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Director Anubhav Sinha’s ‘Thappad’ begins on a sweet, comforting note of an idyllic couple Amrita and Vikram (Pannu and Gulati) who have embraced each other and have this covetable rhythm they enjoy.

Just like that simmering ginger black tea that Amrita enjoys every morning, this couple seems aspirational and absolutely lovely. But cracks in their relationship appear when Gulati loses his temper at a party and slaps his wife.

Their bond unravels rapidly following that swift violent action as Amrita re-examines her relationship with her affable husband and the unspoken power equations between them.

It’s a searing relationship drama that’s gut wrenchingly sensitive, personal and sad. It gets nasty, but never vitriolic. This film is all heart and human frailty.

There are no winners or monstrous villains in this film, but a couple who understand that their relationship has gone south and that inevitable decay has already set in.

Their attempts to reconcile awkwardly is so personal and humane. This film also gives you peek into the entrenched patriarchy embedded in any sturdy marriage. Director Anubhav Sinha skilfully employs the ‘show-don’t-tell’ treatment to this film. As viewers, we are expected to be voyeurs and not exacting judges who take sides on who’s right and wrong. The grey areas in this relationship drama make it wonderfully bleak and dreary. But it never weighs you down with melodrama.

Pannu and Gulati are splendid in their roles. Even as their relationship sours and their mean streaks emerge, they are highly likeable.

They wear their flaws and vulnerability with such grace and gravitas. It’s not just the lead pair who are brilliant. Seasoned actors such as Tanvi Azmi as Amrita’s traditional mother-in-law who dotes on her son, Kumud Mishra as her sensitive dad and Rathna Pathak Shah as Amrita’s doting, dutiful mother struggling to fathom why her daughter would take an extreme step are collectively stellar.

The brilliance of this film is that Sinha has chosen not demonise the husband who’s intrinsically and inadvertently toxic and privileged. It doesn’t paint its leading lady, Amrita, as a hapless victim either. She has agency over her actions and decisions, at least in the second half. Pannu is perfectly cast a woman who’s almost slapped awake to re-examine her relationship with the man she fell in love with. Her resentment over placing his needs over hers by her own choice and admission is portrayed in the most aching manner.

Her on-screen husband doesn’t do too shabbily either. Even in the most vitriolic scenes, he seems vulnerable.

Gulati shines in his role as an ambitious, self-absorbed bread-winner. He isn’t an habitual offender or a cad who loves hitting women when drunk and so it isn’t easy to hate this regular bloke either.

The severity of the domestic abuse is also interesting. We don’t see a wife being pushed down the stairs or hiding her black eye with makeup, yet you feel the pain and the inequity in modern day relationships among couples who are seemingly progressive. Be warned, the activist in you may be prodded awake as you watch this film, but the beauty of this film is that there’s no hidden agenda or propaganda.

There are no bra-burning feminists here, but just two humans trying to navigate the treacherous terrain of love. Their quest for love and dignity hits the right spots.

The parallel stories of two women of different classes and economic status also adds heft to this relationship drama.

And the scene that punches in the gut is when Pannu breaks down at a prayer meet with her in-laws and family about how a single slap had stripped her off her dignity and eroded her love for her husband. While the second half is on shaky grounds with a messy legal battle, the movie returns to its groove with an emotionally-charged climax.

Make sure to watch this cinematic gem.

Film: Thappad

Director: Anubhav Singh

Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Tanvi Azmi, Ratna Pathak Shah, Pavail Gulati, Kumud Mishra

Rating: 4 out of 5