- Movie Name:Chhapaak
- Critics Rating: 4 / 5
- Release Date: January 10, 2020
- Director: Meghna Gulzar
- Genre: Drama
I grew up on Bollywood -- to be precise, the Hindi films of the 1990s -- where the passive-aggressive male leads had the saviour complex; where the important positions were exclusively held by men; and where the women who didn't comply were shut down by men, and then, uplifted by some different men.
'Chhapaak' doesn't pay attention to any of these learnings of my formative years. It, instead, shreds them into lies. There is a woman whose identity was attacked, yet she builds up her life and is quite happy taking charge; there is a lawyer and her husband who haven't defined gender roles for their household; there is a landlady who goes out of her way to help an acid-attack victim; there is an actor -- inarguably the most beautiful amongst her contempories -- who gives up on glamour for the role (read: of a lifetime) and risks investing in the same movie; and above all this, there is a filmmaker who brings all these concepts into a conjunction and delivers a quiet, yet powerful social drama on a very important issue.
One should credit Meghna Gulzar and her team for weaving an entire narrative around very little material. The filmmakers had said this wasn't a biopic on Laxmi Aggarwal, and rightly so, Deepika Padukone's Malti is just modelled on the former. Nothing more and nothing less.
The film treads on the lines of a social narrative, cautiously saving itself from becoming a preachy drama. It has gut-wrenching scenes that stand to make one feel the pain of acid-attack survivours, and sometimes scream at the top of the voice. The sequences in which the survivours are shown defaced are packaged with subtlety, bringing to the fore the gaze of 'Chhapaak'.
"Main usey dekhna chahta hoon (I want to see the man who threw acid on you)," Vikrant Massey's Amol tells Malti, in a scene towards the climax.
"Ussmein kuchh dekhney laayak nahin hai (there's nothing worth-seeing in him)," Malti says, and wrests the power the attacker wanted to snatch away from her.
Meghna Gulzar, through 'Chhapaak', does not want the audience to look at the victims as "the victims". The gaze of the film, thereby, is far from sympathetic. Here, the woman is the "survivour", and she survives and thrives not at the behest of a man. She just is -- a warrior, and perhaps, a winner.
Another scoring point of the film is the climactic sequence -- where Deepika's Malti is for the first time shown as she was before the gruesome attack -- the beautiful 19-year-old girl who wanted to become the second Indian Idol. I wasn't honestly expecting a detailing into what happened with Laxmi towards the end of the movie. But Meghna and Atika Chouhan's innovative move was the perfect foil to the narrative.
The film is perfectly cast. Vikrant Massey's Amol is occasionally overbearing, but naturally likeable. The world is no stranger to what Massey can do in author-backed roles, and this is just an addition to his oeuvre.
Massey's chemistry with Deepika is beautiful -- that is the word to explain that. They mostly indulge in the typical 'nok-jhok' before falling for one another, and the process is so subtly presented on the screen that you fall for the unlikely pair. That's how love happens in real.
This brings us to the lady in question -- The Deepika Padukone. She needed a 'Cocktail' to be registered as an actress in the mind of a cinegoer. But what 'Chhapaak' will do to her career is immeasurable. She is the star of the show. She steals everyone's thunder when in the frame.
Malti is so unlike every other role Deepika has played, and she gives it her all. The nuances, the body language, the demeanour, the sadness, the understated genius, and the desire to live a normal life -- Deepika infuses a soul into Malti, and makes it live to the fullest. This is a national award winning performance, and mark my words, she might just get it.
Madhurjeet Sarghi's grace as the lawyer is outstanding. She is the perfect second fiddle to Malti. Her scenes with her husband, played by Anand Tiwari, and daughter are remarkable to say the least. And you have to watch them to understand what I am saying.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's title track, sung by Arijit Singh and penned by Gulzaar, is goosebump-inducing. The other two tracks are fairly good, but could have been better.
'Chhapaak' does come with its flaws though. It is no 'Raazi', and it is no 'Filhaal' -- the film actually wanders between Meghna Gulzar's best and worst works (respectively). It is not a biopic, but at a few instances, gives off the vibe of a documentary. The pace becomes excruciatingly slow towards the climactic sequence, and the built-up emotion tends to wither away.
Having said that, 'Chhapaak' needs to be viewed, and re-viewed a couple of times for it is one of the very few films that do not delve much into the reason of a well-thought crime. There anyway cannot be a good-enough concept that justifies chauvinism, or the entitlement "nobody" gave to the men. The film deals with the simple ideology of reclaiming a lost self, an identity, the power -- and does not wallow in self-victimisation. And that's where it wins. It's not an easy watch; but nowhere did the makers promise it to be. It celebrates the unflinching resolve of a woman. It needs a heart and a mind -- and both at the right place. I wonder why it took Indian cinema this long to address such an important issue.
Watch 'Chhapaak' for some issues need to be addressed; for some films need to be made; for Deepika Padukone who needs to be valued for more than just her ethereal beauty; for Meghna who is more than just Gulzar Saab's daughter; for Vikrant Massey who needs to be given more lead roles; and for all acid violence survivours who need to reclaim the power and their identity.
IndiaTVNews.com verdict: 4 stars