Deepika Padukone’s Chhapaak Is A Movie That Questions The Reality Of The Times We Live In

It disturbs you, it makes you cringe, it makes you realise this could have been your reality. A story of courage and hope- Meghana Gulzar’s Chhapaak starring Deepika Padukone and Vikrant Massey is as real it can get on reel.

The Nirbhaya incident which shook the nation in 2012, as the public stood united seeking justice for the violent and gruesome attack on a girl, there was another section seeking justice for the helpless victims of acid attack, many who had succumbed and those survived awaited justice. This is how Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak opens, as a journalist covering the Nirbhaya incident tries to trace Malti, an acid attack survivor who had filed a PIL to ban the sale of acid and amend the existing laws for dealing with the offence.

We are introduced to Deepika Padukone’s Malti, who is  trying to rebuild her life and looking for a job but her disfigured face is the biggest hurdle, as she says “ koi category nahi hai acid attack ke liye to kya likhu form mein”

Inspired by the story of Lakshmi Agarwal, who had been a victim of an acid attack in 2005 in Delhi’s Khan Market after she spurned the advances of her stalker. She was ostracized for the way she looked, the young girl who had once aspired to be an Indian Idol  but faced with the unimaginable reality, empowered herself taking up the cause and bringing justice to many others like her.

“Jab naak hi nahi hai kaan bhi nahi, Kahan lagaungi jhumke” says Malti to her mother in the film, as she becomes a shadow of her former cheery self. Meghna Gulzar deftly takes us through Malti’s journey from the moment she is taken to hospital with her injuries, her own internal battle as she comes to term with her reality, whether to stand up for her cause or live the life of a victim.

As Malti meets Amod, played by Vikrant Massey, a journalist turned activist who works for acid victims through his foundation “Chhapaak Foundation”, her resolve to help many like her and to stand up for the fight against the sale of acid are strengthened. Her lawyer, played by Madhurjeet Sargi, stands by her through the entire journey as they fight for the legal rights for acid survivors and for the law to treat the offence as gravely as that of any heinous crime.

But Meghana Gulzar’s screenplay does not celebrate the end with Malti’s triumph, it hits you in the face with the statistics that despite the ruling and the judgement, and the ban on sale of acid, the crimes continue. The recent one having taken place as close as December 2019. With nearly 300 cases reported in India, Malti and many like her who live everyday with their reality, are just examples that this could happen anywhere with anyone and especially at times when crime and violence against women continue to make headlines. Chhapaak makes you think and question are we really safe?

Deepika Padukone proves her brilliance and skill as an actor yet again; she does not dive into theatrics or histrionics but subtly expresses her character’s anguish, her torment and the moments of victory through her eyes. Not even once does the film ever focus on the stardom of it’s lead actor or celebrate her cinematic appeal and Deepika does full justice to her part as a woman who makes her biggest disability her reason for empowerment, – “meri sirf surat badli hai, main nahi.”

Vikrant Massey as the angry, frustrated, taciturn activist whose soft side is often cowed down by the enormity of the situation around him is a class act. Massey’s appeal is his chameleon-like ease to slip into his character so naturally that not even once do you realise it’s an actor enacting a part.

Chhapaak is an honest film; it’s heart and intent is in the right place, it shakes you and moves you, as you applaud the spirit of the survivors it makes you question the reality of the times we live in- maybe its time to debate once again over these heinous acts and those behind it deserve the most severe of punishments, a time to get stringent acts into place. Last but not the least it’s Gulzar’s opening title track, which haunts you long after the credits have rolled.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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