Ms Representation: Thappad- The price of tolerance
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author discusses Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad
Tolerance. It is an important word in the dictionary of a woman, for, we have been raised to be that. We have been ‘taught’ that men will be men. One can’t expect them to change. But women, of course, should, they say. We can let go of careers, personal lives, dreams, and even respect, for the men in their lives. Making tolerance a trait for just women, in a way, is patriarchy’s Brahmastra. But what happens when a woman decides enough is enough? What happens when she refuses to let go?
Thappad, Anubhav Sinha’s latest, is a story of tolerance. Where does one draw the line? For Amritha (a brilliant Taapsee Pannu), it is when she gets slapped by her husband Vikram at their house party. It is the final destination in a journey through casual sexism. The internet doesn’t work? It becomes, “Amritha, your internet doesn’t work”. The printer doesn’t work? The same again. Later it is, “Learn to make parathas first before wishing to drive.” None of these come across as pointed sexist comments to Amritha. She is supremely content about being a housewife and goes about her ‘wake up-make breakfast-send husband to work’ routine with happiness. All until that one slap, which shakes her out of her torpor. Anubhav Sinha and Mrunmayee Lagoo beautifully mirror Amritha’s personal struggle with Vikram’s professional battles. Amritha realises that she is only a spoke in Vikram’s wheel. And she refuses to not be just that, not anymore.
Sinha also beautifully stages Amritha’s conundrum by consistently framing in enclosed spaces -- behind glass walls, and then in doorways. It takes her a while to realise it, but Amritha inhabits a glass prison, that can be named ‘Mrs. Vikram’. And the minute she steps out of it, society collectively advises her to go back in. You can’t but agree with Amritha when she questions her in-laws as to why they didn’t back her. Isn’t that what families are supposed to do? So, was all the love for just Vikram’s wife, and not Amritha herself? You can smell the discrimination here because even Amritha’s family (except her dad) stands by Vikram asking her to let go. If most marriages are a deal, then most women are being short-changed. Aren’t they?
Inspired by Amritha’s resistance, several women in this film ponder on their limits of tolerance. And this self-introspection shows how deep the claws of patriarchy are, even in the most progressive of us. Even Amritha is a mute listener when she hears the story of abuse her help narrates. The loving father who unconditionally stands by his daughter’s decision to end her marriage has unintentionally become a deterrent to his wife’s dreams. Every character gets a moment where he/she realises how they have internalised patriarchy. For Amritha, that moment is when she becomes a victim. For Nethra, the lawyer, it is when her husband slights her professional success. For Sunita, the maid, it is when she sees her boss stand up to patriarchy. The brother gets his epiphany when he realises that his girlfriend was in his sister’s corner, but he wasn’t. And he gets my favourite line from the film as well: We all need a reboot.
They say, be careful of what you tolerate because you are teaching someone how to treat you. Thappad, despite its incongruity at times in delivering its message, made me ponder on the cruelty of tolerance. Why is it that it is the women’s inherent responsibility to be the glue of the family? Why do we have to be the one who tolerates? Why don’t the men offer to share responsibility of their own accord? As Anubhav Sinha noted in a recent interview, it is only the women who get the tags ‘home-makers’ and ‘home-breakers’. For ages, women are told that the route to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Do we have a female version of this? When are we going to teach men that there is actually a way... through something called respect...