It’s easy to spot a Meghna Gulzar film in the midst of her contemporaries’ work. There isn’t so much sho-sha, the story-telling is straight-forward, sincere and (almost) vanilla, and yet, she never pulls any punches on which way she’s leaning. Last year, when the rest of Bollywood was busy making villains out of Pakistan and India’s Muslim population, she made Raazi, a film that treated its Pakistani characters like… people. In the trailer for her latest film, Chhapaak, Gulzar’s sensitivity towards her lead character Malti (played by Deepika Padukone) is the single biggest takeaway.
In an industry where issues are routinely exploited only to direct the audience towards a larger-than-life saviour, Gulzar’s Chhapaak finds its saviour in its lead, an acid-attack survivor. Inspired from the life of an actual survivor-turned-activist, Laxmi Agarwal, the film talks about the prevalence of the crime. After being attacked at the age of 15, Agarwal went on to start a campaign against the sale of acid, and became a motivational speaker for other survivors. The film also features a character inspired from Agarwal’s former partner & fellow activist, Alok Dixit, being played by Vikrant Massey.
Chhapaak’s trailer seems to be examining the patriarchal nature of these attacks, where a law enforcement official smoothly shames a survivor just for having phone numbers of men on her cell. In another moment, a character can be heard saying how most of these survivors are usually girls who want to study further and advance professionally.
The fact that a film like this is being co-produced by Deepika Padukone, as she plays the film’s lead character speaks volumes. In a realm that is enslaved by the weekend box-office report, Padukone playing the role of an acid-attack survivor will surely help destigmatise some of the taboo surrounding victims of such attacks. It could obviously very easily turn into a schmaltzy Bollywood fairytale, but one can expect Gulzar to do even that… with grace.
Watch the trailer for Chhapaak:
Chhapaak releases on January 10, 2020.