When we talk about some of the best titles over the years, we often look at how the title of a film creates a sense of intrigue in an otherwise uncaring individual about the film. Let’s see how Thappad which translates to a slap, fares in this regard. Short titles often work well as they generate greater recall value and Thappad being a common Hindi word is very easy to remember. A good title also reveals a sense of the plot to tug the strings of curiosity of the viewer. Thappad does this rather obviously which makes it less intriguing and more obvious. The title screams what the film is about so loudly that a viewer might even be repelled rather than pulled in for a viewing.
Premise/ Logline Review
Logline – A young housewife leads a content life with her husband until he slaps her at a party. The incident shatters her world view as she files for divorce. (Click here to find out what a logline is)
Just like the title, the logline is clear and describes the events that led to the “Thappad” and its aftermath. The Hindi film industry is going through a phase where societal issues are being used as central themes and various films bank on their overt moralistic takes to sell their films. Thappad is no different and the premise clearly shows us why.
The premise on the outset sounds like one, which could very well be a short film concept or runs out like an episode of a show. It sounds like a concept too thin to be explored through 2 and half hours (which is roughly the length of the film). Nevertheless, it is an explosive premise which hooks the reader and elicits a strong urge to know the consequences of the event and what the writers were trying to get at through this logline.
The story of Thappad is told in a direct, linear and simplistic fashion. The plot begins with the introduction of all the characters of the story and how each of them unknowingly cope in the patriarchal relationships around them. Be it the protagonist Amrita being asked for help by her entitled husband Vikram or the contrasting relationship of Amrita’s parents, the film tries to quickly acquaint its audience with its theme and mood.
The first act of the plot tries to capture the routine of Amrita as she devotes her daily life into being a good housewife and how her dreams align with her husband’s goals. She is supportive of her husband who expects to crack a promotion that will transfer him to London. This is spoken about as significant improvement on their already upper-middle-class lifestyle. Vikram manages to get his promotion and celebrates it by throwing a big house party for his friends and family. This is when he gets a call informing him that his promotion has been overturned due to some office politics. A frustrated figure, Vikram confronts a senior colleague as Amrita tries to pull him away but in a fit of rage, he publicly slaps her.
Amrita is shattered from this moment on as various people including near and dear ones including Vikram ask her to forget about it claiming that it was a minor mishap and she should move on. Every such reaction makes her feel more and more defiant as she moves back to her parents, contemplates if she loves her husband anymore and seeks legal advice.
The plot is designed to feel very believable and real as the makers try to make one feel that such an incident can happen with one and all and for most parts this approach is commendable. What works against this approach is the fact that the story seems to take an eternity to change gears and turn into a drama that is nail-biting or remotely intriguing. The execution of this linear story makes you capable of predicting what might happen next at least until the end of the first act which runs until 40 minutes. When a film’s title denotes the end of the first act, one would wish that the screenplay was tweaked to make the act more engaging than how it plays out.
Thappad’s pace can be considered as one of its weakest links. From the get-go, one knows that the story will begin only after the protagonist is slapped and waiting for it feels like an eternity – 30 minutes to be exact. Now while some might say that half an hour is adequate time for the first act to play out, I would disagree pointing out that as an audience I already knew the end of the first act before it started. Keeping this in mind, the filmmakers should have taken another route for me to be engaged – they could have chosen a different title or even misdirected the film to make it tricky to anticipate the next point of Thappad.
What is even more frustrating is that the next two acts play out in almost 2 hours, making the film a 141-minute slog. Due to the film’s moral standpoint and a weakly written antagonist, Thappad gets into a zone where we want to see complexity in Amrita’s stand and understand how her fight is as tough as it is but we soon realise that even though her stand is commendable, her husband doesn’t have any chinks up his armour to make life difficult for her. This imbalance makes the narrative boring and rather didactic turning into a school lecture at times. The same story could have been told inside 90-100 minutes but I assume, commercial pressures must have forced makers to make a 2 and a half-hour film.
Continuing on the argument about imbalanced characters, Thappad is a very good example of how to not pit imbalanced characters. The problem of pitting Amrita against her husband Vikram is that Vikram is a brilliantly written man child but nothing more. He is an excellent product of the evil patriarchal set up in Indian households but he is not equipped to challenge the grit and clear-headedness his wife brings. She is as we would call it a flat arc character because Amrita is under no illusions of what is right and wrong. She has a quiet confidence about her and won’t be bogged down by any sentiment or familial pressures thrown at her. She starts as she finishes – strong.
While the characterisation of this central couple wasn’t something to behold, the characterisation of Amrita’s parents was beautiful. It was refreshing to see her father (played by the fantastic Kumud Mishra) as a feminist who was a pillar of strength for Amrita and also a great embodiment of a supportive, empathetic man. Amrita’s mother played by Ratna Pathak Shah was also commendable as she as well as Vikram’s mother were characterised as victims of tradition and patriarchy. The rest of the supporting cast also showcased diverse viewpoints and it was interesting to watch how lawyers, friends, siblings, neighbours and maids reacted to the inciting Thappad.
The dialogues of Thappad were organic and each character’s voice could be differentiated. The characters spoke in a grounded manner and all the lines matched the situation they were in. The lines felt refreshing as they did not go overboard with melodramatic speeches even when the constructed scenes allowed for it.
Due to the setting and the lack of punch in the lines though, it is difficult to remember significant lines from the story apart from those which are talking about the evils of patriarchy or about how a slap is also enough grounds to call it quits. There is a sense of maturity in the way the dialogues were written and for that, the writers must be appreciated.
Theme & Tone Review
The theme of Thappad is as blatantly put forward as its title. It is a clear cut story which wants to call out the evils of Patriarchy in Indian households and takes a strong dig at domestic violence prevalent in many households.
But when we dig deeper in search for other themes, we find some smart areas of discourse. One of them comes out from a scene between Amrita’s parents where her mother says that traditions have been passed on generation after generation and she was a sacrificial goat in this process too. She left her music after her marriage which shocks her husband, who asks her of why she never revealed such an important regretful detail. This scene perfectly showcases the complexity and struggle that women and men face while adhering to traditions and also showcases how a feminist man can fall short in his attempts to be supportive and understanding towards his partner. We also get to understand how the law works around cases of domestic violence and the shame attached to revealing personal details like these.
The tone of the film remains consistent with the themes of hurt, shame and contemplation. The story doesn’t feel jarring even though it’s very slow.
The structure of Thappad is linear and simple to understand in its telling. The first ten minutes of the movie bring you up to speed with what the film is trying to say and there is no problem in grasping any situation or scene.
Even though the story builds well emotionally engaging the viewer, there are clear issues with the length of the story as mentioned before. The scenes are tight but the number of them feels stretched to accommodate the two and a half-hour format.
The only problem structurally is that due to the weakly written antagonist, every time he comes on screen, he feels like a headless chicken in scenes which ultimately do not impact the overall story. The scenes of the supporting cast are well spread out and their little narratives give us multiple tracks to understand how the characters arced and if each got their closures.
If there is one thing Thappad should be lauded for, it is their originality. The story is a very honest telling of the characters, so much so that the makers take a gamble by creating imbalanced characters who are extremely relatable even if not the most engaging.
The way the dialogues are written and the scenes constructed, one can make out how the makers chose honesty over formulaic storytelling when it came to showing Amrita’s struggle. Due to the dearth of such approaches in the Hindi film industry, Thappad’s sensitive approach to the subject must be commended.
Due to the sensitivity of the subject being explored, Thappad does a great job in making the story as marketable as possible. Songs and a peppy sound design come and go to break the tension and keep the audience engaged. Also, the choice of trailer and title makes me feel that the makers wanted both to be as sensational as possible to attract the masses. There is nothing indie about their approach and Taapsee Pannu was a great casting choice as she has been on a roll when it comes to playing central characters in female-oriented films. All in all, the film struck a good balance between being marketable while also not selling their soul and telling an important story.
Most Memorable Scene
Amrita’s heart to heart conversation with her mother in law.Scene unavailable online. To watch Thappad click here