Such a good interesting movie! There aren’t really surprise twists and stuff, but it is a journey for sure, so you should read the No Spoiler review if you are planning to see it and let it wash over you and surprise you.
Whole plot in two paragraphs:
Taapsee is the stay at home wife of a rich man, takes care of her mother-in-law Tanvi Azmi and the house and her husband Pavail Gulati. Dia Mirza is her friend, a widowed single parent who lives next door. Her parents, Ratna Pathak and Kumud Mishra are middle-class and loving. Her brother is engaged to Geetika Vidya and her parents are excited about the wedding. The biggest stress is whether Pavail will get his big London promotion so he and Taapsee can move there. And then he gets it! And tells Taapsee to prepare for a big celebration party that night. It’s fun and happy and Taapsee is dancing, and then Pavail gets a call telling him he has the London job, but will be reporting to a new hire who is above him. He is furious, confronts his supervisor who is at the party, it turns into a heated argument, Taapsee rushes over to try to get him to calm down, pulls at his arm, and he turns and slaps her. Taapsee is shaken, goes to her room, but Tanvi comes and tells her to forget it, and go back to the party. Taapsee stays for a few more days, increasingly struggling with her life, and then decides to go stay at her parents for a few days. Pavail comes to her there and her brother and parents encourage her to hear him out, but support her when she decides to stay. Pavail sends her a legal notice asking her to return home, she goes to the high powered attorney Maya Sarao who Geetika works for as a paralegal. Maya advises her to try to work it out, but Taapsee decides she wants a divorce.
Maya has her own issues, her husband Manav Kaul is a famous TV journalist and his father was her mentor and a famous lawyer before he had a stroke. Manav takes credit for all her successes, and forces sex on her. Maya advises Taapsee to settle and compromise because it is how she lives her life. But Taapsee is sure of herself, she wants out of the marriage simply because she no longer loves Pavail and cannot live with him and be happy. Taapsee files for divorce and Maya pushes her into asking for 50% of Pavail’s assets, and he responds with a petition accusing her of marrying him for his money, pushing him, being unstable and mentally ill, and so on. At the same time, Tanvi Azmi faints because her diabetes gets out of control. Taapsee agrees to come to the house every day and care for her, but still not officially return home. Taapsee learns she is pregnant and goes to tell Pavail, who assumes this changes everything. Taapsee explains that Pavail will be the baby’s father and she wants him involved, but she still can’t stay married to him. Pavail makes one last desperate move, offer Taapsee a large settlement in return for full custody. Taapsee is furious and confronts him after the divorce meeting. She inspires Maya to leave Manav and start her own practice independently. And her father Kumud Mishra and mother Ratna Pathak to have a conversation about how even their great marriage is based on Ratna giving up her own dreams. And her brother and Geethika to have a conversation where he apologizes for how he has taken her for granted and asks if they can start over. Pavail finally gets the London promotion he wants, by threatening to leave his company, but the same day his supervisor who he fought with at the party pulls him aside and tells him that what he did was not okay, slapping his wife is never okay. At the next meeting, Taapsee is ready to file a police statement about the slap and Dia Mirza is ready to testify for her, and Pavail is ready to be more open-minded. They agree to a mutual divorce. And then Pavail meets Taapsee again at the prayer meeting his mother organized for the baby. Taapsee gives a long speech about how all the parents taught them to accommodate and that women should settle, but she is done settling. Months later, Taapsee is living alone in a small apartment and heavily pregnant. Her brother takes her to court to sign the final decree, and Pavail asks to talk to her. He apologizes, for everything, says he quit his job and is starting fresh in India. He wants to be a good father, and a better man, and a friend to Taapsee.
There’s even more stories that I didn’t include in that summary! Taapsee’s maid is a stereotypical “abused wife”, her husband beats her and drinks and makes her go out and work. Taapsee enjoys her dramatic stories every morning as something unlike her own life. Anubhav wanted a story here of Taapsee waking up to how the way she gets up in the morning two hours before her husband just to make him tea and breakfast and so on is related to her maid enduring beatings every day. But he kind of dropped the ball on what he wanted to do with the maid’s storyline. In a strange way, she turns into the comic relief?
There’s also Dia, which is kind of a sweet story. She helps Taapsee by telling her about a good marriage. Not so coincidentally, her husband was Christian, so not part of the whole Hindu marriage traditions. Taapsee comes over after the slap to talk about it without talking about it, and Dia tells her how she was spoiled by having a marriage that was easy, no compromise. When Pavail asks her to lie about what happened at the party and she refuses, she gently says that it is because she likes to think all men are as good as her husband so she is going to pretend Pavail didn’t ask her that. Her happy ending is deciding she wants to remain single with her memories, she doesn’t need to settle for something less than what she had.
The biggest story is simply the assumptions everyone makes about male versus female roles in relationships. Ratna and Kumud Mishra have a great marriage, and Kumud is a really great guy. He is shocked by the slap, immediately, no need for Taapsee to give him a big speech to explain why it was bad. But as they begin to talk about marriage, he learns that Ratna gave up her dreams after marriage because her mother told her it was the thing to do. He is shocked, but Ratna points out he never thought about, never questioned how she stopped singing after marriage because he never tried harder to think about her. Even the best marriage in the film has those hidden cracks.
Manav Kaul and Maya are another really interesting marriage. She is a very successful woman’s rights attorney, which he supports. On the surface, perfect. But all her accomplishments he sees as merely extensions of his own accomplishments. She isn’t working to make herself happy, she is working to make him look better. It’s not as simple as “housewife” versus “working wife”, it’s about the attitudes within the marriage.
Tanvi Azmi’s marriage, it took me a second to figure out what was happening. She is living with Taapsee and Pavail instead of her husband because she sees her “job” as taking care of Pavail and teaching Taapsee to cook. But she and her husband aren’t separated or anything, they are just treating their marriage as about the needs of the larger family, not themselves as a couple. In the end, her husband takes her home and cares for her and she stops working all the time and can be free. It’s a marriage where they just need to live together, that’s the solution, to acknowledge that they want to be together and she is more than a housekeeper for his sons.
Gayatri and Taapsee’s brother, they are right at the start of all of this. They are young and in love, but as they get closer to the wedding, as Gayatri is more and more involved in his family, the old gender roles come up more and more. He doesn’t want her to have opinions about family issues, he doesn’t want her to speak up when it is a conversation between him and his parents, he is already starting to see her in the role of “wife” instead of as a person.
That’s the problem with the slap. Pavail didn’t hit Taapsee because he is an abuser, the way he acts doesn’t fit the abuser pattern at all. It’s not about a cycle of love, then blame, then abuse, then apology and love again, then blame, and so on. No, it is simply that he wanted to slap someone and Taapsee exists to fulfill whatever he wants at any moment. She makes him breakfast, she decorates his house, she takes care of his mother, and when he is angry, she is there for him to hit. He isn’t even sorry because he truly doesn’t think he did anything wrong, that is the deal, he works hard and makes money and is her husband, so she is there for whatever he needs to feel happy in the moment. He may truly never hit her again, if he never happens to feel that combination of rage and frustration again. That’s a terribly way to live though, knowing that he feels he has the right to take his feelings out on her to such an extant. And seeing how it wasn’t really a one time thing, her whole life was about being what he needed her to be, not what she wanted. That night it was a slap, but the night before it was about blaming her when the wifi was out, or needing to suddenly be happy and excited to host a party, or whatever else he wanted. Heck, it was about him constantly reminding her that she can’t cook as well as his mother, like that was a moral failing.
There’s that, the realization of the underlying issues in the marriage, but also the result of it, which is that Taapsee no longer loves Pavail. That I can believe, one slap makes her see everything about him in a new way and she stops loving him. The three days after when she tries to keep living with him just confirm that, whatever magic that was there that made her happy in her life is just gone. Without love, marriage becomes merely unpaid slave labor. So she wants a divorce. And the funny thing is, no one can understand this simple fact. She doesn’t love him any more, so the only way for her to be happy is if she divorces him.
Maya, Taapsee’s lawyer, doesn’t even get it herself. That’s one thing I found fascinating, considering how divorce doesn’t even function right for this situation. Maya wants Taapsee to find a way to make the marriage work because, without a reason beyond not loving any more, it is hard for her to get a divorce to happen. Once they decide to move forward, she pushes Taapsee into asking for a large settlement, as though the marriage is a business deal and she needs to get her investment out of it. But straight through Taapsee is clear that she just wants a divorce, nothing else. That’s what she gets in the end, we see her in a modest apartment so clearly there was no big settlement. But she is free and that’s what she wants. It’s a simple thing, that once she sees herself as trapped in the marriage instead of happy and loving, she becomes miserable and will never be happy again until she is out of the marriage. And yet no one is able to understand that, marriage isn’t about being happy, it’s about being happy in the beginning and then powering through the unhappiness because that’s what marriage is. Especially for women, they have to “adjust”.
Taapsee was lucky she got slapped. It woke her up to the reality of her marriage, and it gave her a bargaining chip to get herself out of the marriage. Without that one moment, she would have kept drifting into more and more unhappiness with no way of getting free. That slap ended up waking up everyone to all of their relationships that didn’t have that one moment, but had other moments where they lost themselves, took advantage, took people for granted.
And, eventually, that one moment also woke up Pavail. Not in the abuser cycle of immediate guilt and demand for forgiveness, but in a different cycle of understanding how he never really thought about Taapsee as a person. It took another man confronting him to do it, male allies WOO! Kind of jerky for Pavail to not be able to understand just from Taapsee talking to him, but also realistic. And what I really love is that it is an unexpected man. Not a close friend of Pavail (they are all loyal to him), and not a relative of Taapsee who would naturally support him, but just someone who was there and felt that it was so wrong, he had to talk to Pavail and try to make him understand why it was wrong. Pavail seeing himself through the eyes of a stranger and seeing how he was in the wrong starts him thinking. By the time we check in with him months later, he has truly changed. Whether or not he and Taapsee ever get back together, he has made the change inside himself to understand that he doesn’t have a right to things just because he wants them, whether it is slapping his wife or the big promotion at work.
So, the movie covers all the ways men take advantage and make assumptions about their wives. And all the ways women accept that. But it kind of dances away from the challenge of showing a real true equal marriage. In the end, the “happy” ending for the women is to be single. Dia decides to be always alone, Taapsee gets her divorce, Maya leaves her husband. Ratna and Kumud stay together and he tries harder, and Gayatri and Taapsee’s brother decide to start fresh, but we don’t actually see that, just the beginnings of it. What would a truly equal marriage look like? Maybe the most damning statement of the film is that there is no way to show that in the Indian context.