Chhapaak: When courage is the only option left to stand up to destiny’s cruel games.
Chhapaak comes with a force — splashing a stimulating and intrepid life of an acid attack survivor — in the face. The film portrays despondent affairs of a country where acid or any other equally hazardous substance is still sold openly years after the Supreme Court’s ban on the over-the-counter sale. After the critical success of Raazi and Talvar, director Meghna Gulzar’s latest movie hits on a subject unexplored till now. Embellished with lyricist Gulzaar’s calming but stinging words, the script personifies the film’s anti-patriarchy posture. But, astonishingly, it’s a woman, the sister of a much older and jilted suitor in the film who breathes no qualm when it comes to avenging the rejection from the victim by throwing acid on her face.
The broad daylight accident on the street that journeys course through media and courts endeavors the truthful best to detail the inspiring life of the acid survivor Malti and a bunch of the other survivors fighting their cases with plucky smiles. The emotionally stirring and largely documentary-like narrative ensures that the protagonist is not confined to wearing ruined-skin with a missing ear and a nostril, laced with some moralistic dialogues; but, craftily re-enacts a blend of pain, exasperation, and mental distress. Her response seeing herself in the mirror for the first time after the accident sends a chill through the spine.
Based on the life of the acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal, Chhapaak shows Deepika Padukone, who is also the co-producer, growing in her character as the drama progresses. Her compressing and grappling smile is something to take note of. Vikrant Massey, a journalist-turned restless NGO-boy Amol, who eventually falls for Malti, essays the role with much-required tranquility. The character may look overemphasized and inconsiderate at times but in line with what the role demanded. Be it Payal Nair as Shiraz aunty, the wealthy lady who financially and ardently holds up Malti in challenging times or Madhurjeet Sarghi as an assiduous lawyer Archana Bajaj, the supporting cast is sound and forthright to the script. Vishal Dahiya as Bashir Khan, the principal perpetrator of the horrific crime stamps his authority with limited dialogues, mostly with his devious silence and vindictive eyes.
Songs muddle the flow, but it’s Bollywood after all. The script and dialogues of the 2 hour 18 minutes long film could have been sharper especially when the 19-year old Malti faces the media questions. Also, Malti’s relationship with her brother is unexplored and leaves too little to comprehend in the absence of any meaningful dialogues. The writer deserves applause for the scene where another acid attack survivor praises Malti’s face-texture in puerile fashion and longs for a look identical to that of Alia Bhat’s after surgery. Chhapaak gratefully subdues itself from getting exorbitant and letting Malti become too larger than life in seeking justice. She is composed throughout, yet too formidable in sending across a courageous message.