In a moment of heat, we often end up doing things that we come to regret later. But is an emotional outburst always forgivable? Is physically venting out anger on your partner just once, forgivable? The trailer of Taapsee Pannu starrer Thappad asks all these relevant questions, and many more. Directed by Anubhav Sinha, who gave us two of the most relevant films in the recent history of Indian cinema; Mulk (2018) and Article 15 (2019), Thappad looks like the filmmaker’s attempt to raise valiant questions on a one-off episode of intimate partner violence. Is a slap, just a slap? Must a woman overlook a thappad, because it was impulsive and it doesn’t define her partner’s character? Or have we trivialised domestic violence to such an extent that “just” a slap isn’t seen as unusual, but raising your voice against it is?

Thappad’s trailer tells us that no matter what people around us say, intimate partner violence is wrong, even if it happens just once.

What’s the trailer about

Thappad’s trailer introduces us to Amu, a caring wife, and daughter-in-law, who is seemingly in a loving marriage. It all changes when in a fit of rage, her husband slaps her at a party. While people around her, including her husband, goad her to forget the incident, Amu simply cannot move on. It has changed her entire perspective towards her marriage, making her see all the flaws in her relationship that she had been overlooking till now. And she is very clear about one thing: he hit her just this once, but he has no right to do that. That’s the gist of this nearly three-minute-long trailer. No matter what people around you say, intimate partner violence is wrong, even if it happens just once.

Domestic violence is never trivial

The data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2018 revealed that over 30 percent of Indian women have been physically, sexually or emotionally abused by their husbands at some point in their lives. The most shocking finding from NFHS-4, however, was that 54.8 percent of women in the age group of 40 to 49 thought that spousal abuse was justified, while the figure stood at 47.7 percent among girls between the age of 15 to 19. These figures prove how domestic violence isn’t just alarmingly common, but is trivialized to an extent that “minor” physical abuse is considered a part and parcel of a conjugal relationship.

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It’s between the husband and wife, people often say, when asked why they do not intervene when they witness domestic violence. Marriage being a sanctified bond in our society, washing your dirty laundry in public is frowned upon, even if it involves abuse of the worst kind. When you put this in context, you understand why “just” one slap will seem trivial to many.

In the opening sequence of Thappad’s trailer, Amu’s lawyer asks her why she doesn’t want to get back with her husband, after being served a notice for restitution of conjugal rights. Is it his family? Is he having an affair? Is she having an affair, she asks? When Amu says “no”, she asks, “So just one slap then?” This scene establishes the social dynamics that Amu will have to battle to not just seek justice but to also prove that she is not in the wrong asking for it.

The stigma around divorce that often keeps women from fighting back

Numerous women choose to stay in unhappy and abusive marriages because either they have no support system to back them and their decision, or because of the social stigma around divorce deters them. The consequences of divorce, no matter whose fault it is, are much severe for women, economically and socially. The tag of a divorcee is something no parents wants for their daughter in India. It means that women have nowhere to go and no one by their side to shield them from all the criticism and shaming that comes their way.

The pressure to reconcile and move on is worse, when it is a one off incident, and no one sees the slap, but the character of the person who levied it, from their perspective.

The advice to stay in an abusive marriage sadly comes from other women; sister, mother, mother-in-law, friends, acquaintances, etc., who only wish well and do not want the woman in question to fall on hard times. Adjustment is easier than bearing an unshakable stigma for the rest of the life, isn’t it? Add to that the fact that legal recourse in such cases may often be a traumatic ordeal, with character assassination and repeated visits to the court. “Let it go beta, women should learn to endure a little,” Amu’s mother-in-law tells her. The consequences of raising your voice, could be worse, women are warned. The pressure to reconcile and move on is more when it is a one-off incident, and no one sees the slap, but the character of the person who levied it, from their perspective.

The antidote to Kabir Singh?

Many people on social media have hailed Thappad’s trailer as an antidote to last year’s infamous film Kabir Singh. Sandeep Vanga, the director of the film, had said in an interview, “When you are deeply in love, when you are deeply connected with a woman, or vice versa, there is a lot of honesty in it, and if you don’t have that physical demonstration, if you don’t have that liberty of slapping each other, then I don’t see anything in there.”

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Normalisation or romanticisation of intimate partner violence can put the well-being of women and men in volatile relationships at risk. Slapping, punching, pushing, kicking, strangling, these actions are never okay in a relationship. Be it once or twice or multiple times, violence is violence and we need to stop finding ways to justify it in a marriage. The accountability of spousal violence doesn’t just lie with perpetrators, a part of it also lies with the society that turns a blind eye towards it, or worse, doesn’t give a person a way out of an abusive relationship.

As Taapsee’s character sums it towards the end of the trailer, “Usne mujhe mara, pehli baar. Nahi maar sakta, bas itni si baat hai. (He hit me, for the first time. He cannot hit me, that’s it.)”

Image Credit: YouTube Screenshot

Thappad is set to release on 28th February 2020. The film also stars Pavail Gulati, Ratna Pathak Shah, Dia Mirza and Manav Kaul in pivotal roles.

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.

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