It's very easy to call out an apparent misogynist and demonise them. Your maid's drunk husband who beats her? Misogynist. The politician who raped a young girl and got away with it? Misogynist. But what about the otherwise 'good' men who accidentally 'slip up' sometimes? The premise of Thappad is revealed in the trailer itself--a seemingly perfect marriage collapses after the woman decides that 'just one slap' is NOT okay. Taapsee Pannu's character Amrita is repeatedly reminded that 'shit happens', she should 'learn to move past things' and 'get over it'. The movie does a beautiful job of exposing the rampant internalised misogyny deep-rooted in our society.
In a time of cancel culture, the film doesn't resort to name-calling or man-bashing. Amrita doesn't care about calling Vikram (her husband) names--she is simply resolute that she will not allow herself to tolerate even the slightest form of disrespect. And that's what makes the movie powerful.
When instances of misogyny are black and white, solutions are easy. It's a simple question of what's morally wrong or right. It's the grey areas that are problematic in our society. Amrita's own mother tells her that there are some things a woman must simply 'tolerate'. Her brother admits that what her husband did was 'wrong'--but it's not reason enough for her to leave him. Her mother-in-law tells her she needs to get up, put on a smile and continue playing hostess to her guests. Even her lawyer, Netra, who appears to be the very image of an empowered woman, tells Amrita she's making an unwise choice by not letting 'just a slap' be. Amrita's husband Vikram gets through the entire movie without uttering the word 'sorry'. When not a single person stands up for her, the characters are telling her that it is not Vikram's behaviour--but her own outrage--that's unacceptable.
My favourite thing about the movie is how it successfully portrays the normalisation of male entitlement, to the point of making the viewer uncomfortable about it. Amrita's 'loving devotion' to her husband starts off as sweet but soon becomes sickening. While he focuses on his career, she focuses on making sure his every need is met--from serving him breakfast in bed to fetching his files from other rooms. After the incident, he brushes his behaviour off as misguided frustration. At first, Amrita tries to reconcile with her emotions--she carries on with the same routine without complaining until she can't tolerate it anymore. When she decides to head to her parents' place for a few days, Vikram gets wildly offended. "Humare ghar mein chhoti chhoti baaton per ladkiyan ghar chhod ke nahi jati," he arrogantly tells her when she refuses to come back home. He doesn't know how to deal with her 'rebellious' behaviour because he doesn't believe that she has the right to act that way. He talks about standing up in front of his boss, but the idea of a woman standing up for herself is alien to him.
You know what goes hand in hand with male entitlement? Internalised misogyny. One cannot exist without the other. Vikram would never be shocked by Amrita asserting herself if he ever witnessed his own mother standing up to his father. Amrita wouldn't have taken so many days to distance herself from Vikram if even one person at that party, just one, stood up and said out loud that Vikram's behaviour was unacceptable. In a monologue towards the end of the movie, Amrita's mother tells her husband that her mother taught her to choose family over everything else. And she also told her that women *must* always learn how to put their family above her own needs and desires. Amrita's father, who champions for his own daughter's independence and free will, unknowingly overlooks how his wife sacrificed her own. The message is loud and clear: stop teaching your daughters that they need to 'adjust to' men's bad behaviour.
While all the female characters in this movie are oppressed in their own way, they seem to feed off each other's strength. When everyone remains silent after Vikram slaps Amrita, her brother's fiance stands up for her. Not only does she introduce her to her boss, who is the high-profile lawyer Netra, she also encourages her to fight back. Netra, who convinced herself that she needed to put up with her own husband's sexual misconduct towards her to keep the marriage intact, takes inspiration from Amrita and decides to leave her husband. Even Amrita's maid, who has normalised domestic violence, finally learns to fight back at the end of the movie. If internalised misogyny is one end of a spectrum, this is the other. This is what happens if women support each other instead of telling each other to tolerate bad male behaviour.
The movie might deal with the subtle ways misogyny creeps into our society, but its message is loud and clear: when it comes to domestic violence, women need to have a zero-tolerance policy. In a country where marital rape is legal and movies like Kabir Singh make over Rs 300 crore, Thappad is a breath of fresh air.
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