“Koi chehra mita ke, aur ankh se hata ke
chand chite udaa ke jo gaya..
Chhapaak se pehchaan le gaya”
As Arijit Singh powerfully sings the above heart-wrenching lines penned by legend Gulzar, we see Malti(Deepika Padukone) screaming in pain, as her skin comes in contact with that one splash of acid. This moment created midway in the narrative by director Meghna is the obvious defining moment, and it changes everything – for Malti is on the receiving end of the heinous act, as the audience just helplessly witnesses this heart-wrenching portrayal on screen.
Right from the first frame to the last, Meghna Gulzar ensures that Chhapaak is successfully as unsettling as the effect of acid on the skin. Initially itself, it never seems to be any comforting experience. Exploring a broad spectrum of emotions from basic feminism to casteism through excruciating stories told of different acid attack survivors, the screenplay roughly changes gears to depict the distinct journey of central part Malti between different timelines. Not hard to keep track of, but Meghna apparently loses track and traverses the path of self-indulgence, as the story gets too ambitious and the movie tends to fall all over the place, though held together by the sensitive emotions and the impeccable performance by Deepika.
At the center of the dramatic tragedy, Deepika Padukone is towering in her portrayal of Malti. The actor has arguably delivered her career’s best performance. Nothing for me could earlier top the magical spell she cast with her act as ‘Tara’ in Tamasha(2015), not anymore. Getting somewhat literally under the skin of the brave and opinionated Malti surviving in this patriarchal society, she makes sure to get one crying, laughing, singing along with her. One cannot help but feel for her part as the actor lives it throughout, striving to smile a little with the heavy prosthetics on her face – but that one smile is all I needed – as the journey of struggle perpetually felt neverending.
Supporting the able shoulders of ‘in-almost-every-frame’ Deepika is equally prominent acts by Vikrant Massey and Madhurjeet Sarghi, who do their best while finding purpose in their underwritten characters. So, Madhurjeet as Archana is the strong but one-note supportive lawyer of Malti with little else to do, and Vikrant as Amol comes across as a mere angry young man activist. Did their parts deserve a better backstory? Yes – and so did Malti atleast – the emotions fail to strike the connect during her backstory sequences of school and even the unrequired random slow-mos of present-day love with Amol.
Though tagged as ‘silent love’, the love story gets quite loud and redundant for a few minutes. Let the eyes do the talking, not the forced wind blowing the papers to be later picked up by the couple, with a romantic Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy song playing in the background. Straight put, it’s all better when subtle, except when the movie bluntly steers to pierce one’s heart. The movie scores with its minimalistic background score, also with the suitable soundtrack by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. The title track clearly stands out with its lasting effect on one’s mind.
In a runtime of around 120 minutes, watching Chhapaak feels all worthy and memorable an experience – due to the conviction with which the story is told. The needed story has been told on celluloid, it now needs to be witnessed. The horror depicted is surely unlikeable, but the movie seizes this beat till last scene, which is again a shocker. The rare smiling moments of Deepika make me smile here, and her constant angst does move me to tears. For the same reason, I did want this movie to end soon, and indeed, Chhapaak requires a strong heart to be watched again. The big picture created by Meghna and team is immersive, and they don’t want one to forget what happened, so the impactful attack sequence is played some 2-3 times, and it hits hard each time, leaving one void of all happiness within.
P.S: When the attack sequence is depicted in the final act, someone back in theatre abused the acid culprit (namely Babban Khan, and not some Rajesh Sharma – fact check) loudly, and the entire theatre clapped. That was surprising and got me numb for a while, yet I felt amused within to that reaction – a sad state of affairs noted.
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