It is anyone’s guess if the makers of Thappad are chai connoisseurs. But the sheer number of times we see a character making, drinking or talking about tea in the film, is overwhelming. “You tend to over-boil it,” Kumud Mishra’s character tells his wife, played by Ratna Pathak Shah, in more than one scene.
Even their dutiful daughter, Amrita (Taapsee Pannu), begins her day with plucking a few strands of lemongrass for her morning tea. A homemaker, Amrita has a fixed routine – she wakes up, makes tea, checks on her mother-in-law’s sugar levels, wakes her husband up, lends an ear to the help’s (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) domestic brawls. She’s upbeat, but she’s rarely loud. We never hear Amrita’s shrill anger, even after the titular “slap” moment has passed. Pannu’s performance doesn’t let volume become a hindrance, as her character endures the daily injustices to protect the ‘peace’ at home.
Sinha’s film is potent primarily because of how he chooses sharp observations over big flourishes (except for a scene towards the end). Catering to the Hindi film masses, Sinha rarely disrespects his audience by spelling out the nuances. But overall, Sinha and co-writer Mrunmayee Lagoo rely heavily on dialogue and staging to get to the film’s BIG moment. Much like the tea being made on screen, Thappad‘s screenplay is slowly brewed to gradually reach the boiling point, after which it’s allowed to rest and find its flavour. Sinha and Lagoo look at the Indian man with pity, underlining their ignorance and entitlement in scene after scene.
Debutante Pavail Gulati, playing the role of Vikram, isn’t so much the antagonist of the film, as the film’s trigger to make everyone re-evaluate their gender roles. Is it really a man’s right to expect breakfast on the table, as the bread-winner of the family? Is it really that easy to overlook a homemaker’s intangible effort into keeping a household on its axis? Unlike Sinha’s earlier films, Thappad doesn’t goes around sermonising with melodramatic monologues. It nudges here, pricks there, and waits for the Indian man to put aside his masculine rage and introspect.
One of Thappad‘s biggest victories is how it will make many men queasy in their seats. How it hints at the poisonous roots of sexism in the way Vikram talks about lady drivers or when he makes an irresponsible comment on his neighbour’s (Dia Mirza) new car. How he orders Amrita from across the room, almost like an order, so that he can introduce her to his boss during a party. How Vikram tells Amrita that he can’t wait to play with their ‘son’, something I didn’t even register till a female colleague pointed it out to me.
In a heartbreaking scene, Kumud Mishra’s character is heard asking Ratna Pathak Shah as to whether he stifled her dreams in any way. To which she responds by admitting how she wanted to pursue music, something she put on the back-burner for the sake of her husband and children. “I did what my mother taught me to do, but even you never asked why I stopped singing?”, Pathak Shah asks with tears in her eyes. The scene screams out the need for empathy and selflessness from both partners, something drilled into us… as a woman’s *department*.
Thappad is unsettling for how often Indian men will see themselves in the film. When you do spot yourself in the mirror, choose not to look away. Try to be rational, and confront your limitations. I know, I did.