Arts & Culture

CHHAPAAK: THE STORY OF A SURVIVOR THROUGH A FEMINIST CINEMATIC LENS

 Chhapaak, a story of an acid violence survivor directed by Meghna Gulzar, inspired by the real-life tale of Laxmi Agarwal.
Read on for the movie review.

Chhapaak is an unflinching feminist movie. Meghna Gulzar’s direction is tender; its gaze is not patriarchal. It questions what you went to theatre thinking of a movie based on acid attack survivors (I bet you thought victim). The opening scene is magnificent. Protests raging on, Delhi Police lathi charging and using water cannon; I’m sure none of the artists involved knew what the impact of that scene is, watching in today’s time. The reverberation of reality itself is manifold. 

The movie made me feel so uncomfortable. I could see myself in Malti’s silences. When her stalker messaged her multiple times, she just deleted the message and switched off her phone. When a woman from her lawyer’s team questions Malti’s decision to not slap him, the lawyer says- “In that case, you would’ve asked, why did she provoke him?” The survivors acting in the movie are amazing in their roles. They’re hopeful, tenacious, and funny, so so funny! Chhapaak highlights the laughter as much as it highlights the trauma. 

The movie lays emphasis on caste and poverty. A survivor recounts her attacker being an upper-caste man who did it to stop her from achieving her dreams. Such moments are hard to find words for. The supporting cast does an excellent job. Credit to them, the direction and the cinematography, Chhapaak is such a lived-in film experience. The landscape of Delhi is aptly used, the city as a metaphor for both violation and justice. Deepika Padukone is the soul of the movie. I fall short of words for what she’s done here. You feel her pain slapping you when she cries, and yet the illumination of her smile lights a thousand lamps. 

One of my problems with the movie is its lack of female singers. For a movie that is about women, helmed by women, even the makeup is by women; the voice of Arijit Singh and Shankar Mahadevan feels out of place, not that the songs aren’t good. I wish women sung in this movie. The interactions amongst all survivors are so beautiful and important. Rarely do we see female solidarity and support depicted in cinema. In a scene, Malti reads the Facebook comments of a post to a survivor. Their joy is infectious. Amol (Vikrant Massey) and Malti (Deepika Padukone) have understated, beautiful chemistry; one that doesn’t aggressively try to be a plot point, but like a simmering attraction to a person who has grown upon you. 

The biggest achievement of Chhapaak is how it moves from macro to micro — from political to personal — with poise and empathy. It reconstructs the notions of storytelling with the spotlight on a survivor, and by its final scene; gives us plenty of reminders in flesh about the significance of empathy, solidarity, and justice.

Featured Image Credits: Meghna Gulzar (@meghnagulzar on Instagram)

Paridhi Puri
pari22puri@gmail.com

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