Deepika Padukone, Vikrant Massey, Ankit Bisht, Madhurjeet Sargi
Acid Attack! How soul wrenchingly terrifying it sounds to live through it and find your smile again. Even if smiling stretches your burnt skin to the extent that the eyes well up, SMILE! Because you are stronger than that splash of acid…
The first time we see Malti (Deepika Padukone) is when she has just suffered a heinous acid attack. She is fallen, she is in pain and we are too scared to even scream, to even cry. We only watch as she is taken away to the hospital. Coming out of the hospital, Malti takes up working with an NGO, her life now revolves around her mother and her ailing brother. While she has moved on, she hasn’t let the fight go. She has filed a PIL against the sale of Acid, she has a court case she is still fighting because even when she walks around with a horrific reminder of the trauma she has suffered, justice is blind. It is her NGO head, Amol (Vikrant Massey) who brings out a little romance in her fight.
The story-line is pretty linear and frankly secondary in the lieu of everything that it says. The ‘how they are saying it’ is so much more important than what happened because it determines what will happen next. For years and years, acid attack victims have been shirked, not because of anything they did, but because they disturb the imagery of ‘all is well’. They are a reminder of how dark the night can get. We often beat around the bush with acid attack victims losing the crux asking questions like ‘why did it happen!’ Meghna Gulzar and her co-writer, Akit, cut out all that crap and speak it straight through Chhapaak.
No one delves into why it happened, because nothing ever can justify a crime of this magnitude. By asking why, one inadvertently is looking to seek justification and that’s unacceptable. Which is exactly how Chhapaak has dealt with the storyline. An A+ to the writers for dealing with a sensitive issue with their heads and hearts in the right place. What also needs to be spoken about and highlighted, is how Chhapaak attempts to change how we see acid attack victims. They have children cringing at the sight of their face, they have a tough time seeking jobs but most importantly they have the hardest time waiting for people to see them for who they are, beyond their scars.
Deepika Padukone and her production company, Ka, have really given Chhapaak everything that it needed. There is resilience and strength in Malti which makes you forget all about Rani Padmavati or even Ram’s Leela, you only see Malti. Not as a lady with a disfigured face, but a girl with grit, determination and love for life. Supporting her, not-so-silently but resolutely is Vikrant Massey’s Amol. The odd couple is endearing even as they bicker.
Like most Meghna Gulzar films, even Chhapaak too has cute nuances into the lives of their supporting characters. Malti’s lawyer played by Madhurjeet Sargi is one such character. Her life, her husband, and their bond is that steady heartbeat you seek in an embrace. Always a pleasure to see Meghna’s characters and their stories through this time the music (by Shankar Ehsaan Loy) isn’t something that stays with you, despite being a match for the situations it represents.
A special mention and applause for Clover Wooton and her realistic prosthetics for Malti!
All in all, Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak is a film that will make you cry but not with fear or hatred. Chhapaak will make you weep for the many years of ignorance and injustice you may have unknowingly doled out to a victim by cringing at their face or asking why did it happen!