If there is one movie, you’d watch in 2020, or even this decade, make it Thappad! It’s not about the best or larger than life visual treat and cinematic experiences like Bahubali or Tanhaji. It’s about real things. It’s about you and me. It’s about being a woman. It’s about being a woman, in India.
Tonight, many men in India would be laying on their beds thinking silently of the slap(s) they have delivered on their wives, in a moment of rage, as misplaced aggression, or just like that, and almost all will justify the slaps as ‘okay’ and ‘necessary’ to reform the woman in question, grant themselves bail and snore away to glory. Most men do not have the intellectual distinction to separate abuse from love and more often than not view love and ownership interchangeably.
The society has measurable standards for ‘good husband’. Ironically, everyone but the wife is allowed the right to quantify the goodness of a husband usually on the basis of his family lineage and professional and financial stability. The more financially affluent and socially high-ranking a man is the more he scores on the ‘good husband’ scale. The wife is coerced to believe that she indeed is lucky to have a ‘good husband’ and must be grateful to her stars for the prized catch. The onus to keep the marriage working is placed on her shoulders and failure is not usually an option. In some stray cases, if at all a husband has some vices that are glaring to the eyes like being alcoholic, having severe anger management issues, being a womanizer or something else, the society places the onus of rehabilitating the erring husband on the good wife.
This is about the clinching sound of the ever-acceptable slap that most Indian households are familiar with. This is about the deeply embedded sense of patriarchy that is rooted in us. This is about the years of conditioning that not only reinforces patriarchy but also glorifies abuse as a form of love.
The film, and the slap at the center of it, is not about domestic violence. It’s about entitlement, outdated social structures and gender expectations. It’s about a regular ‘loving’ husband who is all that a dream husband can be, that slaps his wife in a moment of anger, just once, and apologizes for it later on (when it gets messy).
The premise is set. Loving husband, just one slap, apology! We have already forgiven him in our minds. We see him as a regular guy, because we call such ‘loving’ men as our husbands, brothers and fathers. And we have by all chances lived the slap. And forgiven too. Never forgotten, though!
When Amrita (the protagonist) decides to end the marriage after the ‘slap episode’ viewers are constantly asking themselves “Isn’t she taking it too far?”, “She doesn’t need to make such a big deal of it?”, “It’s the first such instance and he is asking for forgiveness too, she must be an adamant woman.” Perhaps, that’s exactly the self-talk the director wants you to have.
Amrita is not portrayed as an independent working woman with a career or ambition. Had she been a working independent woman, judging her would have been the easiest. The viewer (read society) would have been quick to attribute her choices and actions to her being independent. On the contrary she is shown as a demure homemaker who is happy to manage the household. She is unsure of where life would take her, but what she is sure of is that she will not be able to face herself is she accepts the slap and moves on! Now, that comes from having self-worth, a concept not many women are familiar with. Self-worth has little to do with education and independence. This is reaffirmed by Nethra’s (the successful high-profile lawyer) inability to take a stand for herself in her crumbling marriage that looks perfect from the outside. Nethra is amused when Amrita is clear that she will not demand alimony or base her case on false claims of domestic violence and dowry, to make it stronger. There are open questions about the outdated legal system that govern marriage and divorce. It questions outdated laws that define, decide and drive cases of divorce on grounds of abuse and incompatibility.
Amrita is not on the war-path to avenge the one-time-abuse. On the contrary she is candid enough to accept that the ‘slap’ was the culmination of the many small and big issues that she ignored in the past. She is candid enough to accept that she has fallen out of love with a man who is insensitive and self-centred. She is candid enough to accept that she does not feel equal or valued in the marriage and wants a closure, without conditions. Perhaps, somewhere deep inside she knows her the emotional quotient of husband and believes he can neither understand her perspective nor her feelings.
Thappad, is a slap on the face of our patriarchal society. Patriarchy is not about men only. It’s is a paradigm that exists in each one of us, as a people, and ironically women are equal champions in keeping the patriarchal paradigm alive. Patriarchy is so subtly practiced that it has become a way of life, setting new lows every day. It’s time we, irrespective of our gender – as parents, partners, spouses, siblings, and colleagues train ourselves to develop our emotional quotients to alarm us when we talk and act in ways that reek of patriarchy. It will never be enough if only the government makes laws for women empowerment, education, and safety unless we deal with PATRIARCHY at its deepest level.
In conclusion, I leave an open question to both men and women:
“Would it be the same if the husband was slapped by the wife in a fit of rage?” Would you still say “It’s just a slap!”
To me, it’s not about ‘just a slap’. It’s neither about being right or wrong. It’s about your self-worth and how it makes you feel.