Being a woman, an engineer, a professional, I heard many times in my life “je radhe se chul o badhe” (meaning who cooks, she also ties her hair). This Bengali proverb is told to women to signify that despite working in the same capacity as men in their professional life, they also have to take care of the household, raise the kids, be a dutiful wife etc. etc. Unfortunately this phrase was not told to the men of my generation. Director and co-writer Anubhav Sinha’s movie Thappad has made us think through not only the explicit male entitlement of our society, but also the implicit expectation from the women.
Amazon Prime brought the storm of debate and introspection in the Indian households right before Mother’s Day by adding the movie Thappad in their inventory. As soon as the movie dropped in Prime, I watched the movie on a Sunday evening. In the meantime, the WhatsApp groups with my girl friends started to show signs of domestic turbulence as the aftermath of watching the movie. Agenda of the weekly zoom calls with the girl friends unanimously got decided to be the discussion on “Thappad”. And eventually I landed up in multiple group calls on discussion of Thappad!
As the name may suggest, “Thappad” is not an aimless ranting about borderline domestic violence. It subtly portrays the agreed upon male entitlement in our society through the stories of women of different economic, social and professional stature. Protagonist Amrita, played by Taapsee Pannu, who is a homemaker by choice, takes care of her husband, her mother-in-law, maintains the household immaculately with devotion and perfection and makes her husband’s ambition as her own dream. But her beautiful house of cards starts to collapse after a fateful slap in full public view and subsequent series of events with zero remorse or apology from her husband, lack of support from people around her including her own mother who advices on importance of “rishtey nibhana” (maintaining peaceful relationship) on a marriage.
Many stories have been told to stand up against the explicit physical abuse that women face. Nobody disagrees on standing up against domestic abuse/ violation. But, I think, the bigger question is the expectation of the society towards the women to perform certain duties including making peace with the rowdy behavior of the male counterpart. The director/ co-writer Anubhav Sinha created an intense social drama questioning not only the acceptance of the explicit male entitlements of abuse, but also the implicit sacrifices that women continue to make.
The movie leaves a bigger question for debate if one slap enough to quit a relationship? Or is a slap “Bas itni is baat”? (Just that much?) With multiple discussions with my girl friends, there is no doubt that everybody supports rising up against domestic abuse. But some people including myself would definitely question if just one slap and subsequent sign of “non remorse” , “non apology” enough to re-evaluate a marriage and lead to divorce?
Now considering the other side of the gender equation, men have been brought up with special entitlements in our patriarchal society for thousands of years. We have a big responsibility as mothers not to instill those entitlements in our boys and to teach our girls to question “je radhe se chul o ba(n)dhe” if it is told only to a girl. Hopefully the next generation will see less gender discrinimation in marital relationships.
On a lighter note, the same Bengali proverb gets applied to my husband nowadays in a modified form – “Je radhe se chul o kaate” (who cooks, he also cuts hair) as he cooks for us and he is the designated barber of the family, who is playing the role of our hairdresser during the lock down.