Being Deepika Padukone takes a lot of guts and gumption. With Chhapaak slated to release on Friday (10th January 2020), her visit to JNU on Tuesday the 8th to extend solidarity to the crusaders, has come in the eye of a political storm. The reactions have been extreme—one lot rooting for her and the other, baying for her blood. It’s in these circumstances that her social drama-cum-biopic directed by Meghna Gulzar has hit the screens.
Chhapaak tells the story of a vivacious middle-class teenager Malti (Deepika Padukone) whose aim is to be popular singer. However, her life turns upside down in a matter of seconds with an acid attack. Scarred physically with a face that’s beyond recognition and a mind that’s burnt to ashes, Malti realizes that the road ahead isn’t going to be easy. She decides to fight for justice and chooses the path of redemption.
Malti’s own family takes time to come to terms with the shocking reality leading to some painful moments. Malti finds an able companion in Amol (Vikrant Massey) who hires her in his NGO which specializes in dealing with acid attack survivors. Her lawyer Archana (Madhurjeet Sarghi) is another source of unconditional support through the legal and personal battles. The crux of the film deals with how Malti rises from the pits of depression to the highs of personal liberation.
The film is based on the life of Laxmi Agarwal, an acid-attack survivor who endured the horrific event in 2005 at the age of 15. At that point of time, she was just another victim, given how widespread acid attacks had started to become in our country. But over the next few years, Laxmi bounced back from the setback like a phoenix and put her life back on track and also manages to positively influence the lives of several other survivors.
Barring the minor tweak in the age of the protagonist and change in names, Chhapaak stays authentic to the original storyline. Meghna Gulzar, fresh off directing successive gems Talvar and Raazi, has co-written the script along with Atika Chohan. The girl power reflects in the storytelling as you get some refreshing characters. Their screenplay is brisk and to the point. The story might be about the survivor but the supporting cast are also beautifully sketched and enacted.
Deepika Padukone comes up with one of her finest performances till date. It’s one thing for the prosthetics to make you look similar to a real-life person and quite another to be able to perform spontaneously. She literally lived the character and her subtle style of dialogue delivery and emotions were an ideal fit. Vikrant Massey is the other major plus as the ex-journalist turned NGO organizer. He is intense but never goes over the top, even though there was scope for being loud.
The romance track between Malti and Amol was perhaps not needed in the narrative. However, it is weaved together quite smartly and warms your heart. That said, a bit more care could have been taken regarding the continuity of some characters, especially those of the protagonist’s family. Meghna and Atika also need to be lauded in the way they have handled the antagonist’s characterisation. From the outset, the narrative could have sounded like a Muslim man who attacked a Hindu girl.
But the duo ensure that they don’t go for those cliched paths and earnestly explain how the attacker Basheer’s act (Naeem in real life) had nothing to do with religion. This is refreshing because otherwise, the whole point of telling such a sensitive story would have been lost. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have composed some soulful tunes and background scores which gel seamlessly with the plot and performances. In such a genre, cinematography is usually an underrated department and Malay Prakash aces his part with the frames.
I could go on and on about the various shades that Chhapaak has to offer but that would be spoiling it. The film is a tale based on a sad reality in our country and stays extremely relevant, given the current scenario in which women safety is a grave concern. From being the epitome of beauty physically in Padmavaat, Deeepika effortlessly transforms to a woman of sheer grit in Chhapaak.