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Chhapaak Movie Review: It Is A Gut-Wrenching Masterpiece

Chhapaak

Starring Deepika Padukone,  Vikrant Massey, 

Directed  by Meghna Gulzar

Rating: *****(5 stars)

 What a splash Meghna Gulzar makes with Chhapaak!  This sensitive  stunning  film about  a real-life acid-attack victim’s  attempt to rebuild her  life as  surgeons try  to  put together  her  shattered face, could easily have vacillated between cringe-inducing melodrama and unrealistic optimism. In  this gut-wrenching masterpiece  she has co-scripted with  Atika Chohan , Meghna Gulzar   allows herself no easy exits.

The fluent  and  virile  narration(editor Nitin Baid does a splendid  job of  re-constructing the  saga  of  the protagonist’s  shattered life) drags  us into  the protagonist Malti’s fight to win  justice against her  attacker  and dares  us  to  leave her  to her own devices.

 This,  I am happy to say, is impossible to do. Chhapaak persuades  us  with gentle  hands to remain invested  in Malti’s battle  as  she and  her lawyer(an incredible  career-making  performance  by  Madhurjeet Sarghi) refuse to play the victim card. Nope.

Not at all!  If  the acid-attacked Laxmi Aggarwal , here re-christened  Malti ,hoped  to  get us teary-eyed  through sympathy waves, then she is in the wrong film.  Meghna Gulzar, who has now proven beyond doubt  to be one  of the finest contemporary  filmmakers  in India, offers  Malti no grace period  for mourning  and sobbing.  There is  the  business  of  re-building  one’s  life to attend to.

When  Malti sees her  battered  face  in the mirror  after  the  attack , her primeval scream  is   a battle cry  . Relentlessly  the narrative pieces together Malti’s shattered  life ,triumphantly taking her from  the depths  of  disenchantment to  a hard-won faith in  her struggle to  win over the harsh blow that life has dealt her.

 Throughout  Meghna Gulzar’s delicately constructed  saga  of  ruination and restoration Deepika Padukone remains  unconditionally committed to be  respectful  faithful and honest to her character. When Malti  wins  a hard-earned point  in the court her dance  of joy envelopes  our hearts.We  live every moment of Malti’s pain and  recovery  . This is not an  easy film to experience.

Yes , Deepika’s post-attack prosthetics are frighteningly real and they go a long way  in  enhancing her performance.  But what Deepika does  to Malti is much more than cosmetic. Deepika  mines the  diehard optimism in this  wounded  girl,excavates a sense of joy in living even when life treats her with such cruelty.  Make  no mistake. This is Deepika’s finest  hour.

As  the story  of Malti’s struggle  unfolds others join in her struggle  for justice. Most important among  her support  system is  the angry Anmol. As  played by the ever-dependable Vikrant Massey Anmol is  a  coiled bundle of indignation , an embodiment  of  the pain when   the right  people suffer as  evil  tails their joy.The closest I’ve seen to such implosive anger was Naseeruddin Shah  in  Sagar Sarhadi’s Bazar. That was  another  struggle, a different anger. 

Chhapaak  tells us how  a happy individual’s life  can change in a split second. It  also takes  a subtle  aim at our  legal system which favours  the  privileged. There are many alcoves  of  meditative  beauty in  this  film when  you feel the  presence  of  hope and  faith during times of  unimaginable darkness.And  therein  lies  the   real beauty  of a  film which  won’t take short cuts to salvation for its wronged heroine.

This is  a great  film, far greater than Meghna Gulzar’s lauded Talvar  and Raazi for only one reason. It knows  life’s  most  precious secret. Pain cannot be cut short by good intentions. Like love,destiny  will take  its tim

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