Anubhav Sinha’s film ‘Thappad’ released to a wide spectrum of responses, from being hailed a masterpiece to being reduced to a film by and for “feminazis”. The film released on Amazon Prime Video on May 1st, 2020.
Thappad follows the lives of Amrita and Vikram, a married couple living in a mundane but, for the most part, happy existence. Vikram is an ambitious business executive and Amrita a cheerfully doting housewife – each seemingly comfortable and content in their roles.
The turning point of the film occurs during a party at their house. Vikram gets into a fight with his colleague. As the conflict escalates, with Amrita attempting to restrain him, Vikram turns around and slaps her.
Women And Work
The film explores the concept of a working woman in several different forms. We see it in the lawyer Nethra – working hard and flourishing in her career – and her assistant, Swati – an intelligent, driven, and ‘woke’ girl. We see it in the house-help, Sunita, cooking and cleaning in Amrita’s house. It is also apparent in Shivani, Amrita’s neighbour and single mother, who drives expensive cars, has important calls to attend, and clearly works hard to make ends meet for herself and her daughter.
However, we also see it in Amrita, who works tirelessly from dawn to dusk to ease things for Vikram – making her life flexible to neatly fit around his. She voluntarily gave up a career in dancing to be a homemaker – never blaming Vikram for the compromise she made. We see it in her unassuming mother and mother-in-law, and in several women all around us – work we brush off as “duty”.
All women work, but not all of them are paid for it. The lack of monetary compensation shouldn’t lessen the value of their work.
The value assigned to women’s work is insufficient and vague to begin with. Even a successful lawyer like Nethra is expected to be grateful to her big-shot husband and father-in-law for her career. Swati is still patronised and judged for smoking. The house-help Sunita does back-breaking menial work in another’s house, and is subjected to blows from her husband in her own. When Vikram sees Shivani drive off in her expensive car, he derisively comments, “Yeh kya karti hai?”.
Women’s work, irrespective of their class or privilege, continues to be undervalued and ignored.
Violence And Love
The slap itself is not the primary reason for Amrita’s ensuing decision to leave her husband, but how it breaks everything that came before it and everything it entails moving forward.
She makes it clear that her work as a “housewife” is something she has been happy to do – something she willfully chooses to do. Her disillusionment with her marriage stems from the realisation that her years of being flexible, compromising, and serving her husband have not only been undervalued, but have made her seem like someone he felt entitled to hit.
Vikram attempts to justify the slap as a result of his being extremely emotionally invested in his job promotion and being unable to move on from the loss of it. Amrita points out that in arranging her whole life around his, she too had emotionally invested herself in his life completely. She too was unable to move on from the slap that shattered it all.
The slap then is not “just a slap” or “an expression of true love”, that everyone around her says “hota rehta hai” – something she should just forgive and forget.
Gendered Inequity In Relationships
Rahul Desai in his film review describes Thappad’s slap as “the cumulative consequence of several patronizing little pats”.
It highlights the inequity in their relationship to Amrita and wakes her up from the peaceful slumber her domestic tranquility.
Amrita hurriedly snoozes her alarm and pulls the curtain closer together so as not to wake Vikram. Vikram doesn’t wake up unless woken up by Amrita with a tray of coffee and biscuits in bed. Amrita makes parathas. Vikram jokingly chastises her culinary skills and barely eats them. Amrita runs after Vikram with his bag and wallet. Vikram briskly tells Amrita to fix the printer and bring him his file while working from home.
Power inequities in relationships have been passed on through generational conditioning and are so deeply ingrained in our familial and social fabric that they have become invisible and normalised.
Women themselves, across generations and class, have become perpetrators of these inequities. They are so habituated to being treated as second-class citizens, that they don’t even attempt to see a possibility of a reality where they aren’t.
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Breaking The Cycle
It takes one woman to refuse to be a part of the endless cycle of tolerance, and call out normalized inequities for the other women to wake up to the injustices in their own lives.
Amrita’s determination and bravery has a ripple effect on all the women in her life – be it her mother, mother-in-law, brother’s girlfriend, lawyer, or maid.
Each woman derives realisation and courage from Amrita’s actions, and attempts to fight for themselves and break free of the cycle in their own way. It could be quiet and unassuming, like Nethra finally leaving her marriage to her chauvinistic husband, or explosive like Sunita fighting back against her husband when he hits her.
Whatever the step, no matter how big or small, it’s time to break free of the shackles of “bardasht karna”. It is time women don’t live a life of tolerating the injustices, but enjoying what’s rightfully theirs.