Director Meghna Gulzar yet again strikes excellence through a powerful cinematic experience
Films on such extreme and brutal subjects are risky. They need the right amount of sensitivity, sensibility, and heart in place. Who better than Meghna Gulzar then? Continuing her winning streak after Talvar and Raazi, she has made Chhapaak a true masterpiece. Talk of every aspect that a film is made of- right from ideation to what actually comes on screen for the audience- the film is a wonder. With the power to touch your weak nerves to even boosting them up for rejuvenation, Chhapaak is a splash- one that leaves you in decay and another that hits right at your soul asking it to get up and move.
Inspired particularly by the life of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agrawal among others, the film revolves around Malti (Deepika Padukone) whose life turns upside down when she’s attacked by acid.
The writing by Atika Chohan and Meghna Gulzar is exemplary. Without going overboard or preachy, they tell the story of an acid attack survivor with complete grit and faith. Having said that, there are enough moments in the film where you feel her pain, empathise with her, smile with her in her happiness, and try to move along. And that’s the magnificence of the writing. The subject has been dealt with so seriously that it justifies the trauma of the persons in question. Not only that, it also relies a lot on the aftermath of the incident- not just from the outer influences, but also from deep within the person.
Early on in the film, you are served with pain. Malti facing casual remarks of disability, strange gazes in public places, a man giving her the spot in a queue out of sympathy, and her helplessness of not being able to secure a job- all show you a mirror. Makes you disgust yourselves as society. Also it is during these scenes that you appreciate Meghna Gulzar for her superlative direction. She says a lot with minimal engagement of shots.
You look at what’s happening and feel a lump in your throat. Almost all throughout the film. Even when the film changes its course from the darker side and becomes a colorful affair, you have your heart and mind all for the characters. One thing that the makers must be credited for is how they have shown the inner conflict of the character. It is these scenes where the film gains its strength.
The narrative structure isn’t by the straight line. Beginning in 2012 with protests around Nirbhaya case, it goes 7 years back when the heinous incident took place. The court proceedings are shown maintaining the timeline.
The film moves at leisurely pace, asking you to absorb every minute detailing, the character’s inner psyche, and the overall setup. And that’s exactly how it should have been. Embarking on a clear messaging on acid ban, the film finds its path. Good thing- the film doesn’t talk only about one woman.
Deepika Padukone is simply out of the world. It’s the first time that she has done a role so highly demanding as an actor. She is right there in every scene. Getting into the skin of the character, she bares it all. First the writing and then equally important is her striking act that gives you the right meaning of the film. Her role isn’t straight. It has a trajectory. Unpredictable. You don’t know what will happen to her or how will she react. Also, it’s not as if for first half she is the victim and then in the remaining part, she is all jovial. She has shades and layers, just how a real person would experience. Deepika switches effortlessly. Wonderful she is. Indeed, it’s only with this film that you finally conclude that she’s become a great actor.
Vikrant Massey has a good role and he lives up to the charm associated with his character. He is a fantastic actor- it’s proven time and again. Here, he has a restricted appeal. That’s how the role defines him. Even then, he makes sure he excels. A genius he is.
Vishal Dahiya is gruesome as well as casual. The portrayal by Dahiya is immensely relatable. You like him as an actor but not as a person. So yes, it’s an impressive performance.
Madhurjeet Sarghi as the lawyer is also splendidly supreme. She lends a strong support to not only the character but also the premise.
Other supporting actors too have done a good job.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have given soul to the album, like they mostly do. The songs not only suit the film and its positioning but also make you tuned to the appeal. Lyrics by legendary Gulzar are also meaningful. To be adored. Every song. Every word written. Even the background score takes the film to a situation where you are actively engaged with the cinematic notions on offer. It is layered and works at many levels, as per the mood of the film. Gives you tears. Chokes you. Thumbs up for the sound.
Cinematography by Malay Prakash is very good. The use of lighting for particular emotions works very well. Production design by Subrata Chakrabarty and Amit Ray is smart. The sets are highly intricate and symbolic. Do observe the keen working and detailing in the sets, giving the film a sense of realism. Also, hats off to the make-up and costume departments. Make-up, especially for Deepika’s character has a path. It grows with the film and how it progresses. The economic section of the characters is brought out well.
Editing by Nitin Baid gives the film a solid structure. With hardly any dull moment, the film has a definitive arc, that makes you glued to the narrative. The film goes back and forth a couple of times, and that does the job here.
A great effort here by Meghna Gulzar and her team. The film tells a very strong message. Not only to the women, but men as well. To the entire society in fact. And it does so with power and flair. The message deserves to be disseminated wide and loud. Clearly. The film definitely deserves a watch. Right now.