mother had both made these choices themselves, without any demand or coercion from their husbands or families.
All these side stories do make the film more interesting, and yet we cannot help wonder why everyone around Amruta must have such back-stories with the exception of Vikram’s brother (Siddhant Karnick) and his wife (Niddhi Utttam)! By the law of averages, even in small-town Lucknow, this seems a bit too much!
However, director Anubhav Sinha (a co-writer as well) wants to leave no stone unturned in showing how women are suppressed and repressed, so he pushes the envelope very far, so to speak. A ridiculous show of support to women that ends up being ludicrous and farcical is in the beginning credits where everyone, male or female, has his or her name written in the titles along with their mother mentioned, like “Anubhav Sushila Sinha” or “Bhushan Sudesh Kumar!”
That said, Sinha’s script moves a bit too placidly, though his dialogues are simple and pack a punch most of the time by their low-key, non-hysterical directness.
However, the places where the film unforgivably drags include the immediate aftermath of the slap (“Thappad”) wherein Amruta is confused and seems to dilly and dally about what she should do. The reactions of the two families too, as shown one by one, could have been crisper.
Sinha also seems to be overly impressed by “The Lunchbox,” wherein the same routine sequence of events was shown ad infinitum! The newspaperman throws the paper into their compound, Amruta picks up the milk BOTTLES (strange to show this in the era of the mobilephones!), picks up a leaf or two from the potted lemongrass, puts on the stove for the tea and scrapes ginger into it along with leaves. She then carries the tea to her sleeping husband and wakes him up. Needless to say, she is missing from the time she leaves home when the sequence is shown at least toice with necessary modifications!
On the other hand, Sinha handles the servant’s revolt at home rather well, and is even better in the sequence where Amruta speaks frankly to her loving mom-in-law at the puja. The confrontation between Karan and his father is excellent, and so is the sequence wherein Netra breaks free from her husband, who has bene long taking her for granted. A standout scene is where Vikram tries to cajole Shivani into making her daughter testify that he did not slap Amruta at the party.
All in all, the film does make a mark, though brevity and editing could have enhanced the impact with much more to think about after the film has ended and viewers are carrying a part or all of it home.
As usual, Sinha extracts nuanced and extraordinary performances from his cast, and Taapsee Pannu towers in her essay of the hapless and then determined Amruta. From the rest, the honors are effortlessly stolen by Kumud Mishra as her father, followed—strictly in that order—by Ratna Pathak Shah, Geetika Vidya, Tanvi Azmi, Maya Sarao, Ram Kapoor and Naila Grewal. Mishra is just fantastic, and Shah and Vidya are superlative.
The songs are meant not to matter, but Mangesh Dhakde’s background score is odd and often incongruous, though happily not intrusive. The technical side is fine. On the whole, this is one of those films where the line, made famous many years ago by Amitabh Bachchan in an orange cola ad, rings true—“Zor ka dhakka dheere se lage (The solid impact comes gradually).” The impact of the film increases the more you think about it. And I loved that optimistic note at the end.
Rating: **** (Almost)
Produced by: Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar and Anubhav Sinha
Directed by: Anubhav Sinha
Written by: Mrunmayee Lagoo & Anubhav Sinha
Music: Anurag Saikia
Starring: Taapsee Pannu, Pavail Gulati, Dia Mirza, Kumud Mishra, Ratna Pathak Shah. Tanvi Azmi, Anil Rastogi, Maya Sarao, Geetika Vidya, Ram Kapoor, Manav Kaul, Naila Grewal, Ankur Rathee, Siddhant Karnick, Purnendu Bhattacharya, Shantanu Ghatak, Harssh Singh, Sushil Dahiya, Gracy Bitin Goswami, Bhavesh Babani, Rohan Khurana, Niddhi Uttam & others