The Well-intentioned, Naïve, and Dangerous Smugness of Thappad.

Posted: March 3, 2020 by moifightclub in bollywood, cinema, film review, movie reviews, reviews
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The well-intentioned, naïve, and dangerous smugness of Thappad.

New-age urban-liberal-feminist Bollywood is where women’s issues go to die.

Domestic Violence has been ‘dealt with’ in a popular Hindi film last weekend. How Thappad depicts it, what solution it suggests, is now part of the popular imagination. Tick. One more issue has been covered. No other film on this topic will be made for a long time. I think this is why the male dominated industry is now ‘allowing’, facilitating this new wave of ‘women oriented’ films – they are confident of the superficiality with which the issues will be ‘dealt with’. After all, this superficiality is made possible only by the mediocrity that they fathered and propagated.

The trailer promises it to be about You. Who ‘me’? Yes, there are common experiences as women, but surely, the writer is aware that even gendered values are determined by class, caste locations?

Writers’ lack of understanding of political and historical reality, the inadequate representations are often defended by the fraternity from any discourse by saying “This is the story we choose to tell.”

But wait a minute, you have made it for public consumption. You are saying it is the story of Indian women. But, it is Amrita’s story.

Amrita who is constructed as an emotional, vulnerable girl, and presented as a physically attractive, fragile body. A commodified domestic woman created by capitalist patriarchy is copied on to her page by a woman script writer.

Thereby, deleting the ‘inspiration’ part of the project.

This characterization, instead of empowering, makes a woman viewer feel inadequate. Not even one slap. See/this pretty girl does not take shit.

Unlike you.

The film does not show how to resist/protect against/survive violence, but shows that certain women do not have to take even a fraction of what is part of your everyday life.

One has learnt not to question the absence of say, a Muslim woman, or a middle-class working mother, but in a film about a slap – about a violation of physical self – surely one could also see a different kind of body, one not so fragile face?

Films in a popular space cannot shirk from the responsibility of varied representation.
If the film ignores difference, THE OTHER CAN NEVER BE REPRESENTED.

One token subplot – the only way the character and the writer can access the other half- enter, the domestic help!

The writer deigns to take a disdainful look at lower socio-economic class household. A working class couple that performs underpaid hard labour, and has complex, shared, survival strategies to feed their children is not granted any intelligence or grace in their marital intimacy by the film. The violence among the poor is shown as meaningless, crude, repetitive, almost comic as opposed to a one-time, almost accidental incident, but one that leaves the heroine’s vulnerable face with a permanently hurt and traumatized expression.

I remember that other domestic help (played by Ms. Hattangady) in Arth (1982. Dir: Mahesh Bhatt). This woman is also a victim of domestic violence. But the situation is problematized by her material struggle for a better future for her daughter – “English medium school”, a life unlike her mother’s. The violence is reversed when the Bai kills her husband – brought about by the unforgivable act of stealing the money that she has been saving for her daughter’s school admission.

In Thappad, in a beautiful conversation with her mother-in-law, Amrita suggests that the older lady start cooking classes. Something to keep the old lady engaged I suppose – closest the film comes to talk of a job from our protagonist.

Amrita, who, with a full time domestic help,and the whole day left to her after the cuteness of the morning routine, did only one hour work in her neighbor/friend’s house in the entire day!

Materialist feminism though, is not touched upon by the new urban feminist film projects because materialism feminism questions, along with patriarchy, also capitalism.

Which, is not allowed, I suppose, because the urban liberal feminist projects, are themselves, a part of capitalist production and distribution structures.

But if not livelihood struggle, surely sexuality can be allowed? Thappad does not attempt to question any of the sexuality issues that surround intimate partner violence.

In Thappad, not for a moment do we see sexual desire between Amrita and Vikram. The love she feels for him, does she miss him at night? Adult, sexual love – not the rather corny list of domestic tasks – feeding parathas at the car, handing him his wallet etc – that poor Amu has done for the family out of love! Love, as in love between two young people who are in an intimate co-habitation? Is there a moment, in all those days of separation when she is conflicted between anger and desire, or both simultaneously?
For example, what would the writer of Thappad say if I put it to her, that there is an interplay of fear, hurt and desire in marriages fraught with violence?

No, not because ‘those women have no choice’ in contrast to the repeatedly asserted ‘choice’ that the urban upper class artists seem to have, or because the women are masochistic(this is another malady that’s going around – this quick pseudo-psychological labelling of complex social phenomenon), which they are not.

Oh come on, don’t tell me you have never hummed Billie Holidays’ “My man don’t love me” ha ha!

Jokes apart, if those women are masochist, so are all of us, every time we are engaged in consensual lovemaking in our beautiful relationships of equality, for heterosexual intercourse is violent in the very nature of the act.

What if there is, really a connection between sexual desire and violence in not only the minds, but also real lives of some victims/resistors/surviors of intimate partner violence.

Violence as an experience, seemed to me to represent a point of intersection, of trajectories of hurt, touch, love, fear, hunger, and shame.” (On Bodily Love and Hurt, V. Geetha – A Question of Silence: The Sexual Economies of Modern India (ed. Janaki Nair, Mary E John)

Not just desire, but the hurt body itself does not disturb the pretty visuals. There are of course, to be no visibly broken/bruised parts – the main thing is the just-one-slap of course – but not even a slightly swollen face, or in the praised performance, perhaps just the feeling of her tooth with her own tongue while speaking in the post-slap scenes, or reaching out to close her ear – as people who have just been slapped tend to do, due to injury to the tympanic membrane – the ear drum. Nothing. Just the hurt expression, and the almost infantile insistence, repeated ad nauseum beginning at the trailers – Can’t hit. No fractures (not literally, darlings) to the impeccable appearance.

The violence almost not-there, and so the punishment.

“If she charges you with domestic violence, you will be in jail”

Not to worry, Vikram, the script will not put you in jail. Jail is to be filled with certain communities, certain classes- even the possibility of you, well-heeled you going there has never been dreamt by the script.

After the Love Actually kind of showing how everyone ended up, there is an emotional poem.
Supposed to be empowering, it in fact valorizes paternal protectionism. Amrita begins her single life, in a new flat, but under the nurturance and support of her father, and will now fulfill the dreams that father once had for her.

I remember the last scene of again, Arth (1982. Dir: Mahesh Bhatt) where Pooja (Ms. Azmi) lifts up her adopted daughter – a girl who, like Pooja, is an orphan. Pooja is beginning a new life, now taking responsibility for the life and future of another person.

Amrita, on the other hand, makes a point.

Nadi (Dr. Manasee Palshikar) has done her M.A (Gender, Culture and Development) from the Pune university, and has completed the course in Screenplay Writing from FTII, Pune.

  1. drsapna says:

    Ah. Hey old mate from med school. Thank you for articulating accurately. I have only watched the trailer. I thought, do I need a male director to mansplain feminism, emancipation and unshackling from the patriarchy? Nope. Besides I am tired of urban middle class takes on feminism. Arth was/is a class apart. Completely obliterated any presence of its male director. So yeah. Not going to bother. And sharing this review with some sisters. Keep writing K.

    • Nadi says:

      Sapna, so good to hear from you after all these years.
      Stay well, and yes, let’s keep thinking, and writing.

  2. rahul ramchandani says:

    Hi. I can so relate with this. I had written about anubhav sinha’s recent woke films on my fb wall:

    And Anubhav Sinha did it once again!! A hattrick.

    A well intentioned liberal filmmaker made another film on a crucial burning issue BUT unintentionally ended up promoting the problematic RSS agendas by speaking in their language.

    So Sinha sahab has made three films in the last three years. They addressed the issues of islamphobia/hindu-muslim unity, casteism and domestic violence/male entitlement/misogyny respectively.

    Now, lets understand what is the take of RSS on these issues:

    1) On MUSLIMS : WE dont have any issue with the muslims. They are like our brothers. In fact we have a separate branch for Muslims. But as they get brainswashed into terrorism or violence against hindus, we then cant stay quiet and apparently we are then bound to take action in the self defense.

    2) On DALITS: We dont believe in any caste discrimination. In fact dalits are in majority in organisation like ours. It is because we feed them by organizing public meals for them frequently. But because they lack skills, they do such petty jobs. Whenever they are in trouble, we come for their help. And as you can see there they have a special SC/ST act in the law. If anyone do wrong to them, culprits easily get the punishment.

    3) ON WOMEN : We treat women like goddess. We dont do any wrong to them. Even if we do, laws are so easy for a woman. Police can arrests the culprit on a mere complaint. So its the men who is the victim here. We dont demand dowry and at the same time we agree for the alimony as well.

    Now herein lies the problem. Who the fuck is “WE” here ? Who has given you/RSS the authority to decide for anyone? Who has given you the advocacy to look after/take care of “Muslims/Dalits/Women/Anyone?

    And in Sinha Sahab’s film on the first two films, there is a “WE”/an upper caste hindu savior to protect Muslims/Dalits.

    While in his recent film, law and order is so easy that a woman can so easily come out of this light domestic violence.
    No it is not so fucking easy. Women facing repeated domestic violence face another level of harassment with the police and court. Right from the day a woman files a complaint to the day she appears in the session court, she is made to testify around 15-20 times. It becomes so tiring for her that she has to give up the case and such cases are thrown in the fake cases category. And the victim has no other option but to live back with her abusive husband. And this is how the cycle of patriarchy, entitlement and domestic violence never ends. But in Sinha Sahab’s figment of imagination, society is so good and polite to the victim that she easily comes over and reforms everything around her. How cute!!!

    Here are some another problematic cum RSS ideologue instances from these films:

    1) Dalit activist whines to a softy Baman cop – “Ham Kabhi HARIJAN ban jaate hain, kabhi BAHUJAN ban jaate hain, bas kabhi JAN nahi ban paate”. UFFF UFF UFF!! Now Harijan is a derogatory term. The illegitimate children of Priests and Devdasis are refereed as Harijans. Whereas BAHUJAN is a bloody revolution where people from lower castes all over India were instilled the confidence and unity with this new identity as BAHUJAN means people in majority. RSS has been trying to dis BAHUJAN movement ever since its inception by KASHIRAM. Sinha sahab helped their cause so easily with this silly dialogue. Yes, It is like a woman whining – “Kabhi ham sex object ban jaate hain kabhi feminist ban jaate hain, bas kabhi insaan nahi ban paate”. OR a Bhagat Singh saying – “Kabhi ham Aatankwadi ban jaate hain, Kabhi Krantikari ban jaate hain, bas kabhi hindustani nahi ban paate”.

    2) Around 4-5 years back, i got this message on wastaspp quoting ambedkar – ” I will be the first person to burn this book of constitution if it gets misused by any government in the near future”. Later I read all the works of BabaSaheb Ambedkar and realized that he can never quote such an immature statement ever. It is an RSS propaganda against this book and they use it whenever any government does some constitutional amendment with the time. In Sinha Sahab’s film the protaginist, an IPS BRAHMAN cop quotes the same watsapp forward with utter confidence – again helping spreading an RSS lie to the public.

    3) Activists like Bezwada Wilson have been fighting day and night to stop the manual scavenging and to declare it illegal. RSS has been trying to malign him through all the possible ways. But our savior our hero in Anubhav ji’s film sends dalit sanitation workers back to the shitholes after he promises for their safety just like the way RSS does. Because hey, if dalits wont do it then who else will do?

    4) Saviour of dalits, the protagonist is a BRAHMAN IPS officer and he is free from all the caste based prejudices. Man, Give me a break here. How do you become IPS officer this country? You prepare for the UPSC exam, pass the exam and then you undergo a training in NPA (National Police academy) . If you were aware, right from the coaching to the interview, lower caste category students face constant taunting for the reservation quota by the the upper caste students, teachers and the examiners. Next level, inside the NPA the trainers teach this to the IPS cadets – ” Most of the criminals are from lower caste or muslim communities”. Now how can an IPS officer get free from the caste based prejducies is left to Sinha sahab’s imaginations. But I am sure he might have heard of endless cases of DALIT I.PS/I.A.S officers attempting suicides.

    5) When thousands of innocent Muslims are arrested in fake terrorist/violent cases, Sinha sahab chose to tell a story of a north indian family where one of the young boy has become terrorist. And He was brainwashed through internet and watsapp forwards.
    Sinha sahab i dont think you have any idea what a damage you have done here. Research and you will find that rarest of rare Muslim youth in india has taken arms in their hands. And that too after the pogroms of their families by the Hindutva organisations . Your film blames everyone to an extent including his family but doesnt talk anything about the biggest perpetrator of the game, The Hindutva organisations who has been playing major role in ghettoizing, alienating the muslims to force them to either live a miserable life or to take crime in hands.

    6) Again who speaks for the Indian muslims in his film. A member of the muslim family but she is an upper caste Hindu. And she is a laywer who deals in human rights but doesnt know the difference between manufactured fear of majority communalism and genuine fear of minority communalism. And eventually speaks the familiar RSS language – ” There are good and bad elements in both the communities, so lets unite and live in peace and harmony”. Oh please forgive us this.

    There are many such problematic instances as in the woman victim is against the alimony as she has this khuddari that she doesnt want anything from her husband, dalit woman folding hands to the saviour brahman cop after he helps her……

    BUT here is the crux.

    My dear liberal friends, It is great that you want to address these relevant issues but please do the holistic research of a topic. Understand the take of oppressors, the extremist elements on the same . Dont ignore them, otherwise you will end up doing the same mistake I have mentioned in the post. Dont end up in being part of the problem. Dont end up being another brick in the wall of oppression.

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