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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - 'Chhapaak' is a heartening tale of the triumph of the human spirit.
Did you know that a bottle of acid was available for as little as Rs30 (approx Dhs2) in India? Or that in 2013 there were 113 registered cases of acid attacks on women in the country? The figure rose up to 252 in 2017. These are the hard-hitting facts that director Meghna Gulzar throws at you in Bollywood drama 'Chhapaak'.
Based on the real life incident of 2005, when a spurned suitor threw acid on the face of 15-year old Laxmi Agarwal, scarring her for life, 'Chhapaak' is a heartening tale of the triumph of the human spirit. Deepika Padukone who plays the 19-year old Malti Agarwal, a carefree girl with ambitions of turning a singer, literally gets under the skin of her character. As a girl from a lower middle-class family, who dreams big, she is effortlessly able to showcase the flush of first love as well as the shock and horror upon seeing her scarred reflection for the first time in the mirror.
Rohit Sukhwami as the obsessive family friend, Basheer Khan, who masterminds the acid attack, is eerily scary as the sullen stalker.
Through one stroke, Gulzar lays bare the gender bias in our society as well as the sense of male entitlement, where a woman is victimised if she 'dares' to rise above her means, be it through education or dreams of becoming something more than what society has imposed on her.
Vikrant Massey is also spot on as Amol Dwivedi, the founder of an NGO, that helps hapless victims in their judicial fight to win justice. The 7-year battle that follows, where Malti files a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) to stop the sale of acid in India - as she says, if acid wasn't sold, it wouldn't be so easily available - is dealt with in the most precise, matter-of-fact manner. The non-linear narrative structure, means that we are actually shown the incidents leading to the attack, only towards the end of the movie. And it works to keep us engaged through the concise 2-hour movie.
Gulzar is of course a consummate filmmaker and her talent in handling the subject and the narrative means nowhere does the movie ever lag. Along with being a visually impactful movie, the emotional connect is so strong in Chhapaak, that we are invested in the story right from the start.
It is also heartening to see a movie where the focus is not just on the central character of Malti, (creditable considering 'Chhapaak' marks Padukone's debut in production well), but each and every cast member. Special mention needs to be made of the lawyer Archana Bajaj (played by Madhurjeet Sarghi ), Malti's parents and the members of the NGO, who all do their part to elevate Malti's story from that of just another acid attack victim to an inspiring story.
In the end, 'Chhapaak' is an empowering movie about more than an acid attack survivor; it is a movie that celebrates the human spirit, the undaunting courage showcased by hundreds of women who have been victimised but refuse to let their scars define them.
Director: Meghna Gulzar
Cast: Deepika Padukone, Vikrant Massey, Madhurjeet Sarghi
Rating: 4 out of 5
Watch trailer here:
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