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CHHAPAAK – Wish it was a more powerful film moving beyond the court case and songs, justifying the praiseworthy effort of the supporting cast standing tall with Deepika. (Review By Bobby Sing)

12 Jan, 2020 | Movie Reviews / 2020 Releases / ALL ABOUT INSPIRED MOVIES / Inspired Movies (Alphabetical) / C

When one of the top most actors of the industry decides to act and produce in a thought-provoking film questioning the social injustice and gender-bias in our society, then that deserves praises without any doubt. And the praises need to be much louder when the subject happens to be the tragedy of a helpless acid-attack victim with no scope of either glamour or crowd-pulling entertainment, for the general Hindi film viewers.
So, when you consider CHHAPAAK (meaning splash) from this perspective, then it’s unarguably a courageous as well as an important film from the industry, mostly known for its ‘mass oriented commercial projects’ led by the Stars entirely focusing on mere ‘Entertainment’. Produced and enacted by Deepika Padukone going for a facial transformation playing the lead, certainly gave the film an unparalleled elevation which would not have been there, had it been any other actress in the role of Laxmi. Incidentally another Hindi film titled ACID had just released last Friday and nobody even knew about its existence, forget going and watching it.
Another significant or rather the biggest merit of CHHAPAAK is the sincerity in its performances given by the supporting cast led by the impressive Vikrant Massey, the emotional & sensible Madhurjeet Sarghi, the big-hearted Payal Nair, the supportive Anand Tiwari, the evil Vishal Dahiya and more. No doubt the film scores because of Deepika leading it from the front coming up with a solid, heartfelt and thoughtfully restrained performance. But I still felt the supporting cast contributing a lot more in comparison, actually enhancing Deepika’s individual act to be fair.
At the same time, the film directed by Meghna Gulzar and co-written by Meghna and Atika Chohan, might turn out to be quite different than expected by many as despite being based on the true story of Laxmi Agarwal, it isn’t entirely about her personal life before and after the incident. The film actually focuses on the cruel attack, its physical aftereffects on the victim and the court cases in particular leading to some landmark judgments. In fact, the court hearings, which are also indicative more than detailed, remain the basic focal point of the film and both its intermission and climax are written around them.
Therefore, my praises are all there for the bold initiative taken, the questions raised and the talented performers, but I am unable to wholeheartedly praise the direction, as the film doesn’t turn out to be as powerful, moving and hard-hitting as it should have been. CHHAPAAK has its praiseworthy moments coming at regular intervals with an appreciable cinematography. But the overall presentation, the vision and the writing looked like the makers deliberately stayed away from the required melodrama, rushing up the pace, not giving the emotional stay wherever required, probably with the fear that it might make the film heavy, slow and too realistic. Yes, it’s understandable that both Meghna and Deepika didn’t want the viewers to feel pity for the suffering characters. That’s fine. But in order to skip the pity, the film also remains at a distance from being a highly moving and emotionally touching depiction of the case and the characters involved.
The back and forth story movements in the script, the unexpectedly long emphasis on the courtroom drama and then the inclusion of real acid survivors more or less diluted the overall impact, as I strongly felt. Here many might be having an opinion that featuring the real life survivors was surely a noble thought adding value to the meaningful attempt made by the renowned team. 
But why I feel it diluted the overall impact? 
Because the moment the real acid attack survivors came on screen, Deepika’s prosthetics at once looked like too minimal and very carefully done maintaining some part of her beauty intact for the obvious reasons. And that’s what unintentionally diluted the intended impact of those particular sequences.
Putting it differently, I really wish this was made with a clear vision of delivering a disturbing film that hurts and hurts pretty badly asking for the desired social change.
Would not like to use the word ‘sadly’ but for me it was disappointing to see CHHAPAAK intentionally directed by Meghna Gulzar, as just a good thought-provoking film, staying away from something strong, powerful, shocking and highly unsettling for the viewers.
Moreover, if a film on an acid attack victim spends a big part of its duration focusing just on the face, its deformation, the surgeries and the physicality of the subject then that is pretty simple, expected and nothing path-breaking or inventive. 

Frankly, I was expecting a lukewarm kind of film from the director as she clearly pointed towards the same in one of her TV interviews, wherein she said, 
“Sachhai dikhaana sahi hai, par wo itni kadwi bhi na ho ke hazam na ho… Aur itni bhi meethi usko na karen…. Ya itni chaashni bhi na daalen ke diabetes ho jaye…”
Cannot say whether you found these words cunningly commercial or not, but hearing this questionable statement, I clearly got that Meghna is certainly not going to come up with any powerful, boiling film that will be tough to handle. I very well knew that she is going to play pretty safe and commercial, not upsetting the multiplex viewers who usually like to see their cinema holding the popcorn and burgers in hands like celebrating a picnic.
So a not-so-aggressive or disturbing film was expected but what I wasn’t expecting was the way she used the songs in the narration, including one in the most important acid-throwing sequence of the film making it completely awkward, shot in a typical Bollywood style.
Giving the details, the theme or title song of the film has been insightfully penned by the veteran Gulzar expressing it as, 
“Koi Chehra Mita Ke, Aur Aankh Se Hata Ke,
Chand Chheentey Uda Ke Jo Gaya,
Chhapaak Se Pehchaan Le Gaya”
The lyrics touch a chord, but the composition selected by Meghna composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is not any sad one. The composition of this theme song is in fact a peppy one which turns it into a spirited, uplifting and inspirational, rhythm-based song sung in the lighter tone.
Had heard the track in the trailer and appreciated too, but I had no idea that Meghna will be using it for the most important sequence and that too turning it into the film’s opening titles.
Now imagine, as an involved viewer one is waiting for that major decisive moment in the film when the acid attack will be there and is prepared to feel the pain felt by the helpless girl crying on the road. But the moment it happens, a song begins, “Koi Chehra Mita Ke…… Aur Aankh Se Hata Ke” - which isn’t any sad or slow song without any emotional, heart-wrenching rendition or sounds.
For me this was simply pathetic and a trademark Bollywood visualization of the most crucial scene in a film based on an acid-attack victim. It might have worked for many but that was the cruelest interpretation beyond my wildest imagination and I never expected that from the writer-director Meghna Gulzar.
So apart from the background score working at a few places and going overboard at times, the songs were unexpectedly overdone in CHHAPAAK, which were probably more responsible for dragging down the film and its emotional pull. 
The film also isn’t able to find a fine balance justifying the urgency of its theme as the writer-director goes back to the same old additions of a romantic angle and all goes well in the end attitude, weakening her own take on the issue. Don’t know why Meghna toned down the film with such forced insertions, when it should have ended more strongly pointing towards everyone watching. Due to this controlled approach followed, the film never reaches its boiling point and keeps operating at the surface without sinking deep into the psyche of either the victim or the people around her.
However, despite its above-mentioned shortcomings CHHAPAAK still remains a major film of the present times as it’s the first mainstream Hindi film made on the subject by a team led by women, including a top-most actress and a successful and acclaimed woman director.
More importantly, it dares to ask some relevant questions from the society, the government and our judiciary. It successfully points towards the biased and unjustified viewpoints in our legal system where rapes and acid attacks are treated differently not considering the fact that both completely ruin the life of a girl and an acid-attack even makes her physically challenged disturbing her entire life ahead.
Having said that, I personally wish this was a more powerful and soul-stirring film moving ahead of UYARE (Malayalam/2019) directed by Manu Ashokan, featuring Parvathy as the acid-attack victim. In comparative terms, where CHHAPAAK is based on a real-life story, UYARE is a fictional account of a victim girl, who decides to move ahead in life without bowing down to the circumstances.
To be honest, UYARE (meaning Rise or Height) also has the shortcoming of including some hard to believe story developments in its second half but it never loses the focus and refuses to end in the usual way unlike CHHAPAAK. Above all, the film is never interested in focusing on the face or the prosthetics displaying its matured take on the subject.
Further just the mention of one scene here, will give you a better understanding of the difference between the vision of two directors. UYARE has an extremely sensitive sequence wherein the father of the boy comes begging to the girl’s house meeting her father requesting him to withdraw the case. And just when he is talking, the girl enters the room shocked to see him there. Now the writer duo and the director tackle the crucial scene without any dialogue moving into a so wisely composed and conceived song, that needs to be experienced yourself.
That kind of intense, real drama goes missing in CHHAPAAK, which begins so well but then goes back to everything obvious without making any kind of emotional discovery in its characterization.
Summing up, CHHAPAAK is certainly a brave and worth watching film with some great performances including and apart from Deepika. But it delivers quite less than it could coming from a woman writer-director. Ironically UYARE directed by Manu Ashukon and written by the duo Bobby-Sanjay turns out to be a much superior and heart-touching film in comparison without any slightest of doubt.
So do watch CHHAPAAK but then even more essentially watch UYARE with English Subtitles as a must (available at Netflix). And I seriously expect that as a friend of BTC, you are not among those who still keep waiting for the poorly dubbed Hindi versions of our Indian Regional Gems, willfully running their own experience of watching exceptional cinema.
Rating : 3 / 5 

Though this should inspire every single person watching the film, but there is an important reminder for Sikh community in particular in one of the sequences of CHHAPAAK.
Cannot say that it really happened that way or it was the writer/director's individual imagination. But the makers conceived the crucial scene of acid attack with an important inclusion in the film, showing the only person helping the girl lying on the road holding her face, to be A SIKH.
The only person coming with a water bottle to help the girl and then calling the PCR to take her to a hospital in that busy market of Delhi, with many people simply staring, has been portrayed in the film as a SIKH.
Now here I would not say the cliched phrase PROUD TO BE A SIKH as that sounds more fanatical than anything responsible.
Here I would like to say that this particular inclusion ideally should remind the entire SIKH Community that even today A SIKH is honestly assumed to be a responsible and caring person who will be the first one to help even strangers in need on a busy road.
In clear words, this one real or fictional inclusion in CHHAPAAK should not inspire Sikhs to just say "Proud To Be A Sikh".
This should actually inspire them to say "FEEL RESPONSIBLE TO BE A SIKH"
That is one essential TAKE-HOME lesson for Sikhs in particular in the film CHHAPAAK ....... provided they take it sensibly and responsibly. And it will be even better if this lesson is taken home by everyone watching irrespective of any religion or region.
(For interested friends, the BTC review of UYARE (Malayalam/2019) can be read clicking at the following link)

Tags : Chhapaak Review by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com, New Hindi Films Reviews by Bobby Sing, New Bollywood Movies Reviews by Bobby Sing, Hindi Movies based on Acid Attack Victim, Real Life Inspired Hindi Films, Biographical Hindi Films, CHHAPAAK and UYARE
12 Jan 2020 / Comment ( 0 )
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