Chhapaak movie review: Deepika Padukone is stellar in Meghna Gulzar’s impactful film

Hindustan Times | ByMonika Rawal Kukreja
Aug 22, 2020 03:57 PM IST

Chhapaak movie review: Meghna Gulzar’s film is all heart as it takes on the scourge of acid attacks. Deepika Padukone shows the mastery on her craft as she emerges as Malti.

Director - Meghna Gulzar
Cast - Deepika Padukone, Vikrant Massey

Chhapaak movie review: Deepika Padukone plays a character inspired by Laxmi Agarwal in Meghna Gulzar’s film.
Chhapaak movie review: Deepika Padukone plays a character inspired by Laxmi Agarwal in Meghna Gulzar’s film.

The opening shot of the film recreates the protests that followed the Delhi gang-rape case in 2012, setting the tone for Chhapaak. Based on a real life incident of acid attack violence and a survivor’s (Laxmi Aggarwal) story, the film starring Deepika Padukone as the protagonist leaves an impact though it lacks the shock value that one would expect from watching a film about such a heinous hate crime.

Director Meghna Gulzar, who has earlier helmed Talvar and Raazi, once again treats her story with maturity and doesn’t get carried away. She understands the nuances of the subject and instead of evoking sympathy, she sends out a stronger message of standing tall and celebrating life even after you’ve faced adversity at its worst.

Watch the Chhapaak trailer here 

Chhapaak narrates the story of 19-year-old Malti (Padukone) who, as a happy teenager, aspired to be a singer, but ‘chhapaak’ of acid changes the course of her life. Her life, now, revolves around working for an NGO for acid attack victims, battling her court case and getting corrective surgeries at the hospital. For those creating a ruckus over how the makers have changed the religion of the attacker in the film, that’s not true. The man is named Bashir Khan aka Babbu and Rajesh turns out to be Malti’s boyfriend.

The film starts from Malti’s present day when she is hunting for a job, having mustered the courage to come out of the emotional trauma the acid attack wreaked on her. The physical scars still haunt her and I quite like the references to that -- the interview where Malti says ‘There’s no category called acid attack survivors or else I would have ticked it’, or when she’s told ‘beauty parlour mein kaam karne ke liye beauty ka hona jaruri hai’.

Even though Meghna shows a great grip on her story and direction, her constrained approach while telling Malti’s story does leave some blanks and loose ends. For instance, Deepika’s alcoholic father is there in a couple of heartwarming scenes but suddenly he’s nowhere to be seen, leaving you to assume he has died. Same goes for her brother who is shown to have an acrimonious relationship with his sister, but that’s all we know about their equation.

Watch an interaction with Deepika Padukone and the Chhapaak team here

While you stay invested in Chhapaak despite a second half that drags in part, you hope to see more of Malti’s struggle on the personal front, like how did this horrific incident affect her relationship with her parents, friends or even that boyfriend who played a crucial role in her life. But Chhapaak, at many places, is reduced to a courtroom drama. Not denying that those were powerful sequences but watching the known can only be interesting to a limit.

Chhapaak has several moments where you feel the pain of an acid attack survivor -- the scene where Deepika screams looking at her face in the mirror for the first time after the attack, or when she is trying to put an earring but can’t are heart-wrenching. Her agony and helplessness touch your heart; more so because at no point Meghna makes her protagonist beg for sympathy or let her succumb to self-pity. Instead she is shown to empower herself and many others, finding her self-worth and making the most of the life that she has to live after the unfortunate incident.

Deepika Padukone gets into the skin of Malti’s character without any difficulty. Two years after playing a queen in Padmaavat, she eschews all vanity to play an acid attack victim and does full justice to it. Even her prosthetic makeup deserves applause because with such a sensitive and delicate subject, you can easily go wrong. Don’t miss the minutest of detailing like Malti still uses a Nokia 3310 (as the story is set in 2005) and each time she erases a message, it makes you nostalgic thinking of the time when the phone was really popular.

Vikrant Massey in a still from Chhapaak.
Vikrant Massey in a still from Chhapaak.

Vikrant Massey as a former journalist, Amol Dixit, who now runs an NGO, is a great casting call for a role that needed to be loud yet subtle. He not only looks convincing in his role but also supports Deepika in their scenes together.

However, their chemistry doesn’t really stand out. It would really not have made any difference to the story if there was no love angle at all between the two.

Another performance that shines through is that of Archana Bajaj (Madhurjeet Sarghi) who plays Malti’s lawyer. The way she helps Malti fight for justice and stands by her side through all hardships is commendable.

Also read: Fact check: Did Chhapaak change attacker’s religion, name him Rajesh?

While Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music is on point, it’s Gulzar’s lyrics, especially the title track ‘Chhapaak se pehchaan le gaya’ that resonates with you. Meghna has carefully used the background score and not overdoing it in scenes where it’s not required.

Chhapaak is a story that makes you sob and smile at the same time. It’s a sensitive, brave and gut-wrenching story that’s not easy to watch, but definitely worth telling.

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