Disclaimer: The following post contains spoilers from the film Chhapaak.
Koi chehra mita ke, aur aankh se hata keChand chheente uda ke jo gayaChhapaak se pehchaan le gaya
Gulzar penned the words to the title song for Chhapaak, but in that one line, he sums up the shocking travesty of an acid attack - all it takes is 1 second, a splash, and a person's whole identity is altered forever.
Meghna Gulzar's Chhapaak, starring Deepika Padukone in the lead role, is a fine example of human courage in the face of harrowing circumstances. More importantly, it is an important film because without resorting to preachy messages or melodrama, Meghna Gulzar highlights the severity of the crime, its long-lasting effects, and the strength it takes to survive.
The film, which is based on the story of acid-attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal, showcases the tale of Malti (Deepika Padukone). Malti is 19 when she has acid thrown on her by a 30-year-old family friend. His reason - she spurns his romantic advances.
From battling the physical pain and emotional scars to fighting to stop the over-the-counter sale of acid, the film focuses on Malti's journey. It gives due importance to the challenges that society throws on an acid-attack survivor's path of recovery. But it also focuses on how Malti's fight is to not forge a new identity, but rather, to reclaim her original identity.
Or as Malti puts it in the film, "chehra badla hai, man nahin".
While there is no discounting the importance of the film's central subject, the movie's salient point lies in how it showcases the strength of female solidarity.
After the attack as Malti tries to build back her spirit, it is her lawyer and her father's female employer who become her pillars of support - advocating on her behalf, giving her the courage to battle long-drawn court proceedings, and becoming her voice when she stands mute with anger and/or shock.
Similarly, the movie also beautifully focuses on how the survivors of an acid attack--who work with an NGO (Chaanv) that focuses on stopping acid violence--are the first ones to meet the victims.
Every time a survivor meets a victim, not only do they empathize with the victim, but unfortunately, in some form or the other, they also relive the trauma of their own attack. And yet, they soldier on, with a beautiful, determined smile.
Deepika Padukone delivers a solid performance, especially in the scene of her attack. Her scream of anguish stays with you, long after the credits roll in. With powerful, albeit limited dialogues, Deepika brings a quiet restraint to her performance that allows you to applaud the strength of acid attack survivors, while also feel angered on their behalf.
The film does not have a traditional storyline per se - rather, it is a passionate account of Malti's survival and the fight for justice. Devoid of cinematic frills, the film truly benefits from Meghna Gulzar's direction. Because the movie offers a beautiful juxtaposition of the haunting and long-lasting reality of the crime with the unexpected slivers of happiness and justice that Malti achieves.
Despite a slightly tedious pace, the film's true win is the unexpectedly hard-hitting end. Because right when you believe that things are finally looking up for Malti, the film shows how a crime as bestial as an acid attack is still prevalent across India.
And even today, all it takes is a moment, a splash, to change someone's identity forever.