Readers Write In #168: Thappad – Writing it right

Posted on May 5, 2020

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(by Hariharasudhen Nagarajan)

I caught Thappad on Amazon Prime, two months after its release. The film had meaningful dialogues, searing emotional heat, and a sense of liberation towards the end, strung together by the A-grade making and performances. But, what makes the film is the writing, which has characters with their own stories to tell. The writers closely connect these characters to the lead character, Amrita, in the movie. What would the writers have imagined when they thought of the idea for the film? How did the idea expand itself to be ready to get written into a screenplay? What if yours truly had a chance to be present in the writers’ room on the days where the two writers, Anubhav Sinha and Mrunmayee Lagoo, were brainstorming their ideas explaining the hows and the whys of the story’s events to each other before and while writing the screenplay? Here is an imaginary conversation between the two writers where I took the form of a fly to observe them:

Writer 1: Let’s address the issue of domestic abuse through our next film.

Writer 2: Would it be a story of one couple that could also represent those of millions of households in our country?

Writer 1: Yes, the story of a wife who gets slapped by a husband and files for divorce.

Writer 2: Okay, this idea looks far-fetched to be made into a film since this is considered normal by our society. And, because this is normal, people may ask us later on the reason the wife took a hasty decision without thinking about the consequences for her, her husband, and their two families.

Writer 1: Therefore, let’s write the husband’s character as a man who does not understand his wife’s mental agony even after slapping her. This writing justification should convince us, and audiences later, about the wife’s decision to go for a divorce.

Writer 2: But, why would he not care about her mental agony? Most Indian men don’t care about their wives’ mental state after slapping them. So, is this why she files for a divorce? It still does not sound convincing to me.

Writer 1: Maybe, he’s obsessed about something, like his career? If the two are part of an upper-class household, possible that she takes the slap seriously? The ones from lower-class homes don’t have the finances to go to court. Maybe telling the story of a woman from an upper-class family could inspire those from lower-class to retaliate at least at home when subjected to domestic abuse.

Writer 2: In that case, let’s give the husband a career: a career where he’s on the verge of becoming something more significant. He’s chasing his dreams but wears blinkers and ignores his wife, who was on the same journey with him. Therefore, all he cares about is himself due to his career and material goals.

Writer 1: And, let’s contrast the husband’s profession by giving the wife’s character a role that’s on the other end of the spectrum: housewife – a wife who cared only about the happiness of her husband.

Writer 2: Now that we have given them two contrasting roles, the most clichéd ones in our society and our movies, let’s discuss the slap. The husband, although career-oriented, does not feel any regret whatsoever about the slap. Why he is sexist without even realizing it?

Writer 1: This attitude is in his blood, aka his father. His father has a similar story where he didn’t treat his mother too well, and she chooses to live with her son instead. But, it’s essential to foreshadow the most unfortunate event of the film, the slap, by showing glimpses of the husband’s sexism earlier in the story.

Writer 2: For example, he asks her to stay at home, which is, according to him, the epitome of a woman’s world, to improve her cooking instead of venturing out of her house to the real world through, say, driving.

Writer 1: Great! But wait. The story is already about sexist, misogynistic men. So far, we have discussed two men. If we are going to address the topic of domestic abuse, we may have to show more men in a negative light. Wouldn’t the audience judge us for portraying men as evil people?

Writer 2: To show the audience that we don’t see all men as bad people, let’s write the wife’s father as a progressive man. He understands his daughter’s happy and weak moments. He respects his daughter’s choices without being the voice of society. If he sees his daughter getting slapped, he takes a backseat and allows his daughter to do the talking, but if he sees his son ill-treating a woman, then he doesn’t hold back. We will have the wife’s mother as close-minded; her mom taught her to be close-minded. Hence, the opinions provided by the two people to their daughter would be contrasting.

Writer 1: How about the rest of the characters? Let’s closely connect them to the film’s topic, yes?

Writer 2: Right. We can create them as we go along, but we need to connect them to the issue we are trying to address through this film.

Writer 1: and also associate them with the lead character in the film. Let all the women, at least in this film, feel liberated, and have their wings repaired to fly high.

Writer 1 & Writer 2: So, happy writing to us!