THAPPAD: AN ATTEMPT TO RE-CONCEPUTALIZE FEMINISM?

Thappad tries to outline the patriarchal conditioning ingrained in the society. It provides a fresh outlook on the power-relations that are present structurally.

Thappad (translated: Slap) is a Bollywood Movie directed by Anubhav Sinha. Thappad tries to break the conventional norms ingrained in our society, and seeks to question their very foundation. The story-line revolves around Amrita (Taapsee Pannu), who decides to revisit her “perfect” marital relationship. This realisation occurs right after the titular scene, when her husband Vikram (Pavail Gulati) slaps her in a fit of rage.

This movie tries to focus on Amrita’s journey to re-establish her astray self-respect. It also inculcates various sub-plots, that simultaneously converge into one another and are equally credible in executing the broader theme. It has been rated 6.9 on IMDb, and has opened to a mixed bag of reviews. Some believe that it vividly tries to fake the spirit of women empowerment, while others believe that it has regenerated women empowerment all together.

Personally, this film has made me question my own upbringing and social values. In our society, the “normalisation” of intimate partner violence is quite prevalent. According to a report by the United Nations, violence against women is a universal phenomenon, and the contours mostly begin from within the confines of intimate partners. Also, the World Health Organization states that 1 out of 3 women are subjected to violence, either physical, psychological, emotional or financial.

The title “Thappad” is relevant for the movie, as it perfectly showcases the consequences behind intimate partner violence. One act (the titular act of slapping) was enough to be classified as violence as it had caused so much mental agony to Amrita. The film also highlights the various barriers that women face in accessing justice and legal protection.

In India, the laws on domestic violence are subjected to practical difficulties with their actual implementation. Despite legal recourse being available including Section 498A under Indian Penal Code, a few women are actually able to use it.  Thappad rightfully portrays the law as fundamentally inadequate. There are a few instances, which try to put Amrita down- a process known as “secondary victimisation”.  Even her lawyer tries to convince her to take the “easy way out” and not go into the toxic shadow of further emotional abuse i.e. divorce proceedings. One “thappad” was hardly enough in the eyes of law to seek divorce, even by mutual consent.

Feminism is rather mistaken as a medium to advocate for the “battle of the sexes” – a  movement to beat men.  It is perceived as a muddied term and its meaning is ambiguous- in the light of the boy’s locker room movement. However, it covers a composite understanding of gender-oppression. Most importantly, feminism is a collective movement which accounts for the promotion of equality. Gender- equality can only be attained though the elimination of all forms of structural domination that persists. This can be done by destabilizing the power-relations around us.

In a way, Thappad tries to outline the patriarchal conditioning ingrained in the society. It provides a fresh outlook on the power-relations that are present structurally. The first power disparity is shown between the protagonist and her husband, Vikram. Vikram might seem as an ideal husband at first- loving, caring and a devoted husband. If we go behind these false fallacies, we might notice that Amrita’s life revolves around Vikram. She tries to arrange her life in between her husband’s schedule. This very well shows that Vikram always had the upper-hand in the relationship. This is the bitter truth of many marital relationships across the globe. Other power-relations are shown simultaneously between other stake-holders such as Amrita’s lawyer and her husband, Amrita’s Maid and her husband and so on. All the female characters face systematic oppression in some way or the other.

Feminism also deals with the socially-constructed gender stereotypes and roles. There is a subjective construct that men are more socially accepted to express their aggression. Thappad’s plot seeks to attack this very cultural establishment, and defy all expectations that there should be any construct that is stereotyped to one particular gender. Amrita should be allowed to express her feelings of contempt, fear and anger. Instead, she was told to “sleep” over the titular incident and forget about it the very next day.

Intersectionality is also an important component of Feminism. Intersectionality can be perceived as a phenomenon which caters to the overlapping identities and the systematic oppression that they face. All oppressions should be taken into consideration and identified collectively, not singularly or separately.  This is important in order to challenge the structures in which these are laid out.  Thappad tries to address the oppression faced by different identities, through a strong-worded narrative and inclusion of a well-crafted supporting cast.

Ranging from Amrita’s maid to Amrita’s Lawyer- all face structural discrimination within the confines of their own- households. Amrita’s maid- Sunita is shown to be facing regular violence from the start itself and Amrita turns a blind eye towards the very same act. While critics might assume that a  loophole of the plot could be that it normalizes domestic violence amongst the lower class. It would be safe to say that it justifies intersectional feminism, as Sunita retaliated in the end and this can act as her attempt to destabilize the power-relations around her.  Same goes with Netra (Amrita’s lawyer), as she also walks out of her marital household after being tortured by her husband’s brutish behaviour in the bedroom.

The movie’s screenplay forwards a powerful depiction of empowerment. Towards the climax, all the sub-plots are managed to be woven together- all characters are empowered. In the case of Vikram, we witness his transition from an unapologetic human-being to a person who genuinely repents the consequences of his act. This can be subjected to as empowerment on a collective level.

Therefore, I would like to conclude by saying that Thappad does not demonize the alleged perpetrators. It rather forces us to review our own social conditioning for the better. We should refrain from categorizing certain actions as “oppression”, because even one slap should be recognised as violence- not merely physical violence. This kind of collective consciousness would surely be reflected towards the making of a sensitised judicial discourse.

The movie honestly makes an attempt to re-conceptualize feminism, as a social movement which calls for gender-equality, but in a same way seeks for the reconstruction of the society.

Cover Image Credits: Gayathri N.

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