There is scene in the film where a bespectacled crony of Vikram (Pavail Gulati) tells his heavyweight lawyer, “Thodi bahut maar-peet toh expression of love hi hai na sir!" (A little bit of hitting is an expression of love Sir)
as Vikram seeks legal advice over his wife’s divorce notice.
Director Anubhav Sinha’s placement of this dialogue in Thappad feels like a deliberate rejoinder to the makers of the Bollywood blockbuster Kabir Singh(2019) which almost eulogized the occasional slapping in romantic relationships. Thappad drives home the lesson that there can be no justification for even a stray slap on the face of the woman you love.
Amrita/Amu (played by Taapsee Pannu) is a housewife married to the suave Vikram. The couple lives in a lavish bungalow in an upscale neighborhood. Vikram has been vying for a promotion and a posting in London.
Amrita’s contentment in domesticity is unwavering, with her life arranged around her husband. The alarm rings at 6 am and Amrita is out of bed before the alarm can snooze. She picks up the newspaper and two bottles of milk, brews the morning tea with ginger and lemongrass, waters the plants while exchanging pleasantries with her neighbor (Dia Mirza), checks her mother-in-law’s blood sugar levels before unsuccessfully trying her hand at making parathas for breakfast. And oh, she also has to switch on the geyser for her husband.
The next phase of her routine involves trailing Vikram with his folders, wallet, and a thermos of coffee, as he rushes towards his Mercedes to leave for work. The scenes depicting the mundane routine life are repeated as Amrita shifts gears from being seemingly happily married to deciding to divorce her husband, sending across the message that misogyny is ubiquitous and interwoven in our daily lives.
Amrita’s comfortably boring existence does a volte face when Vikram slaps her in public, during a house party, after being informed that his promotion has been repealed. The party continues, she retreats to her room in a state of shock where her mother-in-law urges her to join the party as there are guests outside. The next day Amu tries to seek solace in her routine while hoping that someone would pacify and empathize with her. Her hopes come crashing down when her mother-in-law asks her whether Vikram slept properly.
Vikram gives an excuse of an apology saying he was incensed after knowing that his promotion had been denied and that he slapped her in the heat of the moment and that “Shit happens!” Amu is coerced by her mother and mother-in-law to move on because “Thoda bardaasht karna seekhna padta hai auraton ko!” (Women have to learn to tolerate a little bit.)
Vikram’s sense of entitlement is so all-encompassing that when Amu decides to stay in her parents’ house for a few days, he urges her to not leave because he is upset due to the mess in his professional life.
From the arrogant and not excessively villainous Vikram, to a distinguished lawyer’s (Maya Sarrao)husband who feels entitled to forcibly seek sexual fulfillment, to Amu’s maid’s (Geetika Vidya) husband who assaults her on a regular basis, Thappad also debunks the stereotype for the abusers. Class and social status are not guarantors of men not possessing shades of toxic masculinity.
Even Amu’s father (Kumud Mishra), who plays the role of a loving father and the only one who doesn’t convince Amu to go back to her marital home, is shown the mirror by his wife (Ratna Pathak Shah) for never having cared about her interest and passion. And, that is where Thappad emerges victorious; it shows the extent to which women are dehumanized and how male entitlement is legitimized by the norms in our daily lives.
(Edited by Athira Nair)