STORY: The life of a nineteen-year-old girl takes a turn when she is subjected to a horrific acid attack. But she resolves to fight for justice and reclaim her life.
REVIEW: Meghna Gulzar’s ‘Chhapaak’ is inspired by the story of real life acid attack survivor, Laxmi Agarwal, who has become a symbol of strength and inspiration for many women. The film is a fictionalized account with Deepika Padukone playing the central character Malti, who is attacked in broad daylight on the streets of Delhi by a friend of the family, Bashir Khan aka Babbu and his aide.
As the narrative chooses a non-linear route, we first meet Malti when she is on a job hunt – consciously trying to move on from the emotional scars that the heinous crime has left her with. For the physical scars, she has to go through a number of complicated surgeries. In fact, far from the dreams she nursed of being a singer, her life is now an intersection of her work with an NGO for acid victims, her multiple surgeries and her court cases. Yet, the film steers away from melodrama or manipulation, and instead gives us a powerful protagonist whose resolve to fight is punctuated with her determined smiles, the pain in her eyes and her indomitable spirit.
As support from her family dwindles owing to her brother’s illness and father’s death, it is Malti’s lawyer Archana (Madhurjeet Sarghi), who stands by her through her arduous journey. From Malti’s PIL to ban the sale of acid to amendments in the acid violence legislation, her team of women lawyers, take on the system. Her other main support comes from Amol (Vikrant Massey), who employs her to work for his NGO.
Deepika Padukone is the soul of the film, delivering a brilliant, immersive performance. In fact, there are many scenes where her act will move you to tears – like the one where she holds up an earring to her face but realizes now she can’t put it on. Or her piercing cry when she sees her face for the first time in a mirror after the attack. And one where she determinedly tells Amol, “Mujhe party karni hain.” Precisely why Malti’s character is a winner because at no point does she succumb to self-pity. And as Deepika embraces her character completely, her transformation is enhanced through effective prosthetics. Devoid of even a hint of glamour, all we see is Malti throughout.
Both Vikrant Massey and Madhurjeet Sarghi pitch in very commendable performances. The story sends out a strong message and is undoubtedly a brave attempt, however the edit seems choppy in places and certain parts of the narrative seem a tad stretched in the second half. The music tracks stand out – with ‘Chhapaak’ title track and ‘Nok Jhok’ (soundtrack by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, lyrics by Gulzar) adding to the poignancy of the mood.
‘Chhapaak’ is not a film that lets you go easy, just as one begins to settle in to think Malti has managed to get better of her perpetrator, it jolts you with a few grim, uncomfortable reminders.
‘Chhaapak’ is a sensitive film with a delicate, yet powerful, handling of a heinous crime against women, and an important story that needs to be heard.