Thappad Review (SPOILERS): When is It Time to End a Marriage?

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.

Image result for thappad poster

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.

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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.

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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.

Image result for Ozhimuri
Kind of similar to the Ozhimuri story from Kerala, a wife who wants a divorce because she just isn’t happy and no one understands that

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.

11 thoughts on “Thappad Review (SPOILERS): When is It Time to End a Marriage?

  1. Thank you for this articulate review. I agree with many of your points, especially about the tidy ending, which for me almost undid the film, though i understand why sinha included it.

    Here are some random thoughts of mine.

    Some purposes of the servant story existing in the film:
    – juxtaposing the husband’s not imparting Tapsee the full status of “human being”, and thus slappable under duress, with Tapsee in turn doing the same to her servants, seeing their stories as cute instead of shocking. Just like with article 15, some statements thr movie makes are overt (like Ayushman screaming WTF at all the subcaste distinctions) and some are covert (like Ayushman GF ignoring the beggars).
    – as one rises up the wealth classes, the idea that domestic abuse or even a single slap is “not done” is largely about class politics and respectability politics. The idea is that hitting is vulgar, classless, servant-like behavior, instead of an unacceptable way to violate another human being, is a commonplace understanding in most societies, not just in Indian. It’s why the servant copes with her abuse by telling light hearted stories about it, whereas the wealthier people try to pretend tapsee slap didn’t happen & sweep it under the rug. Even the servant feels her abuse is more acceptable than tapsee slap, but also buys into covering it up (vs joking about it), until tapsee herself no longer buys into the coverup. And by presenting both stories, it allows or even asks the audience to engage with that ambiguity, both within the movie and within themselves.
    – the servant story might have served the movie better if we had seen less of it. (Or way more of it, ala upstairs downstairs or Downton abbey.) If the servant hadn’t had so many scenes, it might have served better as a contrast to the tapsee story. Instead, it just felt like a middle class person’s wish fulfillment fantasy of inspiring the poor. I think the dynamic is usually the opposite – the servant seeing tapsee leave her marriage, especially in such an iconoclastic fashion, would be the opposite of inspiration, and instead be seen as a risk that only a wealthy people can afford to take.

    So many similarities between this movie and the recent American film Marriage Story. What i find most fascinating is how the “self involved, entitled Male, but nice caring guy otherwise” oxymoron was delivered differently in each film but digested similarly by each film’s target audience, and how that in & of itself is commentary on how entrenched Male Entitlement remains everywhere.
    For me…
    – I walked into Thappad expecting to see a nuanced “nice and caring guy who loves his wife but is otherwise blind to his own privileges” film because even the enlightened Indian film critic intelligentsia saw it that way. But no, this is just a straight up self absorbed entitled jerk. He’s the kind of guy you marry if you want to hitch your wagon to his star and profit off the ROI, but not the type you marry if you are looking for a loving supportive partnership. (Maybe even a narcissist – his last words being “i’ll win you back” could be a subtitling-connotation issue, but really made me think he ends the film still stuck in his own sphere.) It pays short shrift to Indian men that both the movie and the critics believe this to be an accurate portrayal of a *loving* Indian husband.
    – the Marriage Story audience consumed a similar story about a self absorbed career driven “hitch your wagon to his stat” entitled man. In both movies, the man thinks his plans are their plans, and the only way her plans & dreams can even be considered is if she leaves. But in marriage story, the man is given enough dialogue, monologue, and emotional moments to humanize him. Had tapsee husband been given that, he too would be more sympathetic, and had adam driver been given less screentime, he too would appear more obvious. Similarly, if tapsee had been drawn with some flaws, or scarlett with none, these would again be the same movie. Yet the American audience saw Marriage Story as two good people ending a bad marriage, instead of either an examination of patriarchy, or the story of a woman leaving an excessively self centered partner in order to regain her identity.

    I think what I was expected Thappad to be, based on reading non spoilery critical reviews by Indian reviewers, was more along the lines of ratna pathak and husband story. This really is a man who is loving and kind and even looks upon his family members with warmth and love and pride in his eyes, yet is completely unaware of exactly how he short shifts his wife, but understands and accepts once his wife explains it to him. Of course, he’s older, more secure in himself, and thus more open to receiving such a message at this stage in his life. But i think a movie about these two splitting at the point in life that tapsee and husband did would have been a better exploration of the entitlement, conundrum, and confusion of patriarchy.

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    • Thank you so much for such a long comment! I love talking about movies with you.

      With the servant story, I think between your two options of more or less, I would have liked less. In Veere Di Wedding, there was a moment when Sonam saw the bruises on her servant and encouraged her to get a divorce and offered substantive help to make that happen. That worked for me. We had that moment, but nothing else, and I understood that Sonam really walked the walk of caring about women around her and believing that some marriages should just end. In this movie, maybe if we had seen the opening sequence of the maid with her husband and then only seen her in the house after that, it would have worked better. My favorite option would be the Arth option, if Taapsee had suddenly felt a sisterhood for a woman going through the same thing and taken her in to her new household so she could leave her husband. I’m honestly not sure why the film avoided that possibility, we saw Taapsee with her small apartment which would have been appropriate to have a live in maid to help her, and we saw the maid quit working for the husband’s family. It was right there for us to see the maid with Taapsee in the flashforward as part of her household.

      Love your perspective on this versus American Story. I assume Anubhav did that on purpose knowing his audience, right? They would find plenty of excuses for his hero all on their own, he could afford to just sketch things in and trust the audience to write their own version. If he’d done more, the audience would have leaped to paint Taapsee as the villain no matter what. Although I do think he was getting at some real change with the hero at the end. What I found interesting was that Anubhav had the husband not just apologize to Taapsee, but say that he quit his job and is starting over. Tying his unthinking treatment of Taapsee and acceptance of her indulging him with a general sense of privilege that made him unable to question anything he got in life, instead just thinking it was all “due” to him. I do think that was a character thread, his anger at not getting that promotion, and the way everyone in his life just expected him to get it, that’s not healthy.

      I would love to see that Ratna story! I think that is what English/Vinglish was kind of intended to be, but focusing just on Sridevi instead of on the couple as a whole. I would be really interested to see a movie about a “good” husband whose wife is unhappy with her life and how it snowballs.

      On Sun, Mar 1, 2020 at 1:37 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I loved Arth because of that reason.All human beings,men and women,need someone they love,but problem arises when they stop treating it as a privelege.Shabana azmi’s character couldn’t bring herself to leave her absolutely disgusting husband in the beginning,but thankfully she did it when he crossed the line.Azmi wasn’t a Mary sue in the film;she acknowledges her friend’s support and it makes her more human.Shabana was lucky she did not have a child with that disgusting man,otherwise custody issues are a bane of divorce system.Like a couple dreams of a perfectly caring,understanding partner,even a child grows to love both parents unconventionally.Arth addresses the human weakness for love,and Shabana fulfills it through her maid’s child.Arth doesn’t preach,it simply makes us see the world through the eyes of a woman confronted with the harsh realities of life.
        Thappad failed to humanise its protagonist,perhaps because they lost the opportunity to treat the film as a psychological analysis following the shameful titular slap.

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        • I like your perspective of every human needing love. In this film, we saw that our heroine was loved by her parents. there was no reason for her to cling so much and so long to her husband, beyond basic social pressure. It might have been a more interesting film if they had dug a little more into why she stayed.

          In Arth, I thought it was so important that our heroine was an orphan. Before her marriage fell apart, we already had dialogue about how she dreamed of a home no one could take away from her, of how happy she was loving and being loved by our husband. In the end, she could have found a substitute, the young singer who had come to love her. Or she could have taken her husband back. But instead she chose her own love, the little girl was what she wanted, not another man.

          On Thu, May 21, 2020 at 10:29 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I like your servant story rewrite with simply 2 endcap scenes, and that 2nd scene being tapsee hiring her as her own live in maid is brilliant. Less is more, thus better illustrating the similarity btwn tapsee being unaffected by her maid’s abuse and her husband’s (and everyone) minimizing or justifying his slap. If Sinha needs to make it more obvious to spoonfeed the viewers, maybe a quick midpoint scene where you see tapsee replaying the slap in her head, then replaying a snippet from the servants first scene along with a snippet of the servants lighthearted storytelling of the incident, then lingering closeup back to tapsee’s face.

    To your point, i definitely felt a twinge of “something’s wrong here” when every single cast member was introduced as being excited about the promotion, like too many people were making this be too important in their lives, making it an unnecessary burden on the husband himself. Also it illustrates that his spoiled “center of the universe” mentality has been a natural outcome of a family environment that didn’t teach him to value others and expected him to focus on himself instead.

    Good point about English Vinglish! Maybe worth a rewatch after watching Thappad.

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    • I really liked the maid character, and the actress. Seeing her abuse was definitely one of the reasons she was there – and shocking, after the one slap and all the reexaminations it caused – but I think there were other reasons too. The way she took over Taapsee’s duties with Pavail after his mother fell ill, you see that ultimately this could be maid’s work, just the women in his household turned catering to his needs into an act of love. There is the theme of female complicity too, which I really appreciated and think brought many interesting layers to the film. Geetika starts out seeing herself as different than Taapsee, then after the slap apologizes to her husband for seeing him as worse than others when actually she and Taapsee are the same. But after Taapsee has left, when Pavail gives her a raise unexpectedly and asks her to tell him if madam calls, it doesn’t sit right, you see that her response to Taapsee leaving is not to turn against her and believe it is right for her to be punished for not accepting her lot in life. Which then leads to the moment at the puja when Taapsee gives her speech – to complicit Tanvi – and Geetika takes the extra money out of her pocket and leaves it on the table. That very concrete case of refusing to be bought, rejecting the control he is trying to exercise over all of the women in his household, parallels Taapsee’s journey on a smaller scale. Her character is pulled between the viewpoints of Tanvi on one side and Taapsee on the other, in that sense she goes on the same journey as the audience, and that moment at the puja lets us know whose view has won out. I don’t know if her ending was right, but I was glad we got to see her dancing, it did feel like her getting some version of happiness.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I love this way of looking at it! So the maid’s abuse was also, in a way, abuse by Pavail. He was using money to control her, and that money is what kept her trapped with her husband as well since he constantly took it from her. Breaking the cycle of money as a means of control freed her at home since it removed the biggest thing her husband wanted from her.

        I would still rather that she moved in with Taapsee at the end than that she stopped working, but in the Taapsee version it would address the gender issues and not the class issues. This way, she is freed of all that.

        I mentioned Arth in a previous comment which is such a good partner to this film. In that one, it isn’t a slap, it is infidelity. Shabana Azmi is very happy in her marriage, and then her husband comes home and tells her he loves another woman. She slowly starts to build an independent life and along the way gets closer to her maid who has an abusive husband. She ends up inviting the maid and the maid’s daughter to live with her and when the maid goes to jail for killing her husband, Shabana adopts the daughter. Very different movie, but similar idea of maid/mistress turning into friends and allies as they realize their similarities.

        On Sun, Mar 1, 2020 at 11:06 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Heck, his mother moved in with him just to make his life easier! It took me a while to understand the whole family structure, but that was crazy. He’s a grown man, he doesn’t need his mother, his wife, and a servant all working to keep his life perfect. But the underlying assumption of the film was just that. The whole world revolved around him, and he expected it as his right.

      On Sun, Mar 1, 2020 at 9:01 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed this movie…having grown up in exactly this environment it was even more blood-boiling to watch…I know so many stories like these within my friends/family circle…the husband got angry and threw something at the wall near her…the husband called her b*tch at a party…and so forth…but every story always starts with “she is so difficult to live with” or “she was really asking for it” …its infuriating to live in that culture
    My only critique of the movie is that it made the divorce look way too easy…like all it needed was some determination/courage and voila she was free… I get that it is one important element…but unfortunately there are so many more obstacles for women to get a divorce…I don’t know how many women are going to watch this movie and get inspired…or maybe it will get them thinking and that’s enough…

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    • I think they just BARELY made the divorce realistic. The movie didn’t want to get into too much, obviously, but there was the multi-month gap between filing and signing, and we got a little bit of the bloodthirsty lawyer behavior. And the trump card of the slap, with witnesses. At least it wasn’t some magical “I woke up wanting a divorce, and by bed time I had one!”

      I hope it gets everyone thinking, men and women. It had such a broad message about how marriages are always seen as the woman’s responsibility, not the man’s. I hope it sparked a lot of discussions and thoughtfulness about that.

      On Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 7:24 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. I agree with as anybody he should not have hit his wife. But why she went there and pulling him when there was argument going on seriously. Ladies are also doing mistakes. It doesnt mean I am supporting slapping. She should be smart enough to avoid or not to go into those kind situations. It was not emergency and it was just a party and went there to have fun. She started pulling him even after he said wait several times. Also if a lady or man cannot tolerate each other or adjust to the situations they should not get marry without knowing each other fully. In my view she is the one who triggered the chain reaction. Did she say sorry for pulling him so many times. The chain events started by her. Ladies also should learn from t he movie not ruin family or man life by insensitive actions.

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